One More for the Road …

Noir City 6, to contradict good ol’ T.S., who was something of a noir poet himself, ended not with a whimper, but a bang.

Kids, anytime Richard Widmark and Ida Lupino show up in 35 mm, it’s the Big Bang.

Widmark — the man who patented the giggling yet somehow charismatically cute psychopath — is still with us, at 92. We lost Ida in the ’90s. Thank God for film.

A couple of years back, I saw the creamiest print of Night and the City you can imagine, out at the warm and wonderful Balboa Theater during Noir City 3. The print had only been shown twice before, to some VIP in the Greek government. Don’t ask me to recount Eddie’s story, it was a midnight showing.

Anyway, the film made an indelible imprint on my brain cells, going down in my little noir book as a favorite. So this year … as tempting as it was … I skipped it, because, yes, I am a working girl and it was a Sunday.

No primer in why noir is the most satisfyingly entertaining, visually rich and just plain gutsiest film genre around is complete without Night and the City, so do yourself a favor, chum … rent the DVD if you can’t see it on the big screen. This is Greek tragedy, Noir City style, and Richard Widmark’s swan song for the genre. He goes out but good.

So I did make it to the Castro for Roadhouse, throwing deadlines to the wind for the sake of Ida Lupino, Widmark, and Cornel Wilde. God, were they worth it.

Roadhouse (a Fox gem from 1950) showcases why Ida Lupino was one of the most talented, hard-boiled, toughly glamorous, vulnerable, and seductive actresses around. That voice, full of cigarette smoke and too many late nights, empty Scotch bottles and second-class train tickets. That face, filled with the pain of life, but still hoping to find something worthwhile to live for. She epitomizes and idealizes the dame that’s as hard as nails and as soft as silk … for the right guy.

Widmark was great, of course, as the jealous, spoiled owner of Jefty’s Roadhouse, a juke joint with a bowling alley attached, the hot spot of a rural community somewhere near the Canadian border. But as much fun as it was watching Widmark tick and waiting for him to explode, Ida walked off with the movie.

She plays the piano. Really. And she sings, including one of my all-time favorites, “One for the Road.” And after she croaks out the last line about that “long, long road,” you will echo Celeste Holme’s amazed and admiring line: “She does the most with no voice than anyone I’ve ever seen!”

Of course, noir denizens recognize Ida for her directing talents (The Hitchhiker) in addition to her unforgettable roles. But Roadhouse shows why this lady — and Gloria Grahame — remain enshrined as the holy women of Noir City.

Cornel and Celeste were excellent, too. I can’t wait to get this baby on DVD.

So another year, another January, another Noir City. I realized this year that I mark my life by this festival … it was three years ago, during a Noir City, that I realized the direction I wanted to take for the novel I was writing. It was just last year, during Noir City, that I received word of my publication for the same novel.

We’re entwined now, like scotch and soda, or Bogart and trench coats, or dark, rainy streets flooded with neon. Next year, another passport, another festival. With Noir City, I will always take one more for the road.