Day 6 of Noirvember: Lily Stevens in Road House (1948)

Today’s Noirvember post shines the spotlight on a real stand-up noir dame – Lily Stevens in Road House (1948).

Lily knew her way around a song.


The title establishment is owned by one Jefferson “Jefty” Robbins (Richard Widmark), who falls for a singer from Chicago, Lily Stevens (Ida Lupino), and hires her to work for his nightclub. Unfortunately, Lily only has eyes for the nightclub’s hunky manager, Pete Morgan (Cornel Wilde), and Pete returns Lily’s affections. And that doesn’t sit well with our Jefty.


The first sighting we’re given of Lily Stevens, scant seconds into the film, is her stockinged, shoeless leg, resting on a desk in the road house office. Pete enters, none too pleased to see this stranger making herself at home, smoking (without using the ashtray!) playing solitaire, and responding to his queries in monosyllables – if at all. When Pete learns that Jefty met Lily on a trip to the Midwest, he assumes that she’s the latest in a string of Jefty’s passing fancies, so he takes it upon himself to deliver Lily to the local train depot instead of the hotel room Jefty arranged. He gives her a couple of hundred dollars, condescendingly informing her that “every time Jefty leaves town, he gets drunk and brings somebody back. . . . You see, Jefty gets tired easily and it’s up to me to do the dumping. I don’t like it, but if I have to, I can get rough.” But Pete doesn’t know who he’s messing with – and this leads to one of my favorite scenes in all of film noir. Lily doesn’t raise her voice – she’s almost pleasant as she informs Pete that she’s not going anywhere. “When I want to leave, I’ll let you know,” she says. “Who knows – before I’m through, maybe you’ll be the one running for the depot.” And when Pete reaches out, still trying to lead her to the train, Lily knocks his hand away and delivers a slap so hard that I can practically feel it myself. “Silly boy,” she drolly remarks before picking up her suitcases and walking across the street to the hotel. It’s so great.

Cigarette-smoking, straight scotch drinking, bad-ass Lily.


Because she’s just so bad ass. She wows the crowd at the nightclub as she sexily half-talks and half-sings her numbers, with her ever-present cigarette burning on the edge of the piano – another employee of the road house (Celeste Holm) observes that “she does more without a voice than anybody I’ve ever heard!” She’s confident, snarky, and cooler than the other side of the pillow. She knows how to handle Jefty’s somewhat childish advances (for a while, at least), and she holds her own when she’s attacked by a drunken customer in the bar – but she has a tender side, too, a soft, gooey center inside that tough exterior. Fascinating. Fun. Fearless. Feminine. That’s Lily.


“Doesn’t it ever enter a man’s head that a woman can do without him?”


Ida Lupino was born in London on February 4, 1918, into a theatrical family that included her parents, Stanley and Connie, who were comedy players on the British stage, and her great-grandfather Alfredo, who was an acrobatic ballet dancer and singer. At the age of seven, she wrote, produced and starred in her first play, and she made her first professional stage appearance in 1930 at London’s Tom Thumb Theatre. At the age of 13, she enrolled in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, appearing in a number of student productions, including Pygmalion. She got her first big break on the silver screen at the age of 14, appearing in the film Her First Affaire (1932) in a role that her mother originally tested for. The platinum blonde actress signed a contract with Paramount the following year and she and her mother sailed for the U.S. and Hollywood. Several years and numerous pictures later, she allowed her bleached blonde hair to return to its natural auburn and let her pencil-thin eyebrows grow in, and in 1941, she starred in her first film noir, High Sierra (1941). In the late 1940s, Lupino stepped behind the camera, taking over the direction for the 1949 feature Not Wanted when the original director suffered a heart attack. It was the start of a second career for the actress, who would go on to direct numerous films and television shows, becoming the first woman to helm a film noir (The Hitch-Hiker) and the only woman to direct an episode of TV’s The Twilight Zone. For more on Ida Lupino, click here.

And join me in the shadows tomorrow for Day 7 of Noirvember!

~ by shadowsandsatin on November 6, 2021.

6 Responses to “Day 6 of Noirvember: Lily Stevens in Road House (1948)”

  1. Love Ida in this and you quoted the best lines! And I agree with Celeste – her singing is just right for songs like ‘Again.’

  2. ‘Road House’ is bowling noir! And Lily Stevens wears one of my favorite femme fatale outfits; a ‘suit’ made from white short shorts with a matching long white swing jacket, worn with a turtleneck (!), and accessorized with gold metallic flat sandals and belt. There have been other white shorts in film moir – Lana Turner in ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice’ and Lizabeth Scott in ‘The Strange Love of Martha Ivers’ – but Ida Lupino looks like a million bucks AND has the legs and the insouciance to pull it off like no one else.

    • Bowling noir! I love it. You are so right about the shorts — for some reason, no matter how many times I see Road House, it’s always startling to me when I first see Lily in that outfit. Wow!

  3. Ida is magnificent as Lily. She brings so much to a role that I think lesser actresses would miss, especially the final scene.

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