“Beware, My Lovely” (1952) starring Ida Lupino & Robert Ryan

Howard Wilton (Robert Ryan), a handyman/drifter, arrives at the house of widow/teacher Helen Gordon (Ida Lupino). He is hired for the day to help clean the house, incl. waxing the floor. It soon becomes apparent that Howard’s behavior is unusual. Howard anxiously asks Helen if his work is satisfactory. He works hard, but is uncomfortable b/c he thinks she is watching him. Helen’s teen niece, Ruth (Barbara Whiting), reacts badly when Howard doesn’t appreciate her flirty behavior. She taunts him; this makes him mad. After she leaves, Howard locks the doors, and makes Helen a prisoner in her own home!

The petite Lupino makes a striking contrast to the dark/tall (6’4″) Ryan. This taut/thought-provoking 77 min. noir was also owned/produced by Lupino and her husband, Collier Young. This is the first movie directed by Harry Horner, who worked as an art director/ production designer for theater, opera, as well as movies. The head of RKO, Howard Hughes, held the film from release for a year. Ryan felt Hughes (known for his right-wing politics) tried to “bury” it b/c Ryan was publicly active in left-wing politics. The staircase was left over from the set of The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) and would be used in many RKO films.

We (in the modern world) are wary to have strangers work our homes (w/o a reference from a friend, family member, or trusted neighbor). Of course, many of us do research on businesses online. However, this story is set in 1918 in a small town, where almost everyone knows each other. Helen’s boarder, Mr. Armstrong (Taylor Holmes), jokes around w/ her before leaving town for the holidays. A group of young schoolchildren bring gifts for Helen to place under her Christmas. This is not the type of environment where we expect danger, in reality and in fiction. But you never can tell! “Women in jeopardy” movies used to be a staple of ‘90s cable TV; however, the story here is more nuanced than you’d expect.

[1] I was attracted to this film because the title suggested a tough detective film noir… Very quickly though I realised that this was down to some people’s assumption that anything that is black and white and tough gets called a “noir,” but I was not disappointed because this domestic thriller is driven by two very good performances. 

[2] …wow did Ryan do a really good job portraying this man! You really find yourself feeling for Ida Lupino as he destroys her life. So with such intense acting and menace…

[3] The suspense comes from her various ploys to keep him happy while trying to escape. It’s a nail-biter all the way. 

-Excerpts from IMDB movies

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