Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Vital Viewing (Golden Age of Hollywood Multitasker Edition)

Ida Lupino was born on this day in 1918. Raised in a London acting family, she took up the profession herself and eventually landed in Hollywood. Keeping whatever British accent she may have had well-hidden in her most best-known roles, she became, in her own words, "the poor man's Bette Davis", due to the off-kilter characters she played. However, her films (a few of which were turned down by Davis) tended to be much more gritty, and she was soon a mainstay of a genre now known as film noir (French for "dark film".)

Though she first appeared on film in 1931, it wasn't until 1940's They Drive By Night that she finally became a star, thanks largely to the above nervous breakdown (which I don't believe originally was done with subtitles.)

The next year she appeared opposite another actor who took a decade to find his niche in movies, Humphrey Bogart. High Sierra was one of the earliest doomed-lovers-on-the-run films. Screenplay by John Huston.

From a story by Irwin Shaw, The Hard Way (1943) was based on the relationship between Ginger Rogers and her mother, though Lupino wasn't a mom here but Joan Leslie-as-Ginger's older sister (I imagine because the actresses were only seven years apart in age.)

In Road House (1948) Lupino got to sing the Harold Arlen-Johnny Mercer standard "One For My Baby (and One More for the Road)" You might recall that Bette Midler won an Emmy for singing this same song on the last regular The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. I'll admit the Divine Miss M is technically a much better songstress than Lupino, but her version never led to betrayal and murder as it does in this film (though it is my understanding Carson stopped returning Ed McMahon's phone calls after a while.)

Though she more often than not played femme fatale types, Lupino got a chance to portray a more sympathetic character in On Dangerous Ground (1951). I mean, what could be more sympathetic than a blind woman? Especially when opposite another mainstay of film noir, the underrated Robert Ryan?

Ryan was not at all sympathetic in his next movie with Lupino, 1952's Beware My Lovely.

Now on to her other career. I have to jump back in time a few years.

That's an actress by the name of Sally Forrest and not a pregnant Lupino in the above ad, yet the latter was very much involved in Not Wanted (1949) behind the scenes. Not content with merely acting, Lupino also liked to write screenplays, which she then produced herself. The director, Elmer Clifton, had a mild heart attack and had to leave the picture. So Lupino stepped in and finished the job, though, out of respect for Clifton, she kept his name in the credits.

Lupino calimed she never thought about directing before, but now it was all she wanted to do.

The first few movies she directed were "women pictures", though they often had provocative and controversial themes, such as the one above about rape.

In 1953, one of the queens of film noir got a chance to direct a noir herself, the extraordinarily suspenseful The Hitch-Hiker. That's Lupino on the left in the sunglasses.

Now regarded as a noir classic, in 1998 The Hitch-Hiker was considered "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" enough to be selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

A montage of moments from The Hitch-Hiker, featuring Edmond O'Brien, Frank Lovejoy and William Talman. Perry Mason fans may remember Talman, here playing the title character, as assistant D.A Hamilton Burger. Playing a homicidal maniac in this film, he probably could have used Perry's help.

Lupino sometimes appeared in her own films. Here she plays one of the wives of the aforementioned Edmond O'Brien (a great character actor) in The Bigamist. 

IdaLupino still appeared in other director's pictures as well. In Women's Prison (1955) she plays a prison superintendent who herself should have been under lock and key. 

Here's Lupino in an episode of The Twilight Zone.

However, it was another episode she directed, but did not appear in, that's more memorable. Titled "The Mask" don't watch it if you're planning on going to a masquerade ball.

As she moved from movies to television, Lupino didn't just direct dramas, but also sitcoms...

...such as this episode of Gilligan's Island, featuring Tina Loise as Ginger, and guest star Hans Conried as Wrongway Feldman. Amusing enough on its own terms, I guess, but a long way from The Hitch-Hiker

Lupino continued to act, but as is often the case with female stars, the parts got smaller as she aged and her looks faded a bit.

Still, she got to meet Columbo.

All in all, a remarkable career. Ida Lupino died in 1995 at age 77.


  1. Yet again, a post of yours has led me to one of my own. I watched every clip. So interesting. Thanks for posting.

    1. I look forward to reading your post, Kass

  2. You are so talented at writing this type of post.
    I read every line and watched the clips. But not the mask one. I think I remember that one so I will check it out later.
    I remember Ida Lupiono and always though her a wonderful actor.
    Again terrific post !
    Zooming off to the vet for thehamish again !

    cheers, parsnip

  3. The mask one is just a still photo from that particular Twilight Zone episode, parsnip. The only video clip I could find--of a group of people waiting in a study--wasn't particularly revealing, so I decided not to use it.

    Hope the Hamish is doing all right.