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Ida Lupino: Filmmaker Collection
Kino Lorber pays tribute to Ida Lupino with this four-disc Blu-ray collection that brings together four of the films she made between 1959 and 1953.
The first film in the set, Lupino's directorial debut from 1949, tells the story of Sally Kelton (Sally Forrest), a single, twenty-something girl who lives at home and doesn't really have a whole lot of excitement in her life. Her work ethic isn't much and her job at a local café unfulfilling. When she meets a musician named Steve Ryan (Leo Penn), who is just passing through town, she falls head over heels for him, unaware (or maybe unable to accept) of the fact that he's clearly just going to use her for kicks before splitting to his next stop. And use her for kicks he does.
However, Sally is determined and without any other real prospects to look forward to, she hops a bus and decides to follow Steve to his next gig. While she's travelling, she meets kindly Drew Baxter (Keefe Brasselle), who just so happens to run his own gas station in the town where Sally is to disembark. He helps her get setup with a spot at a local boarding house and soon enough, even gives her a job working for him. Drew has clearly been carrying a torch for Sally for a while now, but she's just not interested. Even if Steve clearly wants nothing to do with her at this point, she's still got at thing for him. Eventually, she comes around on Drew but at this point, her situation only gets worse when he heads off to play for a while in South America and she finds out that she's carrying his child!
Lupino took over directing duties on this one from Elmer Clifton, who passed away from a heart attack shortly after the production started, but she also co-wrote the script and served as one of the film's three producers. The film is definitely a product of its time and it wears its vintage clearly on its sleeve, but it's an entertaining picture. It is, first and foremost, a melodrama but the acting here is solid and we're able to sympathize with Sally's plight even if the stigma is being a single mother in 2019 isn't what it was in 1949. Forrest is good here, we buy her in the part, and Penn as the somewhat lecherous older man only too happy to take advantage of her and split is also quite good. Brasselle is just plain likeable as Drew, an army veteran who has tried to make a go of it for himself. We like him enough that we definitely want Sally to end up with him, but of course, that bun in the oven proves to be a problem for all involved.
Lupino directs with skill even this early in her career behind the camera (though she'd been acting for a while at this point). The film is well-paced and nicely shot. Clearly made with a modest budget, it still looks decent and features quality cinematography. Elements of it might play like camp by modern standards but it is easy to see how this could have had a pretty big impact on audiences who caught it first run, given that it deals quite bluntly with what would have back then been some controversial subject matter.
Note that this film was re-released in the 1950's as The Wrong Rut in an altered version that did see a DVD release from Something Weird Video where it was double featured with Birthright. It would have been great had this alternate version been included here but that didn't happen.
Lupino's second directorial effort, from 1950, tells the story of Guy Richards (Keefe Brasselle) and Carol Williams (Sally Forrest again). They're a dance duo that have been working hard to make it and only just recently started to find success in the dancehalls of their town. They're also an item off stage and, with a bit of money coming in, are starting to talk about tying the knot.
This newfound happiness is short-lived, however. Carol takes ill and after a stint in the hospital is diagnosed with polio. The doctors assure her that she'll be able to walk again, if she works at it, but the likelihood of her being able to return to dancing is slim. Not impossible, mind you, but slim. Guy does what he can to help her out and soon enough she enters a rehab hospital for physical therapy and treatment. Soon enough, her once rock-solid relationship with Guy starts to show cracks. Carol becomes plagued with self-doubt, leaving the audience wondering if they'll make it or not.
Once again Keefe Brasselle and Sally Forrest deliver very good work. They're both likeable, which is key to getting the viewers on their side and invested in their plight. The dance scenes in the first part of the film are well-choreographed and impressive, and these two just have a really strong chemistry together. We wind up rooting for them and hoping for the best, which makes seeing how their story comes to its conclusion both interesting and entertaining. The film might be high on melodrama but scenes where Carol is undergoing rehabilitation wind up as surprisingly tense and gripping, and Lupino and company do a great job of framing all of this in such a way as to wrench all of the emotion possible from the story.
Production values are good here. The score does a great job of hyping up the dance scenes but also in enhancing the more dramatic aspects of the story. The lighting is great and the compositions always professional looking. Lupino co-wrote this one as well and it shows quite a bit leap in ability from the first film in the set. The characters are better written and more mature and the story more detailed and less predictable. Lupino's direction is impressively tight, and this one just works really well.
1953's The Hitch-Hiker has the distinction of being the only classic film noir entry to have been directed by a woman. The movie focuses on realism as much as it does on shadowy cinematography and it makes excellent use of some rough and tumble location photography which makes the picture a fairly unique entry in the pantheon of classic noir.
The film follows two friends, Roy Collins (Edmond O'Brien) and Gilbert Bowen (Frank Lovejoy), who decide to get a little break from family life by driving into Mexico for a fishing trip. The trip starts out well enough but of course, all of this is about to change once they pick up a hitchhiker along the way named Emmett Myers (William Talman). See, Roy and Gilbert somehow missed out on those radio news spots alerting everyone in the area to the fact that a convict has escaped and that he is considered quite dangerous. Emmett has been working his way further up the coast and has kept going by murdering anyone kind enough to stop and offer him a lift, and our unwitting heroes just might be next.
Once Emmett has been picked up and made his motivations clear, he forces the guys to drive him straight on across the border. The cops are onto all of this and are giving chase as best they can, while Roy and Gilbert, now well aware of the fact that Emmett is going to kill them once he's done, do everything in their power to find a way out of the situation alive.
At just a hair over seventy-minutes in length, The Hitch-Hiker moves at a good pace. It starts off with just enough set up to get things moving before becoming instantly tense with the scene where Emmett takes over the direction that this trip is going to take. Edmond O'Brien is his typically reliable self in his role. He's a bit more hotheaded than Lovejoy as Bowen and this can sometimes put the duo in more danger than there might be otherwise, but he plays the part well. Bowen is the brainier of the two, the type who will think his way out rather than try to shoot his way out. Both men deliver fine work here but when it all comes down to it, this really is William Talman's show all the way. He steals the entire movie a delivers a chillingly effective portrayal of a man on the run with nothing to lose. His character is desperate and dangerous and will put a bullet in anyone who attempts to get in his way or slow him down without so much as a second thought. He's the type who (literally, due to a bad eye) sleeps with one eye open and Talman does a fantastic job bringing this character to life.
Shot with a fairly realistic look in mind, this one was lensed out on location in the desert. This makes for a sweaty, arid sort of tone for much of the picture, giving it almost a post-apocalyptic feel in spots that had to have been intentional given when and where it was made. These men are more or less in the middle of nowhere and unfortunately for the two captives, the desert is in many ways just as dangerous as the criminal in their car. The mountainous terrain is unforgiving and the heat just as able to put you down for the count as a shot from their captor's gun. The movie makes some interesting jabs and typical male violence and the tendency to solve problems with fists and guns, but more than anything else it just works really well as an excellent suspense picture. Once Talman's character is introduced to our two travelers, which happens pretty early in the movie, the movie keeps us on the edge of our seat right to the finish. This is, overall, an excellent film.
The fourth and final film in the set tells the tale of Harry (Edmond O'Brien) and Eve Graham (Joan Fonatine), a married couple hoping to conceive. They've been married for a few years now and Harry's business is doing just fine. They're in that ever so short window in life where everything seems set just right for them to have a baby… except they can't. When they look into adopting, the head of the agency, Mr. Jordan (Edmund Gwenn), starts digging into Harry's personal life and, as he becomes increasingly suspicious of the man, soon learns the truth about why Harry has been travelling back and forth between home and Los Angeles.
See, while Harry definitely loves Eve, there have been issues, the kind of issues that drove him to another woman, Phyllis (Ida Lupino herself). Harry, as the title so subtly hints at, is a bigamist, and now he must face the legal and personal consequences of his second marriage.
The Bigamist is a surprisingly mature film. It would have been easy to simply portray Harry as a man whose sexual impulses got the better of him, a Tomcat unable to choose between one beautiful woman or the other, but it doesn't do that. It sets things up in such a way that we know Harry really and truly does care about both Eve and Phyllis. For different reasons, sure, but he does legitimately love them both. The fact that he's been dishonest with them is painful for him, and the movie does a great job of making sure we understand why that is.
This would all be for naught if the acting wasn't up to par, but thankfully that isn't the case. O'Brien, who was often cast as tough guys, is surprisingly understated here and shows quite a bit of skill in bringing the role of Harry to life. Fontaine and Lupino are every bit as good, if not better, both women enchanting and even glamorous. They inhabit their characters really well, and of course we wind up feeling for them as well.
Had this production turned into just another soap opera it wouldn't have mattered much but Lupino keeps things tense and engaging throughout. Again, the film is nicely lit and shot, and the score does an excellent job of complimenting the performances. The story stops short of casting judgement on its characters, rather it allows the audience to come to their own conclusions about all of this, but it's interesting to see it all unfold, especially when it happens in such an engaging way as it does in this film.
Interestingly enough, one of the producers on this picture, and the writer of its screenplay, was Lupino's ex-husband, Collier Young, who was at one point involved with the film's leading lady, Joan Fontaine. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.
All four films arrive on Blu-ray from Kino in a 1.33.1 full frame transfers, except for The Bigamist which is framed at 1.66.1, and are presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition, each on its own 25GB disc. There are some scratches here and there and some minor print damage is present in spots but for the most part, these are quite nice transfers that offer good depth and detail. Contrast looks fine, the black levels are nice and deep and there's no blooming of the hotter whites. There are no problems at all with any edge enhancement or noise reduction and a noticeable but welcome amount of film grain is present throughout, though never to the point where it's particularly distracting. Texture is nice and the discs are free of any compression artifacts or crush in the darker scenes. Generally these four movies very nice indeed.
Note that while the transfer for The Hitch-Hiker included in this set looks very similar to the single disc release from a few years ago, it is taken from a new 2k scan and does feature noticeably better black levels than that earlier release did.
The English language DTS-HD Mono tracks on these four Blu-ray discs from Kino are fine considering the film's age and obscurity. Not surprisingly, the tracks are a bit flat in spots and limited by the original source materials used, but overall there is good clarity throughout each picture and a reasonable amount of depth to the dialogue. Levels are properly balanced and there aren't any issues with any serious hiss or distortion outside of a few minor bits here and there. For the most part, the mixes are clean and crisp and offer pretty good range for older single channel tracks. There are no alternate language options of any kind provided but English subtitles are offered up for all four films.
Note that the previous release of The Hitch-Hiker had an LPCM Mono track on it, this new disc has a DTS-HD track and it does sound a bit cleaner than the earlier release.
Extras in the set are spread across the four discs as follows:
The main extra on the disc is a commentary with Barbara Scharres, the director of programming at the Gene Siskel Film Center, and filmmmaker/historian Greg Ford. They spend quite a bit of time detailing the background of the picture, discussing how and why Lupino came to direct the film, the other hats that she wore during the making of the movie, it's release and production history, how it was received when it hit screens, the cast and quite a bit more.
Also found on this disc is The Wrong Rut, a ten-minute piece that documents the short film that played with the picture when it was re-released on the exploitation movie circuit in the fifties. It uses footage from Not Wanted and other sources in an attempt to scare young people out of having accidental pregnancies.
The disc also includes trailers for Daisy Kenyon, Female On The Beach, I'll Be Seeing You, The Tarnished Angels and Portrait Of Jennie as well as menus and chapter selection.
Film historian Alexandra Heller-Nicholas offers up an audio commentary track that does a solid job of exploring the themes presented in the film and dissecting the characters that inhabit it. We get quite a bit of talk about Lupino's direction in the picture, talk of her evolution as a filmmaker, as well as insight into the cast and crew that helped her make it.
The disc also includes trailers for The Lodger, He Ran All The Way, Since You Went Away, Witness To Murder and Ruby Gentry as well as menus and chapter selection.
New to this release is an audio commentary by film historian Imogen Sara Smith. This track does a really nice job of exploring the director's style as well as how and where the film fits in the Film Noir pantheon. There's lots of talk here about the locations, the score and the performances as well as what sets this apart from other thrillers of its day.
Also on hand are trailers for Shield For Murder, 99 River Street, Cry Of The City, He Ran All The Way, and Boomerang as well as menus and chapter selection. The still gallery from the older single disc release has not been carried over to this release.
Once again we get an audio commentary, this time with Kat Ellinger, who explores the origins behind the film and its story. She also talks up the characters and the situations that they find themselves in, how Lupino did double duty on this one and worked both in front of and behind the camera during the production and more.
Included on this fourth disc are trailers for Daisy Kenyo, Female On The Beach, The Tarnished Angels, Shield For Murder and Junior Bonner as well as menus and chapter selection. The still gallery from the older single disc release has not been carried over to this release.
Alongside the four discs in the boxed set, Kino also provides a seventy-six-page book containing an essay apiece for each of the four films in the set along with a nice selection of archival stills and photographs. It's quite a nice addition to the set.
Kino has done a great job with their release of the Ida Lupino Filmmaker Collection, presenting four of the director's pictures in very nice shape and with solid audio commentary tracks exploring their merits. The movies themselves show how much range Lupino had, each one worth seeing for its own reasons. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.