Produced by Collier Young, Ida Lupino’s husband at the time, “Beware, My Lovely” is an odd little thriller that will keep you on edge for all of its short 77 minute running time. Along with Lupino, the film stars Robert Ryan as Howard Wilton, a former World War 1 veteran, and schizophrenic handyman who we first see running away from his previous job after finding the lady of the house dead. He soon arrives in a new unnamed town where a sympathetic widow, Helen Gordon (Lupino) hires him; its Christmas time and she needs the help at her boarding house. It does not take long for Howard’s perceptions of reality to become twisted as the kindly Mrs. Gordon is soon viewed by Howard as suspiciously hostile, and soon becomes a prisoner in her own house. Howard, paranoid, delusional, has locked the doors, pulled the phone out of the wall, cutting off our heroine from any outside contact.
The film is simply constructed, yet engulfs the viewer with a creepy atmosphere primarily driven by Ryan’s outstanding off kilter performance. The film has some striking visual touches that contribute to the eerie mood. One outstanding scene has Helen, believing Howard has left the house, sitting down in a chair next to the Christmas tree, obviously exhausted by her recent ordeal. Suddenly we see a reflection from a couple of hanging Christmas ornaments, its Howard, slowly coming down the stairs unknown to Helen.
The talented Ida Lupino gives a wonderful performance as a hostage in her own home however; it is Robert Ryan’s performance as the emotionally disturbed handyman that is the real highlight. Lonely, confused, psychotic Howard Wilton is a template for many movie crazies yet to come. The couple work well together having just completed Nick Ray’s excellent “On Dangerous Ground.”
With a strong screenplay and story by Mel Dinelli (The Window, The Spiral Staircase, Cause for Alarm), produced by The Filmakers, the company founded by Lupino and her husband Collier Young, “Beware, My Lovely” is a gripping thriller. Contributing to the atmosphere is the art direction by Albert D’Asgostino who creates a homey atmosphere set against the terror that is played out. The husband and wife team gave production designer Harry Horner the opportunity to direct, though Lupino did direct a few scenes when Horner’s wife was ill in the hospital. In many ways, the film does reflect Lupino directed films with its arresting camerawork and stark black and white photography. As most probably know. Lupino was already a fine director of low budget psychological thrillers like “The Bigamist” and “The Hitch-Hiker.” This film fits nicely into the same pattern. It is a shame Lupino’s movie directing career was short lived as she was soon regulated to directing television series. Her television work did include though Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Thriller and a few Twilight Zone episodes. “Beware, My Lovely” is also helped greatly by cinematographer George Diskant who whose work includes “On Dangerous Ground”, “The Narrow Margin”, “Kansas City Confidential”, The Racket and Lupino directed “The Bigamist.”
When the “Beware, My Lovely”, opened in New York in September of 1952, the ever off the mark, New York Times critic Bosley Crowthers shrugged off the film as having “no other positive purpose than to send shivers chasing up and down the spine.” Well, it is a thriller, what else did he expect. It does the job admirably.
All you really need to do is mention the name of Albert D’Agostino, who I think Tony d’Ambra will also admit may be the most underestimated artist in Hollywood history in any department. His work is remarkable, as Val Lewton and others could attest too, and his output was most prolific too.
John, is there a worse critic than Bosley Crowther? Ha! He rarely called anything right, and his capsules were badly-written and pedestraian in insight. He certainly was the worst ever at the quality conscious TIMES, where we’ve had Canby, Maslin, Dargis and Scott, all excellent scribes.
Anyway, getting back to BEWARE, you mention Lupino’s direction of THE HITCH-HIKER and others. She also helmed one of Boris Karloff THRILLER’s finest hours, “La Strega” a shuddery witchcraft episode. And Dinelli’s work on both THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE and THE WINDOW was subtle and eerily effective.
Yep, I agree on Ryan. His work here is the acting highlight, and right after he teamed with Lupino on that Ray masterpiece we have shared our fondness for. In any case, outstanding review of a craft little thriller that I’ve always liked myself too.
D’Agostino had a mazing career and as you mention is probably very underrated today.
Crowther was horrible and he never changed as his notorious ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ review will attest too.
I definitely need to see more of Lupino’s TV work. She actuallydid quite a bit.
And Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours John!
Sam- the same goes for you and your family!!!
Happy Thanksgiving from me too, John. I’ve seen a few of Lupino’s films in the last couple of years and enjoyed them, so would be interested to see more of her work, and you make this one sound excellent. As I’ve said before, the problem with great blogs like yours is that I just keep on building up lists of movies I want to see!
Thanks Judy. I too have always enjoyed Lupino’s acting. She seems to bring an intelligence to the process. I know what you mean about ‘adding to the list.’ You watch two and add four.
Another one, John, sitting on my DVR waiting to be watched. You give it the usual outstanding treatment here, John. Hopefully I’ll get to it sometime in the near future.
I saw (most) of this movie today for the first time and I was really enjoying the life and / or death struggle going on between the to main characters. Unfortunately I turn away from the TV for a few seconds and literally missed the ending. From what I gathered from all the write ups about the movie the ending was abrupt as well as surprising but with no spoilers to tell me how it ends. So now I’m relegated to wait for the movie to air again so I can see the ending. D’oh.
That’s a bummer, David, but it’s a terrific, tense little thriller with two fine actors Hopefully, you get to see the entire film soon.
Same here, I turned away for a call and missed the end of the film. Don’t know how she finally got rid of him.