Richard Widmark

ROAD HOUSE (1948)

Road House 1948

First off, I wanna say that the road house depicted in Road House is AWESOME. It’s low-ceilinged, built like a log cabin. There’s a bowling alley, a bar, a sporting goods store, and Ida Lupino playing piano. This is the coolest (fictional) joint west of Chicago. Now if it wasn’t for the tension between its manager and owner, Jefty’s Road House would be perfect.

After Richard Widmark struck it big with Kiss of Death and Street With No Name, Ida Lupino personally requested that he play in Road House, which was her star vehicle. He essentially plays a variation of Tommy Udo, with the psychotic tendencies clicked down a few notches. But ho boy does he resurrect that beautiful, unnerving laugh from hell. Road House, directed by Jean Negulesco (Mask of Dimitrios), has a simple story infused with brilliant dialogue and heaps of noir aesthetics. Man, I really love this sharp little movie.

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THE STREET WITH NO NAME (1948)

The Street With No Name 1948

Fresh off his Oscar nomination for Kiss of Death, Richard Widmark was scooped up as a contract player for Darryl Zanuck of 20th Century Fox. While Tommy Udo was a pure sadist through and through, Widmark’s villainous character in The Street With No Name is a much more likable snake. The film is an unofficial sequel to House on 92nd Street and was one of many procedurals backed by the feds, who gave director William Keighley and the rest of his crew access to their offices, crime labs, and training facilities. While most of these J. Edgar Hoover handjobs can be pretty drab, as their main goal is to hype up the FBI and make all their agents look like golden boys, The Street With No Name is a fairly gritty film, anchored with strong performances by Widmark and Mark Stevens (The Dark Corner).

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KISS OF DEATH (1947)

Kiss of Death 1947

“Y’know what I do to squealers? I give it to em in the belly.”

Man, it doesn’t get slimier than Tommy Udo. Richard Widmark made his screen debut in this 1947 thriller from director Henry Hathaway (The House on 92nd Street), and goddamn did he make his mark. Kiss of Death made him an instant star. The film is based on the book by Elazar Lipsky, a former assistant district attorney in New York and is loaded with inside detail on how the judicial system works – and it ain’t pretty.

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NIGHT AND THE CITY (1950)

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“I’ll show everybody!”

The world of noir is populated with morally ambiguous anti-heroes heading 1,000 miles per hour down a dead end street. Out of all of em, I might hold the self-destructive hustler Harry Fabian closest to my heart. A lot of that sentiment has to do with actor Richard Widmark, who delivers a manically spirited and heartbreaking performance. Night and the City – whose title itself evokes noir – was directed by Jules Dassin after he fled to England to dodge HUAC’s late 1940s anticommunist witch hunt. If he stayed in the States, Dassin would’ve most certainly been forced to testify, which would’ve inevitably led to him being blacklisted. The project was already waiting for him when he touched down in England and it’s easy to interpret Night and the City as an allegory for the paranoia and backstabbing he resented in post-war Hollywood at the time.

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