What a stunning directorial debut. The subjects of IDA LUPINO’s first three films as writer/director were unwed mothers , polio and rape.
Not exactly the stuff that studio pictures were made of in 1949 and 1950.
Ida and her husband Collier Young had set up their own production company. Working independently, Ida was able to choose her subjects, one of which she had personal experience of when she was young – polio.
NEVER FEAR (1949, aka The Young Lovers) costarred SALLY FORREST and KEEFE BRASSELLE as a nightclub dance couple. (Unfortunately Keefe wasn’t a dancer – far better if Sally had been the dancer and Keefe, her manager.)
They get engaged but soon Sally is feeling unwell and polio is diagnosed. In hospital, supported by Keefe and her father, she is angry “I’ll never dance or walk again.”
She is given a place in an institute where the doctor (LAWRENCE DOBKIN ) uses physical therapy for muscle re-education. She meets a fellow patient, well played by HUGH O’BRIEN (his first film.)
He tries to help her adapt to her new life.
Ida’s sister,RITA LUPINO, has a small part as another patient.
Brasselle’s character is nicely defined – at first cocky and confident of success, but in the end faithful to Sally, leaving showbusiness behind and convincing her of their future.
The scenes in the institute were filmed at the Kabat-Kaiser Intitute in Santa Monica, and we see actual wheelchair users at a Saturday evening square dance.
(It was 1955 before the polio vaccine was discovered.)
Probably made on a shoestring, the unusual theme merited some good reviews for the film. It felt to me more like a docu-drama.
Ida found an actress she could work with in Sally Forrest who starred in two of the films.
NOT WANTED 1949
NOT WANTED tells the story of a 19 year old girl, Sally (played by Sally Forrest ) , seduced by piano player, Steve (LEO PENN.) When she finds that she is pregnant , she tells the doctor, “I have no husband”. ( He has assumed that she is married).
Steve makes it clear that he never promised her anything and that he is going to South America. She cannot face her parents or her boyfriend ,Drew (Keefe Brasselle) who manages a gas station .
Leaving town,Sally gets a job in a store, but collapses in the street and is taken to a clinic for unwed mothers. The clinic staff are sympathetic and want to contact her parents but she says, “I couldn’t expect them to understand.”
Again, Ida’ s sister, Rita has a small part as one of the girls at the clinic.
The clinic also arrange adoptions and the matron tries to help by telling her about the couple who will get her baby.
Sally, in tears, says, “I’ve been thinking and thinking – I only want to do what’s right for him – no money, no future ,nothing. I don’t want him to grow up without a father. He must never hear the word they call children like that.”
The baby is adopted and Sally gets a job in a laundry. In the next three months, Keefe is trying to track her down.
Unable to forget her baby, Sally goes back to the clinic, saying she has changed her mind. She is hysterical. The matron reads a letter from the adoptive parents, to show the baby is being well looked after.
Told mainly in flashback, the film starts with Sally stealing a baby out of a pram. She is having a breakdown. And then her story is told.
The matron ,whom Keefe had managed to contact, lets him know where Sally is and the ending suggests Sally will get the help she needs.
I liked Leo Penn ( father of Sean Penn), playing the moody musician who doesn’t want to be tied down till he ‘finds himself.’
The two girls looking at their babies.
In OUTRAGE, MALA POWERS ( another young actress who made the most of the chance given her by Ida) plays a girl who suffers a vicious attack by a man who runs a coffee stand near her work.
The ‘assault’ is rape , but that word is never used in the film.
The scenes where the girl is stalked by the rapist are powerfully dramatic.
As in Not Wanted, the girl cannot cope with the aftermath – parents, her boyfriend, the people she works with- and leaves them all behind.
Also, as in Not Wanted, she meets people who help her and persuade her to return home. But her future is not clear. There is no happy Hollywood ending.
The boyfriend, played by Robert Clarke, thinks she should forget what happened – he still wants to marry her. Her inner trauma is completely lost on him.
An amazing trio of films, partly because they were the work of a new director who happened to be a woman , and because of the subject matter. Did Ida plan all three in advance? Even one of them would have been quite revolutionary at that time in Hollywood.
It would be another three years before Ida directed again – and again with a controversial topic – THE BIGAMIST (1953).
And finally, the film most remembered , THE HITCH-HIKER (1953) which, it could be argued, was more conventional in its plot than her previous films.
You wonder what next Ida might have tackled if she had been given the chance. Instead, she did not direct again for three years, and when she did return , it was on television.
Was she too controversial for conventional Hollywood? Probably.
These three films , made 60 years ago , reflect the times of course.