Ida Lupino Noir Double Bill

BBC2 screened this noir double-bill a while back at around 5.30am. Being a dedicated film reviewer, I stayed in bed, recorded them and forgot about them for, oh, about 6 months. But I've finally got round to watching them. Were they worth getting out of bed for?

On Dangerous Ground (Nicholas Ray, 1952) starts out as routine film noir, as a disillusioned, violent cop (Robert Ryan) treads the dark streets of a mean city. But it then shifts the action to brightly-lit, snow-covered countryside where he encounters Mary (Ida Lupino) who thaws his bitter heart. Dialogue is a bit clunky and plot is minimal, but Ryan and Lupino do good work together and Bernard Hermann's score is stirring stuff. Lupino also allegedly directed some segments when Ray fell ill during shooting (presumably this was around the time he was going through a messy separation from Gloria Grahame after finding her in bed with his 14-year old son). She and Ryan also supported the film's ending, which many (including me) find a bit too optimistic, given what has gone before. Ray wanted a different, bleaker ending, but obviously had other things to worry about, so the film was released with the upbeat finale to a muted reception. It's now regarded as a interesting entry in the noir canon, although with that snowy setting, it maybe should be in the film neige genre?

Lupino wasn't just an actress though. From the late 1940s to the 1970s, she was the only female card-carrying member of the Director's Guild of America. One can easily imagine the patronising pats on her pretty head from her male contemporaries as she turned out a few worthy "women's" pictures, like Outrage (1950) and Never Fear (1949). But then she tackled that most masculine of genres with the short, snappy noir The Hitch-Hiker (Ida Lupino, 1953), based on the shocking real-life murders by psychopath Billy Cook. The film sees two pals on a fishing trip (Edmond O'Brien and Frank Lovejoy) pick up a hitchhiker (William Talman), who turns out to be a killer on the run. It's a good set-up and the film is praised for being taut and tough, but with an emotional sensitivity. But I confess I wasn't so taken with it, partly because the two 'good guys' weren't particularly interesting and the dynamics of the situation fairly limp. However, it does have a trump card to play with Talman (people may remember him from long-running TV series Perry Mason), who makes for a great villain, with Lupino getting full impact from his memorable visage as he looms out of the shadows on several occasions. Following this performance, he actually got attacked by someone in real-life whilst sitting in his car one day, which is always a good sign of making a screen impact. At least on people who can't tell the difference between fiction and real-life. Despite him, though, I'd wouldn't be stopping to pick this one up again. Sorry, Ida, but well done you for being able to make a film in the first place.

No comments:

Post a Comment