“Out of the Fog” is based on a 1939 play called “The Gentle People” by Irwin Shaw. The play ran for a respectable four and half months on Broadway and had one heck of a cast that included Franchot Tone, Lee J. Cobb, Sam Jaffe, Sylvia Sydney, Elia Kazan, Martin Ritt and Karl Malden. It was produced by the legendary Group Theater and directed by the visionary Harold Clurman. The play was an anti-fascist parable (Shaw subtitled the play, A Brooklyn Fable) of the meek overcoming the arrogant and the powerful. In the play the two main characters were elderly gentle Jewish men, Jonah Goodman and Philip Anagnos, who are shaken down for five dollars a week in protection money by a smart aleck, stylishly dressed, wise ass gangster named Harold Goff (Tone). Goff also awakens the dreams and sexuality of Jonah’s bored daughter Stella (Sydney) who has hopes of leaving her meaningless existence for a more exciting life. When Goff learns the two fishermen have money saved to buy a boat, he demands they hand the savings over to him too. In order to rid themselves of Goff’s extortion and threats, the two fishermen lure him into their boat. Once they are out in the ocean they kill him and toss him overboard but not before taking his wallet filled with the money. Continue reading
“Out of the Fog” is based on a 1939 play called “The Gentle People” by Irwin Shaw that ran for four and half months on Broadway. The play had one heck of a cast that included Franchot Tone, Lee J. Cobb, Sam Jaffe, Sylvia Sydney, Elia Kazan, Martin Ritt and Karl Malden. It was produced by the legendary Group Theater and directed by the visionary Harold Clurman. The play was an anti-fascist parable (Shaw subtitled the play, A Brooklyn Fable) of the meek overcoming the arrogant and the powerful. In the play the two main characters were elderly gentle Jewish men, Jonah Goodman and Philip Anagnos, who are shaken down for five dollars a week in protection money by smart aleck, stylishly dressed, wise ass gangster, Harold Goff (Tone). Goff also awakens the dreams and sexuality of Jonah’s bored daughter Stella (Sydney) who has hopes of leaving her meaningless existence for a more exciting life. When Goff learns the two fishermen have money saved to buy a boat, he demands they hand that over to him too. In order to rid themselves of Goff’s extortion and threats, the two fishermen lure him into their boat, once out in the ocean they kill him and toss him overboard but not before taking his wallet filled with the money. Continue reading
The Hard Way – Vincent Sherman (***1/2) – The Hard Way is centered by a strong iron clad performance by Ida Lupino who won the New York Film Critics Award for her role as the determined, tough, hard driven older sister willing to sacrifice anything and anyone to ensure her sister’s rise to the top of Broadway’s bright lights. Lupino’s character is tagged as evil but is she really? The sisters were raised in a small polluted industrial town, both women looking to get out using any means necessary to accomplish their goal. The kid sister, played by Joan Leslie has talent and gets a few “breaks”, mostly amoral breaks promoted by big sister Lupino. When little sister is part of the chorus of a Broadway show Lupino gets the bitter star, played by Gladys George, drunk enough that she storms out of the rehearsal, Lupino then pushes her sister on the producers giving her the opportunity of a life time. It works and she becomes a star! Directed by Vincent Sherman with male supporting roles provided by Dennis Morgan and an excellent Jack Carson. Behind the scene credits also include cinematography by James Wong Howe and montage by future director Don Siegel. Leslie’s performance is debatably the weak link here. Her song and dance number that represents her big break is actually pretty bad making it hard to swallow that it was this routine that impressed the director and producers of the play to give her the lead.
The Westerner (William Wyler) ***1/2 Except for an overly sentimental ending this western duel between Gary Cooper and Walter Brennan holds up very well. Brennan gives one of his best performances as Judge Roy Bean, a law unto himself with a big weakness for the beautiful actress Lily Langtry whom he would never meet. Brennan deservedly won one of his three Best Supporting Actor awards for his role. While on the surface it seems that Brennan steals the movie, Cooper’s subtle performance adds much to the proceedings though it is a secondary part. Cooper is a wandering cowboy who stops in the town of Vinegroon where the only law west of the Pecos is the hanging Judge Roy Bean. Cooper as Cole Hardin, is quickly put on trial for horse thief but manages to save himself through a series of long comical tales about knowing Lily Langtry the actress with whom the Judge is in love from afar. The meat of the film is the relationship between the Judge and Hardin. Whenever the film moves on to other storylines such as the growing war between the homesteaders and cattlemen and a bland love story between Hardin and homesteader Jane Mathews (Doris Davenport) the film slides in clichés ridden tedium.
According to author Jeff Myers (Gray Cooper: American Hero) at the Dallas premiere Coop rode down Main Street during a parade fully dressed in a cowboy outfit on horseback. This film also marked the film debuts of Dana Andrews and Forest Tucker.
“Road House” is one of those films that could possibly be classified as a noir or a melodrama ,still the look, the style, especially in the second half of the film makes it hard to deny its film noir lineage. This is especially due to cinematographer Joseph LaShelle’s (Laura, Fallen Angel, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Psycho) ominous lighting crammed with and fog and darkness in the climatic final scenes. The plot is a ménage a trios right from hell, two men in love with a beautiful woman. A tawdry tale filled with booze, smokes and unrequited desires. Jefty Robbins (Richard Widmark) has just hired Lily Stevens, bringing her in from Chicago, to sing at his roadhouse located a couple of miles from the Canadian border. Jefty’s long time friend, Pete Morgan (Cornel Wilde) manages the place for him and sees Lily as just another in a long line of babes Jefty has hired and Pete has to fire after Jefty gets tired of them.
Jefty inherited the roadhouse from his father. While he may not be a spoiled rich kid, he seems to be someone who has had everything handed to him without much effort on his part and when he tires of any possession they get disposed of, women included. For Jefty, Lily though is different, he wants to marry her though she has displayed no interest or given any encouragement to him on her part.
Pete takes an instant dislike to Lily; however after Jefty goes off with some friends for a few days on a hunting trip they get to spend time together and fall in love. When Jefty returns with a marriage license all set to marry Lily he is instead confronted by Pete who tells him he and Lily are in love. Jefty, who up to this point in the film has been a regular guy, suddenly metamorphoses’ into Tommy Udo, Widmark’s psychotic gangster in “Kiss of Death.” Jefty frames Pete for a robbery at the roadhouse, getting him convicted and facing a two to ten year stretch in prison, only to convince the Judge just before sentencing, to suspend the sentence on the condition that Pete serves two years on probation in Jefty’s charge. Jefty’s maniacal games attempting to control Pete and Lily’s lives eventually leads to a deadly and decisive chase through the woods as they approach the Canadian border.
Ida Lupino has top billing and earns it! She is smart, tough, sexy, vulnerable and all shades in between, a no-nonsense, hard bitten, tough woman whose backstory one must assume is filled with a pocketbook full of bad dreams. Our first shot of her is in Pete Morgan’s office, her bare leg up on his desk, a cigarette dangling from her sensuous lips as she plays solitaire. Lupino even does her own singing and frankly her voice is limited though if you have ever been in a similar small town joint like Jefty’s you have probably seen worst. Give her credit for not insisting on a voice dubbing. Among her four or five songs is the classic “One for My Baby, One More for the Road.” My only complaint with Lupino is her Princess Leia hairdo that she wore throughout the film. It reminds me of another noir hair disaster, the Barbara Stanwcyk blonde wig in the otherwise magnificent “Double Indemnity.” One has to wonder in both cases, what the filmmakers were they thinking. As for Cornel Wilde, the best that can be said is that he is stiff.
In only his third film Widmark who had fourth billing battles Lupino for who is going to steal the show. I would say Lupino owns the first half of the film but once Widmark releases his inner Tommy Udo in the second half, it is all Richard. Celeste Holms is the fourth member of the cast. As Susie, she works for Jefty at the roadhouse and has had a crush on Pete. She also has some of the best lines in the early part of the film. When Sam the bartender (Jack G. Lee), after hearing Lily sing for the first time says, “Hey, Susie, What do you think of this one? She something, isn’t she? Susie’ sarcastically responds “If you like the sound of gravel” She also tells Jefty “She does more without a voice than anybody I ever heard.” The screenplay is courtesy of Edward Chodorov based on a story called “Dark Love” by Margaret Gruen and Oscar Saul which was originally commissioned by Lupino.
If anything hinders “Road House” it is the artificial setting which today stand out as typical movie sets. Coming from a studio that in the past year or so prior to this film released realistic location shot films like “Boomerang!”, “The Naked City” and “Call Northside 777” makes it a bit disappointing . Still the film’s storyline leads to a good climax and the performances by Lupino and Widmark along the some nice photography make this a film well worth seeing.
Made in 1955, “Women’s Prison” is an early example of a sub-genre of films that has muddled along for more than 5o years without much change in storyline. There is the young waif (not your typical criminal type but a young innocent who through unfortunate circumstances became involved in a crime), the career criminal who is returning to the joint for the umpteenth time, the wise cracking sidekick, the cruel matrons, and the sadistic superintendent, in this case played by none other than Ida Lupino. Few of these films have ever risen above the level of exploitation, John Cromwell’s “Caged” (1951) the most obvious exception. The most unique and improbable feature about “Women’s Prison” is the prison itself, being a coed penitentiary, well almost. Split into two sections, the men’s and the women’s. There is a Warden (Barry Kelley) who runs the entire institution and a cruel female Superintendent, Amelia Van Zandt (Ida Lupino), who is in charge of the female wing.
Van Zandt is no nonsense, borderline psychotic who runs the prison with an iron hand, minor infractions punished severely without remorse. It seems the root of Van Zandt’s sadistic nature is her incapability to establish an emotional relationship with a man and takes out her frustrations on the inmates. At least, we are given that explanation by the compassionate prison doctor (Howard Duff) who is in verbal battles with Van Zandt throughout the film. Yes, a woman cannot be fore filled without a man according to the doctor and of course, by the two writers credited of the script, Jack DeWitt and Crane Wilbur.
The film begins when waif like Helene Jensen (Phyllis Thaxter), convicted of manslaughter due to a car accident that caused the death of a young girl, and returning inmate Brenda Martin (Jan Sterling) are delivered to the prison. Helene is immediately placed into solitary for a two-week stretch, on orders from Superintendent Van Zandt, which is too much for Helene’s fragile psyche and soon she is screaming uncontrollably. Annoyed by the constant ear-piercing crying, Van Zandt orders the matrons to strap Helene into a straight jacket and toss her into a padded cell. That ought to teach her! The following morning, the matrons find Helene comatose, probably from all that screaming. She is taken to the infirmary where prison’s doctor, the sensitive Doctor Crane lashes out at Van Zandt’s inhumane methods. Not taking any bullshit from this compassionate do-gooder, Van Zandt verbally strikes back at him by enlightening him to the fact she is only reforming these women and the harsh measurements are necessary in order to prepare them to function in society. Helene manages to survive her ordeal in solitary and is eventually transferred into the general inmate population.
The film’s switches its focus from Helene to another inmate Joan Burton (Audrey Totter), whose husband Glen (Warren Stevens) is also a prisoner in the male section of the prison. Glen has discovered a secret passageway that leads to the women’s wings and sneaks over to visit his wife. Joan is scheduled to be released soon and being a loving husband, Glen wants to spend a little quality time with his wife before she departs. Apparently, one of his visits was a memorable one as Joan soon finds herself pregnant. When the Warden and Van Zandt discover the pregnancy, they want to know how Glen accomplished this breach in security, sneaking into the women’s wing that is, not getting his wife pregnant. The Warden can’t get any information out of Glen so he threatens Van Zandt giving her one week to find out from Joan the details or she is out of there.
Van Zandt begins a methodical ritual of waking up the pregnant Joan every night dragging the expectant inmate to her office and attempting to force the woman to spill the beans on how her husband sneaked into the women’s section. Only problem is, Joan doesn’t know because Glen never revealed to her how he did it. Of course, the vile Van Zandt does not believe Joan’s claims of innocence and responds with vicious slaps across the inmate’s face. Finally, in a fit of rage Van Zandt knocks the pregnant Joan down to the floor.
Unconscious, Joan ends up in the infirmary, so severely beaten she is on oxygen. Glen sneaks over again to visit her only to watch her die with him by her side. Almost magically, Glen pulls out a gun and goes after Van Zandt. Meanwhile Brenda and the other inmates upon learning of Joan’s death are set to riot. They burst into Van Zandt’s office, drag her out taking her hostage. The Warden sends in armed guards with tear gas to crush the uprising.
So here, we have a riot in the women’s wing, a crazed husband with a gun on the hunt for Van Zandt, armed guards lobbing tear gas in and Van Zandt running, hiding and dodging everyone only to appropriately “hide” in the padded cell. The good Doctor, the only one with any common sense in this entire film is helpless to stop the out of control insanity.
Overly melodramatic, with some laugh out loud situations you can easily understand how this film found its camp following in the early 1970’s. Ida Lupino, a very good actress, hams it up here, and one has to wonder if she was in on the joke. Then there is Ms. Lupino’s wardrobe. While the inmates all wear standard drab prison uniform type dresses, Ms. Lupino is dressed as if she fell off the pages of a 1950’s Vogue magazine ad. Lupino apparently, wanted her character to dress stylishly to emphasize the contrast between her control freak character and the lowly inmates.
Lupino made this film right after the collapse of “The Filmakers”, the independent production company she formed with her former husband Collier Young. It was with “The Filmakers” that Lupino directed most of her films, “The Bigamist”, “Outrage” and “The Hitch-Hiker” and produced and acted in such works as “On Dangerous Ground”, “Beware My Lovely” and “Private Hell 36.” When the company collapsed in 1955 (an ill-fated decision to go into film distribution, which Lupino fought against) Ida had to find work and “Women’s Prison” was her first post “The Filmakers” job. Interesting enough, Lupino would play a similar role some 17 years later in the made for TV movie, “Women in Chains.”
Women in Prison films became very popular in the 1970’s and 1980’s though the premise changed very little. This included Roger Corman cheapie’s like “The Big Doll House” and its sequel “The Big Bird Cage”, both with Pam Grier, “Caged Heat”, directed by Jonathan Demme among many others. These films became so popular that even made for television movies like the previously mentioned “Women in Chains” (1972) again with Lupino and in 1982, “Born Innocent” with head twisting pea soup queen Linda Blair (who also made her own “R” rated WIP feature film, “Chained Heat”). Even the quaint murder mystery TV series “Murder She Wrote” had a WIP episode entitled “Jessica Behind Bars” that included Adrienne Barbeau in the cast.
“Women’s Prison’ was directed by the pedestrian Lewis Seiler with a cast that includes along with Lupino, Howard Duff, her husband at the time, Jan Sterling, Audrey Totter, Cleo Moore, Mae Clarke and Juanita Moore. The film was released by Columbia.
You will notice I am giving this film only two stars out of five for many reasons including a hilarious overly melodramatic script, over the top acting and uninspired direction. That said, on another level, the film is a lot of unintentional campy fun much for the same reasons just mentioned. Just to see Lupino’s final scene padded cell antics makes this film worth viewing. On this basis I would rate the film ***1/2.
With no major female characters, Ida Lupino’s 1953 film “The Hitch-Hiker” is somewhat idiosyncratic in her feature film directing career. Considered a director with a strong female identity, Lupino shows she can handle a gritty all male thriller just as skillfully as one of her mentors Raoul Walsh. She was also admittedly an admirer of Allan Dwan, Fritz Lang and cinematographer George Barnes. “The Hitch-Hiker” made in 1953 tells the story of two weekend fisherman, Roy Collins (Edmund O’Brien) and Gil Bowen (Frank Lovejoy) who graciously but unfortunately pick up hitchhiker Emmett Myers (William Talman). Myers turns out to be a psychopathic mass killer who forces the men to take him across the border to Mexico. The remainder of the film is a claustrophobic ballet of survival between the two hostages and the killer. Lupino keeps the trio in close quarters throughout the film enforcing the fear that escape is impossible. Much of the time the three men spend in cars and small backrooms, yet even in the openness of the Mexican desert Lupino’s camera confines the characters space.
From the opening sequence, Lupino keeps you on the edge of your seat with the threat of violence about to explode at any moment. Filmed by the magnificent cameraman, Nicolas Macursa, it is filled with stark contrasty black and white imagery that enhances the moody aridness of the brutal desert heat. What is amazing is how much Lupino accomplished with such a low budget, both in front and behind the camera. Like all of Lupino’s directed features, this was a no-frills production.
The opening scenes quickly inform us what we are dealing with. A faceless hitchhiker robs and murders an equally faceless couple somewhere in Illinois as the license plate tells us. A newspaper headline flashes across the screen “Couple Murdered!” A second headline identifies the killer as Emmett Myers. We transition to another road, and another pickup and another faceless murder, this time a man. Keeping the victims faceless Lupino enhances the fear that the next murder victim could be anyone, anywhere including us, the viewer watching the film.
We cut to two men Roy Collins and Gil Bowen; they are on a fishing trip, away from the wives, work, and life in general. Unfortunately, fate enters in the form of Emmett Myers who they misguidedly pick up. Myers quickly pulls his gun and directs the two hostages to head toward Mexico.
Unlike his previous victims, Myers does not immediately kill these men. Instead, he takes them hostage having them drive him to Mexico. On the way, he torments them with sadistic games. In one scene Myers forces Gil, Myers is holding a pistol on him, to demonstrate his hunting skills using his rifle to shoot a soda can out of Roy’s hand.
William Talman’s performance as the psychotic killer with a paralyzed right eye that remains open making it difficult for his prisoners to know when he was sleeping, is outstanding. It’s an unforgettable creepy performance packed with rage and terror. There is nothing good about this man. In a campfire scene, Myers demands Gil toss him his watch. After looking at it, Myers tells them he had a watch like this once, only he didn’t buy it, he robbed a jewelry store. Edmund O’Brien and Frank Lovejoy are perfect as the two ordinary Joes on a fishing trip, away from their wives and responsibilities, inexplicably trapped in a nightmare journey toward death. The film’s tension is all in the performances of the three leads, the divergent actions and reactions between Talman’s crazed hitch-hiker and the passive hostages.
The film’s major flaw is an ending that does not reach a satisfying climax worthy of all that has come before. A massive manhunt by both U.S. and Mexican law enforcement, on the same scale according to Time magazine of the manhunt for John Dillinger, results in Myers capture but is played out very low key.
Lupino co-wrote the screenplay with Collier Young during the last months of their marriage. Daniel Mainwaring apparently contributed but due to HUAC investigations, RKO refused to give him any screen credit. Lupino and Young would remain business partners, in The Filmakers, and friends even after their divorce in October 1951 and her quick marriage to Howard Duff that same month (she was pregnant with a daughter fathered by Duff).
The film is based on the true story of mass murderer Billy Cook who in a 22-day murder spree killed a family of five and a sixth person, Robert Dewey, a salesman. He then kidnapped two hunters holding them hostage for eight days and forcing them to drive him over the border to Mexico before he was eventually captured in Santa Rosita, a coastal city in Baja California, the same location where the movie was filmed. Cook would die in San Quentin walking the last mile to the gas chamber in 1952. Like Cook, Emmett Myers in the film had a deformed eye that always remained open and was a full-blown psychopath. Cook’s reputation was so large that both Time magazine and Newsweek did multiple stories on him.
Cook’s life was one of luck…all bad. Born into a family of seven kids, his mother died when he was five years old. Soon after, Billy and his siblings were abandon by their father and eventually found by authorities in an abandon mine cave. Billy’s brothers and sisters all managed to be placed in foster homes with Billy the exception, possibly due to the deformed right eye. While a ward of the county, Billy began to exhibit violent behavior. When he was 17, Cook was sent to the Missouri State Penitentiary where his rage continued to escalate. While there, he would have the words HARD LUCK tattooed on his knuckles (reminiscent of Robert Mitchum’s phony reverend in “The Night of the Hunter” who had GOOD and EVIL tattooed on his knuckles).
Lupino was in Palm Springs, to receive the Foreign Press Association’s “Woman of the Year” award and met one of the two hunters held hostage by Cook. Fascinated by the story, The Filmakers Group soon announced they were going to do a film based on the story of the two kidnapped hunters. This was met with resounding objections from the Motion Picture Association insisting that the Production Code forbid the portrayal of modern-day outlaws. The Filmakers would eventually resign to the fact that a fictional version of the story was the only way the MPA would allow the story to be told.
By the way, Jim Morrison’s song Riders of the Storm from their 1971 album “L. A. Woman” is said to be partially based on or as least alludes to Billy Cook’s story. Consider the following:
There’s a killer on the road/His brain is squirming like a toad
Take a long holiday/Let you children play
If you give this man a ride/Sweet memories will die
Throughout her directing career, Ida Lupino was patronized as a woman doing a man’s job and certainly ignored artistically. Today, Lupino is recognized for her unique contribution to filmmaking in the early 1950’s as the first woman to direct a film noir (too bad she never had the opportunity to make more), her sparse gritty style, reminiscent of the many Warner Brothers films she acted in. Lupino stands firmly side by side, shoulder to shoulder with other mavericks from the same period like Nick Ray and Sam Fuller. That’s pretty damn good company to be in.
**** (out of five)
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.