This review was part of the For the Love of Film: The Film Preservation Blogathon to benefit the Film Noir Foundation.
One of the great dames of film noir, and quite a bit more, Ida Lupino was born in London in 1918. Her father was Stanley Lupino, a star of the West End stage who wrote many of the productions in which he appeared. Lupino Lane, an important British music hall star, was a cousin. And Ida's mother, Connie, was an actress. Of her father Ida Lupino once said, "I knew it would break his heart if I didn't go into the business," and so she did, even though her first love was writing.
Her first credited film was Allan Dwan's Her First Affaire (1933). It was an ingenue part and an inaccurate industry myth had it that her mother read for the part but lost it to young Ida [thanks to Jean Howard for clarifying this]. In any case, the role led to several screen appearances in quick succession. By year's end she was signed by Paramount Pictures and headed from London to Hollywood.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
She was to star in Alice in Wonderland, but that didn't pan out. Only 15, Ida seemed mature beyond her years and lost the part. She made several mostly forgotten films, endured a battle with polio and resumed her career. With The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939) she was noticed in a role that provided an opportunity to demonstrate her range. William Wellman's The Light That Failed (1940) was her first real break. Though no one had wanted her in a part considered unsympathetic, Lupino pursued the role and in the end it brought her fame.
She soon moved on to Warner Bros. and it was here her reputation as a dame-of-noir began with her fiery performance as Lana Carlsen in They Drive by Night (1940). High Sierra (1941)and The Sea Wolf (1941)quickly followed and her value to Warners was established. However, with Bette Davis the reigning queen of the lot, Ida Lupino was frequently assigned films the great star had passed on. Referring to herself as "the poor man's Bette Davis," she spent a good amount of time on suspension from the studio for refusing roles she considered unworthy. Fortunately, she accepted the part of driven, manipulative Helen Chernen in The Hard Way (1943); for her performance she received the New York Drama Critics' Best Actress Award.
During this time, Lupino was married to actor Louis Hayward (Anthony Adverse, The Man in the Iron Mask). Hayward enlisted in the Marines at the onset of World War II and commanded the photographic unit that filmed the battle of Tarawa (November 1943). The film won a Best Documentary Short Subject Oscar but the experience of the bloody four-day battle left Hayward badly shell-shocked and the couple split up.
Although Lupino's acting career continued, it was during a lengthy studio suspension in the mid-'40s that she started thinking seriously about directing. She married producer Collier Young in 1948 and in 1949 they put together an independent production company called Emerald Productions, later rechristened The Filmakers.
Ida Lupino, director
The company's first effort, Not Wanted (1949), featured a screenplay by Ida Lupino and was to be directed by Elmer Clifton. A few days into shooting Clifton suffered a heart attack and the actress stepped in to finish the film (but gave the credit to Clifton). Co-starring with Sally Forrest, a young actress Lupino would tap again, was Leo Penn an actor/director now best known as the father of Sean Penn. The film, like most Lupino directed, broached a ticklish subject for the time - unwanted pregnancy.
Three low-budget, Lupino-directed classics came out of The Filmakers: Hard, Fast and Beautiful (1951) with Claire Trevor and Sally Forrest, The Hitch-Hiker (1953) with Edmond O'Brien and William Talman and The Bigamist (1953) with Edmond O'Brien, Joan Fontaine and Lupino herself. In the meantime, Lupino also co-starred with Robert Ryan in Nicholas Ray's powerful On Dangerous Ground (1952) and reportedly directed some of the film while Ray was ill.
By the time the last three Filmaker efforts were produced, Ida Lupino and Collier Young had divorced. Lupino married actor Howard Duff not long after. In 1954, The Filmakers dissolved but Lupino later found herself in demand to direct for TV. Over the next few decades she directed dozens of episodes for series television, including "Alfred Hitchcock Presents, "The Twilight Zone" and "The Untouchables." At the same time she continued to act in film and on television; she and Howard Duff starred in a very popular TV series, "Mr. Adams and Eve" from 1957 - 1958, and Lupino was nominated for Best Actress Emmys for both seasons of the show.
Ida and Steve in Junior Bonner
Busy with television, Lupino directed only one more theatrical film, The Trouble with Angels (1966), a comedy starring Rosalind Russell and Hayley Mills. She didn't appear in many films at this point, but her later film career included an exceptional turn as Steve McQueen's mother in Junior Bonner (1972).
Onscreen, Ida Lupino was an edgy combination of tough and tender and is remembered as one of the legendary actresses of film noir.
Behind the camera, she developed a hard-boiled, suspenseful style while working on tight schedules with small budgets. Today she is not only honored as a pioneering "woman director," but is also an acknowledged auteur of the early 1950s.
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My own introduction to Ida Lupino came long ago by way of the flickering box in our family living room.High Sierra, The Sea Wolf and Road House (1948) aired regularly on TV in those days and the bruised but determined characters that were her stock in trade got my attention. Of those three films, it was in Road House that she most stirred my imagination. Her character, Lily, is a been-around-the-block torch singer who attracts more than a crowd at the out-of-the-way road house where she performs. Though Lily has a hard luck past and more pain to come, this time Lupino’s character is the locus of a romantic triangle and she commands much of the film - which is saying something with a co-star like Richard Widmark. And there is the added attraction of her singing - in her own dusky voice - two torch classics, “Again” and “One for My Baby.”