“The Hitch-Hiker” (1953) directed by Ida Lupino

When was the last time you invited death into your car? -A tag line for the film

Two friends, Roy Collins (Edmond O’Brien- who has appeared in several noir films) and Gilbert Bowen (Frank Lovejoy- the more conventionally handsome of the pair), on their way to Mexico for a fishing trip, pick-up a stranded motorist, Emmett Myers (William Talman- the prosecutor on Perry Mason) who turns turns out to be psychopath/escaped convict. Myers has a facial deformity which prevents one of his eyes from ever closing- creepy! He has murdered other good Samaritans; he taunts/threatens the two pals, getting joy from holding them hostage w/ his gun. Myers’s destination is a ferryboat in Baja, CA. Collins and Bowen hope to stay alive long enough to escape or maybe get rescued by Mexican cops.

Emmett Myers: You guys are soft. You know what makes you that way? You’re up to your neck in IOU’s. You’re suckers! You’re scared to get out on your own. You’ve always had it good, so you’re soft. Well, not me! Nobody ever gave me anything, so I don’t owe nobody!

The Hitch-Hiker is the ONLY film noir of the classic era directed by a woman- Ida Lupino! She was born/raised in England, then came over to the US as a teenager in the ’30s. At Warner Bros. (where she was contracted), Lupino often played characters much older than her years (b/c she had the maturity and talent). As a V slim/petite ingenue, she had her hair colored platinum. In the late ’40s, Lupino (inspired by Italian neo-realist directors, incl. Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini) decided to take on a new role; she and her writer/producer husband (Collier Young) may’ve been the first to coin the phrase “the filmmakers.” While Lupino was directing, she always wore pants, explaining that they were more suited to the work than skirts/dresses. Her production company wasn’t afraid of controversial topics or centering stories of females: Not Wanted deals w/ a teenager’s unwanted pregnancy, Never Fear is centered on a dancer who has polio, and Outrage considers what happens after a woman survives rape.

Ida Lupino is the most talented and versatile woman in the history of movies. -Eddie Muller, TCM host

This tense/atmospheric movie is available in the public domain; the run time is at 71 mins. It is based on an incident that happened in California in the early ’50s. At this time in the US, hitch-hiking wasn’t that uncommon. A man named Billy Cook murdered a family of 5, incl. 3 children, then killed a traveling salesman. He kidnapped 2 hunting buddies (James Burke and Forest Dameron) and took them across the border into Mexico, intending to kill them, too. However, Cook was captured by Mexican police and extradited to the US. Lupino somehow met Dameron at an event in Palm Springs, FL, and felt this story would make a compelling movie. She also met w/ Cook while he was on death row in San Quentin- wow!

Talman recalled an incident that happened shortly after the release of The Hitch-Hiker. He was driving his convertible in LA w/ the top down, and he stopped at a red light. Another driver in a convertible stopped next to him stared at him for a few seconds, then asked: “You’re the hitchhiker, right?” Talman nodded. The other driver got out of his car, slapped Tallman across the face, then drove off. Talman said: “You know, I never won an Academy Award, but I guess that was about as close as I ever will come to one.”

[1] This flawlessly acted and directed thriller sustains a uniquely tense atmosphere from start to finish, and this without reverting to explicit violence or dreadful clichés. 

[2] We’ve seen many similar plots over the years, but I thought this was a fresh and unpredictable. Lupino’s direction really suits the material, the tension builds throughout, and Talman is unforgettable.

[3] This is a low budget, black and white suspense thriller that has more tension in it than a dozen recent movies. The low budget works in its favour, with tight camera angles making for a claustrophobic viewing experience. Actress Ida Lupino certainly knows what she’s doing behind the camera, as she rarely puts a foot wrong here: the pacing is exact and the performances are excellent.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

 

Noir City DC Film Fest: “Road House” (1948) & “Desert Fury” (1947)

Hey y’all, thanks for reading (hope you also subscribe)! I missed out on blogging re: movies during #Noirvember (yup- again), BUT am gonna share w/ you the 2 films I saw at a local film fest (at AFI in Silver Spring- a FEW blocks from my place). The best part- I met TCM host Eddie Muller (looking classy and full of funny stories) and got my book (Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir) signed!

Road House (1948) starring Ida Lupino, Cornel Wilde, Richard Widmark, & Celeste Holm

Jefty Robbins (Richard Widmark), owner of a roadhouse in a small town (near the Canadian border), hires tough-talking/world-weary Lily Stevens (Ida Lupino- who does her own singing) for a 6 wk. gig, despite the reservations of his manager/best friend, Pete Morgan (Cornell Wilde). Pete even tries to get Lily to go back to Chicago, offering her some money. Jefty is interested in Lily, as she’s “different from other girls.” He brings her breakfast in bed at her hotel. When Pete goes out of town for a fishing trip, Lily turns her charms on Pete, who is resistant. Pete usually dates the roadhouse cashier, Susie Smith (Celeste Holm). Events bring Pete and Lily closer together, until they fall in love. Lily turns down Jefty’s marriage proposal. Then, Pete and Lily have to face Jefty’s intense jealousy!

Susie: She does more without a voice than anybody I’ve ever heard!

Road House was director Jean Negulesco’s 1st film for 20th Century Fox; he had recently been fired by Warnes Bros. Darryl F. Zanuck told him, “This is a bad script. Three directors have refused it. They don’t know what they’re doing, because basically it’s quite good. Remember those pictures we used to make at Warner Bros., with Pat O’Brien and Jimmy Cagney, in which every time the action flagged we staged a fight and every time a man passed a girl she’d adjust her stocking or something, trying to be sexy? That’s the kind of picture we have to have with Road House.”

Not only was Lupino (one of Muller’s faves) a good actress, she also had a head for business (purchasing the rights to the movie for $20K). This film was a year after Widmark played a sadistic killer in Kiss Of Death. As Jefty, Widmark gets to show some of his “regular guy” side, but evolves (or devolves) into a very troubled man. Wilde’s role is as the straight man (which can be dull), but he does a good job. Wilde and Lupino have strong romantic chemistry. Holm gets the (thankless) role of the “girl next door” who’s overlooked, but she handles it well. I really liked the production design on this film; scenes in the roadhouse’s bowling alley were shot at a real alley located near the studio. Check this movie out- it’s one I think MANY will enjoy!

[1] Despite the hole-riddled ending, it’s still worth seeing because of Lupino’s and Widmark’s performances. She is great as the 2nd-rate singer (singing her own songs with a decent but obviously less than stellar voice–which was perfect for the role)… Widmark was interesting because he combined two totally different performances in one film…

[2] “Road House” is an engaging film–noir with a storyline of unrequited love and obsession. Ida Lupino has an impressive performance, singing with a wonderful husky voice. […] This film is also the third appearance of the outstanding Richard Widmark and his insane smile on the cinema. Cornel Wilde and Celeste Holm complete the dream cast of this unknown gem. 8/10

[3] Widmark’s character is by far the most interesting. A little unbalanced at the beginning, he turns crafty and bitter before he loses it altogether. There’s a good deal of pathos in the character.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Desert Fury (1947) starring Lizabeth Scott, John Hodiak, Burt Lancaster, Wendell Corey, & Mary Astor

Fritzi Haller (Mary Astor) is a powerful casino owner in Chuckawalla, a small town in Nevada. Her 19 y.o. daughter Paula (Lizabeth Scott) has quit school; she returns at the same time as racketeer Eddie Bendix (John Hodiak), who left under suspicion of murdering his wife a few years ago. Paula and Eddie become involved, despite the big age gap and her being warned against him. Fritzi, a deputy/Paula’s friend Tom Hanson (Burt Lancaster) and Eddie’s companion Johnny Ryan (Wendell Corey- his film debut) try to break up the relationship. Then, Eddie’s past catches up w/ him in an unexpected way!

This is the kind of B movie that ONLY a true fan of noir will like (or tolerate)- LOL! Seeing it w/ a audience helped, as did the intro from Muller. The music is unnecessarily dramatic, overpowering some scenes. Fans of this genre MAY be surprised to see Scott as the lead here; she was a limited actress (though V conventionally pretty w/ a distinctive/husky voice). Lancaster (looking esp. handsome w/ his tousled hair and leather jacket) has the straight-shooter role here; Tom (in his late 20s) cares for/is protective of Paula. She doesn’t have many friends in town; other kids stayed away from her b/c of her mother’s profession. The romance between Paula and Eddie isn’t as interesting as the (enigmatic) relationship between Eddie and Johnny. Corey gets a meaty role for his first role; a villain w/ many layers, Johnny is V protective over his friend.

[1] Made in 1947 in perfect glossy Technicolor to distract you from the beserkness and tawdry storyline, this is one terrific exercise in censorship busting antics that managed to fulfill it’s reputation. […] DESERT FURY is genuine queer cinema. With incest hinted, guns and car tire screeching, sinister sunglass wearing and cactus pricks everywhere…

[2] Desert Fury is one of those several films from the studio days where gay was strictly taboo yet it somehow got to the screen. That scene where Corey tells Scott how he met a ragged and hungry Hodiak at the Automat and bought him a meal and took him home sure sounded like a pickup to me. Many from the generation before Stonewall told me that the Horn & Hardart Automat was one of the great pickup places in New York. Romances and flings have started in stranger places. No way that the writers would not have known that. Corey’s devotion to Hodiak can’t be explained any other way as the story unfolds. In fact he’s the stronger of the two.

[3] The best part of Desert Fury is Edith Head’s costumes. Every single scene, Lizabeth and Mary are dressed in gorgeous dresses that will have you oo-ing and ahh-ing for the entire running length. Lizabeth is very pretty in this film, and dressing her up in such beautiful costumes only makes it more fun to watch her, even when she’s exercising bad judgement.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“High Sierra” (1941) starring Ida Lupino & Humphrey Bogart

Bogie was a medium-sized man, not particularly impressive off-screen, but something happened when he was playing the right part. Those lights and shadows composed themselves into another, nobler personality: heroic, as in “High Sierra.” I swear the camera has a way of looking into a person and perceiving things that the naked eye doesn’t register. -John Huston (who wrote the script), when asked about Bogart’s unique appeal on this movie

Roy “Mad Dog” Earle (Humphrey Bogart) was broken out of prison by an old associate who wants him to help w/ a robbery of a casino on the California-Nevada border. The two young punks who’ll be assisting are Babe (Alan Curtis) and Red (Arthur Kennedy, before he became a well-known character actor). When the robbery goes wrong (a cop is dead), Roy is forced to go on the run. Also in the mix are a loyal dog, Pard (played by Bogart’s own dog) and two potential love interests- former dancehall girl, Marie (Ida Lupino), and Okie farmgirl, Velma (Joan Leslie). Police and press are hot on his trail; he hides in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Roy Earle: Of all the 14 karat saps… starting out on a caper with a woman and a dog.

Bogart also sent many telegrams to Hal B. Wallis and studio head Jack L. Warner asking to be cast as Earle (who was modeled on John Dillinger). Paul Muni left Warner Bros. after a contract dispute and George Raft turned down the role, so Warner called Bogart. This was the last movie Bogart made where he didn’t receive top billing; the studio decided that Lupino should have top billing, as she’d been a big hit in They Drive by Night (1940). Though Marie admires and falls for Roy, Lupino didn’t like the way Bogart treated her and his use of sarcasm. Director Raoul Walsh saw Bogart more as a supporting player, not a leading man. He wrote  in his biography that Bogart complained about everything: food chosen for lunch, settings, conditions of shooting, etc.

Roy Earle: I wouldn’t give you two cents for a dame without a temper.

Roy is a lonely/romantic man; he came from a small town, as he tells Pa (the farmer he meets on the road). He falls in love w/ Pa’s granddaughter, Velma, a pretty/club-footed young woman who sees him as a friend/benefactor. Roy has emotions which run deep; he wants to give up crime and marry a “good girl.” He has a soulmate in Marie; she is weary, straight-forward, and cares deeply for him. Roy prefers the one he can’t get- of course! Bogart and Lupino have very strong chemistry here.

[1] Not cocky like Cagney and Muni, not psychopathic like the early Edward G. Robinson, not as smooth as Raft, Bogart is a ruthless professional with a wide stripe of sentimentality. His Roy never shirks from killing, but he doesn’t get off on it. He’s more a rebel than a gangster, a poetic soul denied respectability, a man longing for the innocence of his youth.

[2] Bogart’s interpretation already showed signs of the special qualities that were to become an important part of his mystique in a few more films.

Here, for the first time, was the human being outside society’s laws who had his own private sense of loyalty, integrity, and honor. Bogart’s performance turns “High Sierra” into an elegiac film.

[3] Many fine moments [for Lupino] with Bogey… including a memorable speech within his cabin hideout. This is one of the best portraits of a desperate outlaw in film history. A blueprint for all the antihero films that would follow over the years…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“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

My 1,000th Post: “While the City Sleeps” (1956) starring Dana Andrews, Rhonda Fleming, George Sanders, Vincent Price, Ida Lupino, & John Barrymore, Jr.

…tempers hard-core noir with more mainstream motives. It’s a slick, entertaining, and at times even scary movie.

With an intriguing plot and an impressive ensemble approach with the casting, this film offered much and, although it could have been darker in tone, it still offered a lot of potential to be a slick urban mystery. 

Hitchcock of course treated the subject of a mother-fixated psychopath just a bit better a few years later…

I did like how Lang seemed to enjoy himself thumbing his nose at the production code.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

The main plot concerns what happens at Kyne News Service after the founder/boss suddenly dies. Walter Kyne (Vincent Price), a playboy who doesn’t know much re: his father’s business, decides to have a contest among the heads of its three divisions for a new executive role. Mark Loving (George Sanders) runs the news wire, Jon Day Griffith (Thomas Mitchell) runs the newspaper New York Sentinel, and the paper’s art director is Harry Kritzer (James Craig). Walter’s wife, Dorothy (Rhonda Fleming), is having an affair w/ Harry, who is also the best friend of her husband. While these men one up each other, anchorman Edward Mobley (Dana Andrews), pursues the story of a murderer targeting young women living alone. Ed is trying to convince his girlfriend/Loving’s secretary, Nancy Liggett (Sally Forrest), to marry him. The gossip columnist, Mildred Donner (Ida Lupino), may be seeing Mark, but she also has eyes for Ed.

From 1936 to 1956, German director Fritz Lang made some psychologically astute movies, often working w/ pulp fiction (lightweight material). Most of these were thrillers, dealing w/ the psychosis of the killer. Plot never really interested Lang; he focused more on the details and characterizations. The serial killer here (played by John Barrymore, Jr.) is never the focus of attention. This movie was based on a real 1946 murder case, when William Heirens killed three women and left a message (in lipstick on a bathroom mirror) after the second murder. He urged the police to catch him before he killed again; the press dubbed him “The Lipstick Killer.”

As TCM’s Eddie Muller noted, usually noirs don’t have this many big names. The lighting (for the most part) is flat, like you’d see on a ’50s TV show, Muller explained. I noticed the “K” logo for Kyne Enterprise looks similar to one in Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (also produced by RKO). The first half presents the POV of those who report the news, so if you’re interested in journalism and corporate intrigue, check it out. I watched it twice in the past two years; I didn’t appreciate it much the first time.

After 6+ mos. of quarantine life, I’m having a tough time staying positive. Also, have you noticed how much laundry and dishes there are to do!? I’d like to cook more, but my work has become quite busy (and stressful) this Summer/Fall. I feel tired pretty much all the time these days. This blog is helping me to stay sane (no joke). Thanks to all who are reading, subscribing, sharing, and liking my posts! I hope you all stay safe!