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APRIL 27, 1998:  In l949, frustrated with acting, Ida Lupino went to the other side of the camera and, with her husband Collier Young, formed her own production company, The Filmakers, directing six films from l949 to l953. Her movies, dealing with then-taboo subjects such as unwed mothers, bigamy, and rape, could be called exploitation movies in the strictest sense of the term but were much more than that. They dealt with sensitive topics in a clear-headed way that sometimes veered into melodrama but avoided mawkishness; she often chose to put male characters into morally ambiguous roles and made the audience look at the issues in a different perspective. Her skill at working with low budgets and tight shooting schedules invited comparisons to contemporaries Samuel Fuller and Robert Aldrich, and later put her in demand for directing episodes of Dr. Kildare, The Fugitive, The Twilight Zone, Chiller, and even the occasional Gillligan's Island. Though informed with a woman's perspective, her movies are by no means "women's pictures." - Jerry Renshaw

In The Bigamist (l953; with Lupino, Edmond O'Brien, Joan Fontaine), Henry Graham (O'Brien) and his infertile wife Eve (Fontaine) visit an adoption agency in hopes of starting a family. The agency manager gets a hinky feeling about Graham - while performing a standard background check on the couple he follows Graham down to his L.A. office and discovers that the traveling salesman has a second wife, Phyllis (Lupino), and a baby in that city. Through flashbacks, we find that Graham had been stuck in a stale marriage in which his original wife Eve has become little more than a business partner; in a weak moment, lonely for the earlier intimacy of his marriage, he picks up Phyllis on a bus and eventually begins dating her when in L.A. The baby comes along, and while planning to leave Eve after their adoption becomes final, Henry becomes closer to her again while helping her cope with the death of her father, leaving him in a double life (complete with double identities). O'Brien, the Fifties Everyman, definitely plays contrary to type as the miserable, lonely, depressed, guilt-ridden Graham, consumed with self-loathing and disgust at his own indecision. Even though he's a scoundrel for not facing the situation and - gasp! being married to two women at once (one can't help picking up on the underlying notion that the idea of a man having "relations" with two women is the major crime here), he also tries to do the honorable thing by both women and at film's end one is left to guess the outcome of both relationships. As the adoption officer tells him at the end, "It's funny; I don't even want to shake your hand, yet I almost wish you luck." It's a sensitive treatment of a disagreeable subject, and refrains from passing moral judgment on any of the characters. In-house RKO photographer George Diskant invests the film with an almost elegant touch. Producer Collier Young was working with ex-wife Lupino and current wife Fontaine at the time, opening up an interesting personal aspect to the story of a man with two women.


Ida Lupino
The Hitch-Hiker (l953; with Frank Lovejoy, William Talman, Edmond O'Brien, Jose Torvay) finds middle-class friends Bowen (Lovejoy) and Collins (O'Brien) pick up hitchhiker Emmett Till (Talman) on a fishing trip to Mexico only to have him soon produce a revolver and take the two of them hostage. Till is a psychotic murderer who robs and kills people who give him rides, and he takes the two of them hostage until he can shake the police. The fishing buddies would seem to have the advantage, except that Till has a creepy mug and a lazy eye that nevercloses completely, even when asleep (an unnerving trait, to say the least). He toys with the two men continuously, taunting them for their softness and upright values, while never taking them out of his line of fire. The Plymouth winds up with a busted oil pan in the middle of the Mexican desert, so they take off on foot until they get to the next town. As the relentless sun begins to break the men down, the tension builds to nerve-racking level; the rocks and cacti supply a landscape as lethal as any rain-slicked city street usually associated with film noir. As in many noir stories, a comfortable reality is no more than a rug that can be jerked out from under you at any time; fate might single you out without warning, in a form as commonplace as a man thumbing a ride. Rare as female directors were in Fifties Hollywood, women directors of gritty crime dramas were scarcer still, and Lupino does right by The Hitch-Hiker, giving it a harsh, unglamorous look, and a solid suspense.

Silent movie vet Elmer Clifton suffered a heart attack three days into the production of Not Wanted (l949; with Sally Forrest, Keefe Brasselle, Leo Penn);Lupino took over its direction, but insisted on credits going to Clifton.A dazed-looking young woman takes a baby from a baby carriage on the street and walks away with it. The mother screams and calls a cop; soon, young Sally (Forrest) finds herself in a city jail psycho ward. The story proceeds in flashback form: Sally, 19, pretty, and painfully naïve, is constantly harangued by her mother while falling for an itinerant hepcat piano player, Steve (Penn), gigging at the club where she works. They date a few times until the 35-ish smooth talker leaves for the next town. Sally packs her grip and leaves home to follow Steve, making the acquaintance of nice guy Drew (Brasselle) on the bus during the trip. Steve, who evidently tosses aside women as thoughtlessly as throwing a fast food sack out of the window of a speeding car, left her in the family way, however, and shows his true colors by avoiding Sally once she moves there. Drew gives her a job at his gas station and begins to fall for her, but Sally finds out that her last date with Steve left her pregnant. She flees in shame to the next town and finds herself in a home for unwed mothers; electing to put her baby up for adoption, she finds herself working at a series of dreary jobs, living in a miserable neighborhood and gradually becoming more and more unhinged over the surrender of her baby. Not Wanted's main problem is when it swerves into histrionics, but it's a solid first effort for Lupino, incorporating some very imaginative and surprising hallucination segments. Rare is the exploitation film that deals with its subject matter in a way that is more sympathetic than exploitative; Not Wanted sets the tone for the next films Lupino would helm.


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