Jefty Robinson (Widmark) hires a new singer for his rural road house, Lily Stevens (Lupino), much to the chagrin of his best friend, Pete Morgan (Wilde). Jefty has a tendency to hire girls from the big city and then dumping them in a few weeks' time, but Lily is different.
At first, Pete and Lily dislike each other, but they warm up to each other and eventually fall in love while Jefty is away from town. The problem, however, is that Jefty thinks that he can marry Lily even if shes clearly not interested. Coming back with a marriage licence in hand, Jefty starts to slowly turn from cocky hothead to delusional psycho and is so jealous and angry that he frames Pete for theft and makes sure that Pete and Lily can never be together.
Road House demonstrates the following tropes:
- Abhorrent Admirer: Jefty is this to Lily. Lily is not interested in him, but he still thinks that he can force her to marry him.
- Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: A drunk guy in the audience manhandles Lily after her number and starts a huge bar fight.
- The Alcoholic: Lily mentions that her father was an drunkard and that he could barely recognize her when he was sober.
- Belligerent Sexual Tension: Pete and Lily dont like each other much at first.
- Blackmail: How Jefty decides to keep Pete and Lily in line.
- Career-Ending Injury: Lily was training to become an opera singer, but then she lost her voice.
- The Chanteuse: Lily blows them all away with her talent even if she doesnt have much of a singing voice.
- Establishing Character Moment: Lily slaps Pete across the face when he tries to force her into something she doesnt want to do. Shes fiercely independent and doesnt take crap from anyone.
- Everybody Smokes: Lily smokes so much that everyone mentions that she should take it down a notch.
- Film Noir: From the classic era.
- Frame-Up: Jealous about Pete and Lilys relationship, Jefty frames Pete for grand larceny and presses charges against him. Jefty then convinces the judge to make him Petes parole officer, so he can control Petes every move and make sure he doesnt run away with Lily.
- Hands-On Approach: Lily invokes this by requesting bowling lessons from Pete, much to his annoyance.
- Ice Queen: Lily is aloof. This makes her even more attractive to Jefty, but her initial iciness annoys Pete.
- Ignored Enamored Underling: Susie (played by Celeste Holm).
- Love Makes You Crazy: It makes Jefty into a maniac whos ready to betray his best friend and kill him for falling in love with Lily.
- Love Triangle: Jefty is in love with Lily while shes in love with Pete.
- Mad Love: Jefty is completely delusional about his relationship with Lily. He thinks he can marry her, basically, without any consent or even plain interest on her part.
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Pete kicks the crap out of Jefty when he gets drunk and hits Lily.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Jefty. His name is Jefferson Ribbons.
- Perishing Alt-Rock Voice: Surprisingly, Lily doesnt sing with the common singing voice of the day since she lost her voice and mostly speaks in a harsh, low tone. Her singing is much the same and is rather quiet and subdued.
- Police are Useless: The police dont do much investigation into the loss of the $2600. They just take Jeftys word for it without any other proof. Then the judge lets Jefty, an everyday citizen, be Petes parole officer without much consideration to why this would be a bad idea.
- Run for the Border: Jefty forces Susie, Pete, and Lily to come up to his cabin near the Canadian border. He teases them with the fact that the border is very close, but he wont let them get away. Stupidly, he gets plastered and gives Pete and Lily a real chance to run away.
- She's Got Legs: Were introduced to Lily via her legs on a desk. She then proceeds to wear shorts so short that Pete calls her legs.
- Unrequited Love: Jeftys love for Lily is very one-sided.
- Susie, the cashier who works at Jeftys road house, has feelings for Pete.
- Would Hit a Girl: Jefty hits Lily across the face, and then shoots Susie in the arm.