Blazing her own path


Ida Lupino is the Keith Richards of female directors. Lupino was born in London during a WWI German zeppelin bombing. Richards was born in London during WWII while V1 and V2 rockets tore through the sky – thus inspiring one of my favorite lines in rock: “I was born in a cross-fire hurricane”. Richards picked up a guitar to became the ultimate bad-boy of rock-and-roll and was exiled from his own country. Lupino was quoted in the Hollywood Reporter as saying “My father once said to me, ‘You’re born to be bad,”… And it was true. I made eight films in England before I came to America, and I played a tramp or a slut in all of them.” Richards blazed his own path. So did Lupino, who recognized that the studio was treating her like “the poor man’s Bette Davis” so she got behind the camera and joined the ranks of directors like Sam Fuller and Don Siegel, cinema rogues who found inspiration in dark alleys as they tackled tough subjects on their own terms. 


One such tough subject would be rape, the subject of Lupino’s Outrage (1950). Although latter film falls under the rubric of her first wave of “woman’s social issues” films, preceded by Not Wanted and Never Fear (both 1949), Outrage has noirish elements that include inspired camera angles, expressionistic lighting, and long shadows. As the whistling predator picks up his pace along the dark streets ready to pounce on our protagonist, Peter Lorre comes to mind from M (1931). Given its minuscule budget limitations, Outrage never gets as lavish as a Fritz Lang production, but Lupino’s eye for detail is impressive. After the attack our protagonist returns home and collapses, framed behind the bars of her bed in a way that suggest imprisonment. Indeed, what follows is the self-imprisonment of paranoia and real jail time.

Outrage was the second post-Production Code film to come out of Hollywood to tackle rape – the first was Johnny Belinda (Jean Negulesco, 1948). Lupino was the second woman to be inducted into the Director’s Guild (first being Dorothy Arzner), but Lupino was the only female director working in Hollywood in the 1950′s – nevermind the fact that she was an actress, writer, and producer too. And with The Hitch-hiker (1953) she became the first woman to helm a hart-hitting film noir – in this case one based on real-life serial killer William Cook. Noir-wise I first came across Lupino as the blind woman in Nicholas Ray’s On Dangerous Ground (1951) – a film I saw at Telluride. Was it there that I heard she had directed part of the film while Ray was ill? I can’t remember and will let more alert readers chime in.

It’s interesting to me how both Outrage and The Hitch-hiker don’t take the short-cut of making the villains one-dimensional bad guys to be terminated Death Wish-style. In both cases Lupino makes it clear that the villains had an abusive childhood, which never forgives the crime but at least adds what should be a note of understanding as to how such acts don’t come out of a vacuum.

Richard Boone, star of the Have Gun, Will Travel television series, was a fan of The Hitch-hiker and recruited Lupino to helm her first television series. Throughout the decades that followed she would find most of her work as the director of a variety of TV shows, including a Twilight Zone episode I screened last night. The Masks (1964) has the distinction of being the only episode of The Twilight Zone to be directed by a woman. She also starred in a Twilight Zone episode before that titled The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine (1959).

I’m tempted to go into her three marriages (and three divorces) as a way of further highlighting her independence, but let’s leave it at this: Ida Lupino was one cool and badass player, and as I look at her extensive filmography, be it as actress, writer, producer, or director, I clearly have a lot of catching up to do.

October’s TCM spotlight is on “Trailblazing Women – Behind the Movies, Ahead of Their Time,” which will feature movies by female directors on Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout the month. TCM will be screening Outrage this Tuesday night, also The Bigamist (Lupino, 1953), and on Thursday a movie in which Lupino acted, Fight for Your Lady (Ben Stoloff, 1938). For further reading:|0/Ida-Lupino-Star-of-the-Month.html

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6 Responses Blazing her own path
Posted By Jenni : October 4, 2015 7:44 pm

I watched On Dangerous Ground via TCM a couple months ago. According to Ben Mankiewics post-film informational bit, the studio hated Ray’s ending-spoiler-with Robert Ryan’s soured police detective driving back to the big city alone. Ray didn’t want to direct another ending so Lupino and Ryan came up with the film’s ending that a movie viewer would see.

I first saw Lupino in a noirish film, Deep Valley. I was a teenager when I saw it on our local pbs station who would show classic movies. Lupino so impressed me in her role as Libby, I became a fan. Now that I watch classic tv shows that aired before I was born, I often see if Lupino was the director. Besides Have Gun, she also directed some episodes of Gilligan’s Island.

Posted By Emgee : October 4, 2015 8:17 pm

Lupino did in fact direct some scenes while Ray was ill, but he reluctantly filmed the upbeat ending himself.

The Hitch-hiker is a pretty grim movie, and even though the killer has been given some personal background, there’s never any doubt that he will kill anybody that gets in his way. And without any remorse.

Posted By oystercrakker : October 4, 2015 10:08 pm

She’s long been one of my favorite actresses … I recently re-visited her superb performance in the endlessly fascinating “Ladies in Retirement” at the Chicago noir fest … Other stupendous roles of her include “Out of the Fog”, “The Hard Way,” “The Man I Love”, “Road House” & of course “They Drive By Night” … All of the above films are very highly reccommended in my book!

Posted By George : October 4, 2015 10:13 pm

Lupino directed a LOT of TV (including episodes of Thriller, The Fugitive, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents) from 1956 to 1968.

Her crack-up on the witness stand in THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT is probably my favorite Lupino acting moment.

Posted By kingrat : October 5, 2015 4:37 am

DEEP VALLEY is my favorite Ida Lupino performance, but there are many fine ones. Her work holds up really well. She’s one of my favorite classic era actresses.

Posted By swac44 : October 5, 2015 7:25 pm

My first Ida Lupino experience was High Sierra, not a bad place start, I was in my early teens when I caught it on CBC Late Night, which ran a string of WB classics, and she made an impact on me then, and I knew instantly she was not your average actress.

It’s worth noting that performing/directing was literally in her blood, the Lupino family was known theatrically in England dating back to the 17th century. Lupino Lane, who I believe is her uncle, was a brilliant stage and screen comic as physically adept as Keaton or Chaplin, if not as well-remembered, but a number of his short films are among my favourite slapstick gems.

Weirdly, my grandfather’s name was William Cooke, but as far as I know he wasn’t a serial killer (it’s where the W in SWAC comes from, which is simply an anagram of my initials). ;)

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