Saturday, January 1, 2011

Underrated Performer of the Month: Ida Lupino

It's unfair perhaps to recognize Ida Lupino as the Cafe's Underrated Performer of the Month for January. She was indeed underrated as an actress, even by her own standards (having once referred to herself as a "poor man's Bette Davis"). But Ms. Lupino was more than just an actress. During the late 1940s and 1950s--when Hollywood film production was dominated by men--she carved out a successful career as a producer, screenwriter, and director.

She was born in London in 1918 to parents who both worked in show business. Ida landed her first film role when her mother, Emerald, auditioned for a Lolita-type role for 1933's Her First Affaire. Her mother didn't get the part, but director Allan Dwan was impressed with Ida and signed her for the role. She worked steadily in Britain and the U.S. throughout the rest of the 1930s, appearing in films such as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes with Basil Rathbone and The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt (an amusing turn in the best of Warren William's Lone Wolf  film series).

Lupino with Cornel Wilde
in Road House.
Ida Lupino landed her biggest role to date in 1939's The Light That Failed, a touching adapatation of a Rudyard Kipling novel about an artist (Ronald Colman) losing his eyesight. As a hard-bitten Cockney girl, Lupin earned raved notices and became a star at Warner Bros. She subsequently starred in classics such as They Drive By Night, High Sierra, and Devotion.

By 1947, Lupino found it harder to get good roles. She left Warner Bros. and co-wrote the screenplay for a B-film called Not Wanted (1949), a somewhat controversial (for the time) tale of an unwed mother. When director Elmer Clifton fell ill during the shooting, Lupino took over the directing chores.

She continued directing independent films in the 1950s, to include: Outrage (1950); Hard, Fast and Beautiful (1951) starring Claire Trevor; The Bigamist (1953) in which she co-starred with Joan Fontaine; and The Hitch-Hiker (1953), a taut little thriller that's generally considered her best film. Starting in 1956, she beginning working as a director in television, where she helmed episodes for dozens of TV series such as The Fugitive, Thriller, Dr. Kildare, Twilight Zone, Bewitched, The Virginian, and Have Gun Will Travel. She also formed a television production company, Four Star Productions, with Dick Powell, David Niven, and Charles Boyer.

She still appeared occasionally in films and on television. New York Times film critic Vincent Canby singled out for her fine supporting performance in the 1972 Steve McQueen Junior Bonner.

Ida Lupino was married three times: to actor Louis Hayward (1938-45), producer Collier Young (1948-51), and actor Howard Duff (1951-84). She died of a stroke in 1995 at age 77. Classic movie fans may remember her best for her acting, but her greatest contribution to the industry was as a pioneering female filmmaker. She was just the second woman to be inducted in the Director's Guild of America (following Dorothy Arzner).


The Lady Eve said...

As a little girl I was very aware of both Bette Davis and Ida Lupino thanks to the fact that "old movies" were regularly shown on TV...I particularly remember Ida Lupino in "The Sea Wolf" and "High Sierra." And she had a TV series for a while with then-husband Howard Duff, "Mr. Adams and Eve." I love Bette, but she gets her due; Ida doesn't. Thank you, Rick, for giving the great actress/director the spotlight here at the Cafe - she so deserves it. In the last year I watched Ida in "The Bigamist" for the first time, plus a film I hadn't seen for years, "Road House" with Richard Widmark, and one of the films she directed "Hard, Fast & Beautiful" (thank you, TCM). Ida Lupino was remarkable.

R. D. Finch said...

Rick, I'm also a huge fan of Ida Lupino. I love the tough dames of the forties, and she was one of the best at this type of role, although she always suggested intelligence as well as a streak of untapped sensitivity. It's a shame she never got that one big role that would have made her another Davis or Crawford. But she was a strong person, and I can't imagine this bothered her that much, especially after she turned her energies to writing, producing, and directing. I wonder if any readers have seen her in the rarely shown early "Twilight Zone" episode "The 16 Millimeter Shrine," directed by Mitchell Leisen and also with Martin Balsam. She's great in it playing a washed-up movie star.

ClassicBecky said...

R.D., "The 16 Millimeter Shrine" is one of my very favorites! She is so touching in that episode. Unlike Eve, I wasn't that aware of Ida when I was very young. Then I saw "High Sierra" and I couldn't get enough of Ida's movies. "The Hard Way" was one of her best performances, and "Beware, My Lovely" with Robert Ryan is one I like so much I did a post on it a while back. She had such a delicate beauty, but in her roles was grounded in reality. "Devotion", where she played Emily Bronte is also a great favorite of mine.

It was really interesting to read about her behind-the-camera work, Rick. She was quite a lady in a time when movies were truly a old boys' network. Oh, and I wonder how her mother felt losing a role to her young daughter? Yikes! Great article, Rick.

Rick29 said...

Great comments on a wonderful actress. Speaking of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, I think Ida Lupino was the only person to bth direct and act in the series. She starred in the aforementioned episode and then directed one called "The Masks."

Paul 2 said...

Hey Rick, JoAnn and I want to thank you for the great write-up one of our favorite actresses and directors. But how come you didn't mention The Trouble With Angels, which Lupino directed, starring Rosalind Russell, Hayley Mills, and Mary Wickes, among others. It really shows her range as a director, and is one of Hayley Mills best films.

Gilby37 said...

I LOVE Ida Lupino. Her films stand up well -- recently saw "Out of the Fog" and "The Hard Way" She kidded about being the poor man's Bette Davis but she was a one of a kind talent who was in the wrong place at the wrong time -- she had a lot of star quality.

toto2 said...

What an impressive choice for Underrated Performer, Rick! Ida Lupino was multi-talented and made a very impressive foray into television, especially as a director, writer, and producer. Her work helped pave the way for other talented women. It has been way too long since I have seen "The Light that Failed." I think my husband and I have a copy in one of the boxes upstairs that needs to be unpacked.

Dawn said...

Rick, What a wonderful article about Lupino's career. My favorite Lupino films are: They Drive by Night (1940) and High Sierra (1941), both opposite Humphrey Bogart. I also enjoyed her performance in the film, Escape Me Never (1947), with Errol Flynn.