Ida Lupino, Director

Kino Lorber’s boxset celebrates the work of a filmmaker who worked outside of the system

Frank Lovejoy and Edmond O’Brien in The Hitch-hiker.

Kino Lorber’s boxset, Ida Lupino Filmmaker Collection, consists of four films from the actress/co-writer/director, beginning with Not Wanted, a 1949 drama Lupino helmed after the original director Elmer Clifton took ill (her direction is uncredited) and closing with 1953’s The Bigamist, co-starring Joan Fontaine and Ms. Lupino herself. The four works — all newly restored in this collection — may cover diverse topics, but they share a theme of desperation.

As a woman who wanted to direct, Lupino had to work outside the studio system. Within The Filmakers, a production group she co-founded with husband at the time Collier Young, she could make the movies she wanted to about subjects she felt important. She co-wrote Not Wanted, about a naive 19-year-old who falls for a musician and becomes pregnant. Sally Forrest plays the young woman, with Leo Penn (father to Michael, Sean, and Chris) as the piano-player who loves her and leaves her.

There’s an overwhelming shame to the work, as unwed motherhood was a taboo subject. Through the centering of Sally’s point-of-view, the viewer can only empathize with her exhaustion and worry over her limited options. Quick editing is used to mimic Sally’s dizziness at a carousel. A nightmarish hallway sequence places the viewer in her hospital bed as we hear frantic noises. There’s a low-budget feeling to Not Wanted, but Lupino and Clifton crafted a memorable work.

Special features: audio commentary from Barbara Scharres of the Gene Siskel Film Center and film historian Greg Ford; The Wrong Rut, a sex-ed short that was made to accompany Not Wanted in certain theatrical screenings

Sally Forrest in Not Wanted

Never Fear stars Sally Forrest again, this time as Carol, a nightclub dancer struck with polio. Besides an intriguing use of focus as Carol becomes sick, there isn’t much distinctive style to the direction here. This film is heavy-handed with the subject matter and clunky with melodrama.

The best thing I can say about Never Fear is that I’ve never seen a dance number incorporate fencing in such a way, and the wheelchair squaredance is a stand-out. This 1950 film, co-written and produced by Collier Young, is Ida Lupino’s first directing credit.

Special features: audio commentary from film historian Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

With The Hitch-hiker, Lupino became the first woman to direct film noir. Frank Lovejoy and Edmond O’Brien star as two WWII veterans headed to Mexico for a camping trip who pick up a dangerous figure (William Talman) on the side of the road. The cinematography plays with light and shadow, capturing the tension between the three men.

Creating this under her own production company meant that Lupino could use a script by a blacklisted writer, Daniel Mainwaring. The story contrasts the men who embrace compassion and empathy with their kidnapper who has none. The Hitch-hiker is a study of masculinity; no women have lines in the film.

Special features: audio commentary from film historian Imogen Sara Smith

Joan Fontaine and Edmond O’Brien in The Bigamist

The last film Lupino directed under The Filmakers was The Bigamist. O’Brien plays a married man who falls for another woman… and weds her, too. Joan Fontaine stars as the business-minded first wife, who hopes to adopt a child with her husband. Lupino is the working-class waitress who becomes his second wife. Edmund Gwenn plays a supporting role as an adoption agency employee who discovers the secret.

This is the strongest cast assembled in a Lupino picture (including her own performance). The director shows no judgement in the storytelling, empathetic as always. The two wives are allowed dimension and aren’t played against each other.

Film historian Kat Ellinger provides audio commentary for The Bigamist, delving into some of Lupino’s biography and career. Ellinger also goes over a quick history of women filmmakers who preceded Lupino. This director truly had a knack for “social problem” films, as evidenced by these four selections. There’s no lack of feeling for the outsider.

Kino Lorber’s Ida Lupino Filmmaker Collection was released in fall 2019. Included in the package is a special booklet prepared by the late film critic Ronnie Scheib.

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