Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Women's Day
(not to be confused with DAY OF THE WOMAN)

One of my favorite directors had breasts.

Before Kathryn Bigelow directed a bunch of kick ass action movies, there was a hot actress from the early 1930s who played babes, but seemed more interested in edgy roles and ended up in some great crime films like THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT playing the femme fatale. She was versatile, and could play almost any role - from innocent sweethearts to mean bitches to vulnerable blind girls and *anything* in between. After starring in a bunch of great films where she stole the show from stars like Humphrey Bogart and Richard Widmark and Edward G. Robinson, at the end of the 1940s she decided to take control of her career and *did not* re-sign with Warner Brothers. She was smart and ambitious... but also no longer in her 20s.

Someone's video valentine to Lupino from YouTube. You can see how versatile she was be all of the different "looks" she had:

She starred in one of my favorite movies (THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT) - I have the original poster folded up in a box somewhere. If you haven't seen this one, check it out. The story's about a couple of long-haul truckers, George Raft and Humphrey Bogart, just trying to earn a living. Bogart's the family man, and (SPOLIER!!!) about a third of the way into the movie gets into a horrible truck crash and gets his arm ripped off - spends the rest of the movie with only one arm. Raft stumbles into Noir territory when he manages a trucking company owned by Lupino's husband... and she is not happily married. There's a cool murder-by-automatic-garage-door-opener (really!). Here's a scene where Raft is torn between the nice girl he loves and manipulative Lupino:


Okay, Lupino's experiment being a non-contract player star isn't going exactly as planned - she's getting less work for less money. But she's smart. She starts writing screenplays - and selling them. The director of one of her screenplays NOT WANTED (1949) - about baby snatching - gets sick... and Lupino jumps in and finishes the film. And does a great job. This leads to work as a director - though mostly on B crime films. Except, that's what she's good at. She knows how to film action and suspense and make a film that really kicks ass! So she's now a triple threat - she is writing action films like PRIVATE HELL 36 (directed by the great Don Siegel) and directing great action and thriller films like THE HITCHHIKER and still acting in movies like:


Okay, before WOMEN'S PRISON she starred in this next one, directed by the great Nicholas Ray, where she plays a blind woman who kind of redeems a *very* violent cop. Oh, and when Ray got sick, Lupino took over and directed until he was back on his feet. This is one of my favorite films, with a great Bernard Herrmann score. The YouTube clips can not be embedded, but click on the links and check them out.



Scene from ON DANGEROUS GROUND with blind Lupino and violent cop Robert Ryan meeting for the first time. Oh, her brother is the killer he's chasing - and he tends to shoot first, and when the alleged perp is dead, read them their rights. So, this ain't gonna be a smooth romance.

Next, here's a clip from a movie she co-wrote with her husband (Collier Young) and directed 100% of, that is a great example of a contained thriller that doesn't seem contained. A ton of suspense is generated when two guys on a fishing trip pick up a hitchhiker who may or may not be a psycho killer on the run. The film is mostly 3 guys either in a car or at a camp site out in the middle of nowhere. There's an insane suspense scene at a campsite in the middle of nowhere - the psycho killer has a gun on the two guys... as they wait for him to fall asleep so they can escape. But is he really asleep? Or just pretending?


Lupino has 8 screenwriting credits on IMDB and 41 movies or TV series she directed. Usually multiple episodes of the TV shows (9 episodes of THRILLER, 8 episodes of HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL, etc.) She is the only woman to direct a TWILIGHT ZONE episode (THE MASKS) and directed a bunch of TV episode for action shows like THE FUGITIVE and THE UNTOUCHABLES... and GILLIGAN'S ISLAND! But where I fell in love with her as a director - the Boris Karloff Presents THRILLER show, where she was one of the "staff directors" in rotation. This show was like the HITCHCOCK PRESENTS show (in fact, shared many of the same key crew members and was shot at the same studio for the same company). When I was a kid, the show was re-run in the afternoon after I got home from school, and was just great stuff. My favorite episode was GUILLOTINE, based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich and directed by Ida Lupino. Your head will explode from the suspense!

Period France: Man convicted of murdering the husband of some babe he was sleeping with is waiting for his execution day, by guillotine. There is an unwritten law that if the executioner dies, all of the people he was supposed to kill that day are pardoned. There's no back up executioner, and you can't just let a janitor do it. So our killer-hero has the hot babe whose husband he killed, seduce the executioner and poison him the night before the execution. But the executioner is a big man, and instead of dying, he's just sick. Terminally sick, but heading to the prison to do his job before he dies! And the episode cuts between the executioner struggling to make his appointment with our killer-hero... and the killer-hero getting his last meal and the guards testing the guillotine on heads of cabbage and the killer-hero telling the priest he expects a miracle. The suspense just keeps building until you can't stand it anymore. When I was a kid, I immedeately wanted to know who wrote that story and who directed that episode.

And the answers were Cornell Woolrich, and the great director Ida Lupino... who happened to be a woman.

Direceted 41 movies and TV series (multiple episodes). She died in 1995.

- Bill

1 comment:

Todd said...

Never saw They Drive By Night, so thanks for the tip

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