Beware, My Lovely (1952) Harry Horner

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.