The Cult of Director Ida Lupino’s The Filmakers Movies (Part Two)

*contains spoilers

Different actors were used for Ida’s next film, which she directed and co-wrote, entitled Outrage (1950). This film was only the second movie about rape ever released in modern day Hollywood under the rule of The Production Code after Johnny Belinda (1948), which won actress Jane Wyman (1917-2007 in sleep) an Oscar. The Code wouldn’t allow Ida to use the words sex fiend or sex maniac nor rapist or rape in her final script.

“I’m going to make the gravy,” hints an almost hot and heavy Mala Powers (1931-2007 leukemia) to her boyfriend Robert Clarke (1920-2005 complications of diabetes), when she insists that he stay for dinner. “Oh, brother,” he responds at the prospect.

Johnny Belinda (1948) was one of the first modern films allowed to deal with rape in the community
Outrage (1950) poster

Mala’s a “happy little worker” until she’s followed home one night on an empty street by a snack van vendor who ogles women with intent. His initial: “Hey, beautiful…” turns into a cat and mouse chase which is well directed and ends with a truck horn getting stuck in a shriek of evil horniness, as an erect gear stick stands between the rapist and poor Mala.

Ida’s use of location and the black and white image is similar to the work of director Don Siegel (1912-91 cancer) who was gaining in popularity around this period. He would direct one of the last of the movies produced by The Filmakers titled Private Hell 36 (1954) which Ida co-wrote. Siegel made Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954), which had been filmed on location in Folsom State Prison thanks to the fact that David Peckinpah (1925-84 heart attack) had a small role in the production. It was reported that the warden was reluctant to let Siegel film at the prison until he happened to learn that Peckinpah, who was with Siegel at the time, was the grandson of hanging judge Denver S. Church (1862-1952) and then the warden agreed. David would later be named Sam Peckinpah and become a celebrated director himself. Peckinpah was a dialogue director on Private Hell 36 which was the last film Ida co-wrote and it was the only The Filmakers movie shot in a widescreen ratio.

Director Sam Peckinpah later in his career

Back to Outrage and the rape isn’t shown, of course, but it’s the post-traumatic stress (PTSD), which was yet to be named as an illness in the 1950s, which Mala’s character suffers from as a result of the rape, and it is central to the movie. In the beginning her psyche is reduced to screams, wails and sobs before she stares out of her bedroom window with a locked door.

This carefree girl now elicits whispers in her neighbourhood and at work where she has a near emotional breakdown as she cries: “Go on take a look! Go on all of you!!”

The horrible thing is that there is no justice for Mala as she didn’t see the face of the rapist, only a scar on his neck. Her fiancée tells her to shut-up when she says the marriage is off because he will: “Never forget!” the loss of her virginity to a criminal. The only choice is a one-way bus ticket out of town… But it is a case of wherever you go, there you are, as you cannot escape your troubles physically because they are carried with you wherever you go. That is part of the trauma of PTSD, which is rife throughout the community, whether the victim was violated sexually or treated violently as a child, or as a teenager, or even as an adult.

Actress Mala Powers is raped in Outrage (1950)
The reverse of being the centre of attention for Mala as people talk about ‘it’ behind her back…

It influences and determines a person’s subsequent behaviour and often it is a replay of the original crime in one form or another, especially in children. How, and if, the person deals with their original violation determines their character and whether they will become either a law-abiding citizen, incurably mentally ill, or even a ‘criminal’ like the person that inflicted the original traumatic experience upon them. For many it is too much to deal with alone, or they have no insight into why they are the way they are and this leads to further trauma within the community. Outrage has this understanding of the nature of mental illness fully integrated into its script.

After Mala passes out on a deserted rural road, it is lucky it’s Tod Andrews (1914-72 heart attack) who finds her and takes her to a local ranch to recover.

Mala forgets her PTSD briefly when she befriends Tod Andrews in Outrage (1950)
Collier Young and Ida Lupino continued their professional relationship

Ida’s dealing with marginalised women and the problems which arise was ground-breaking. Although abortion was never as issue in Not Wanted, the loss of a child was… And that a person’s sexuality is perhaps invalidated by the wider community due to disability, was explored as never before in Never Fear. Outrage takes the investigation of a person’s sexuality being damaged or affected by assault as far as it could go for the times…

Mala’s character Ann is reborn in the countryside for a brief spell as she hangs out with Andrews who is a church reverend.

“It’s hard to put into words, but I call it faith,” he tells her at one stage about what anchors his character. Faith can be in other people or the universe and not necessarily a God.

Ida’s films are catholic in terms of their universal messages but it is distinct from the Catholic church. The Christian organisations are painted as progressive in some quarters, such as in Not Wanted, while the ‘Christian’ based characters within the community in her movies accept outsiders on face value.

The hurdle in Ida’s early movies was often the self. A rare colour shot from Outrage (1950)

The cynicism comes from within and the journey must be made within for the person to triumph in the end without the problem, or at least gain an understanding of it. In Ida’s movies, it’s through compassion and through the surrogacy of friendship – the person is rehabilitated and ‘believes’ in the world again. Faith in oneself and the world. The characters are born again but not in the religious sense. Ida’s message movies maybe spiritual but they are not religious.

The reverend’s purity makes Mala’s character see beyond the bondage of sex in society and she falls in love with his spirituality. But she then realises she cannot have him as her own and the PTSD and its bondage returns… She cannot escape the past or even begin to understand her neurosis.

“We all have to stop running sometimes… We have to face ourselves,” says Andrews who tells her of his crisis of faith after or during his service in WW2. He hints he dealt with PTSD and that of others. The key is to look within and to understand yourself and see the reason why you behave in an anti-social way.

Outrage (1950) trailer

There is another dance, this time among the local community at the ranch. Symbolism is used again of Mala standing beside a quaint and peaceful looking old maid as everyone else dances. She could turn out like her if she chooses one way or the other…Is it so awful? But a young man forces himself onto her, asking for a dance, with echoes of the rapist: “You’re beautiful…” It seems to be happening all over again and there is that perception that certain women are victims over and over again in relationships which attract violent men … but Mala isn’t one of them and strikes him with a spanner, running away from her troubles again into the countryside as a result. The cycle of the violence initiated by the rapist is ongoing.

Outrage is the most socially conscious of Ida’s movies and when Mala is first jailed, she tells, in the form of delusions and hallucinations, the reasons which caused her to strike out at the man at the dance mainly because she imagined he had a scar on his neck. At this stage it seems she is damaged and her soul sickness is beyond rehabilitation… and she if ready for jail herself.

Not Wanted had the mediation in the backroom of the assistant District Attorney’s office whereas in Outrage, after Mala’s rapist is caught on an unrelated charge, there is a talk this time between Andrews and the prosecutor of Mala’s case of grievous bodily harm against the man she hit with the spanner.

It is explained by Andrews that the criminal who raped her spent half his life behind bars and “he was never treated as a neurotic individual, never treated as a sick man”. Who knows what sex crime or PTSD set him off in the first place?! Like polio the victims are often children.

The discussion in the office of the prosecutor in Outrage (1950) is the key to avoiding criminal charges
Mala must deal with the anxiety of PTSD and its subsequent violence
A great shot at the beginning of the low-budget movie Outrage (1950)

Andrews pleads to the prosecutor for more hospitals and clinics to be opened in this day and age of mass neuroses in a community and mentally displaced persons. The truth of the matter is told in this kernel: “Ann (Mala) needs people who love her as much as she needs psychiatric treatment”. It is that organic treatment and early intervention which happens today that Ida’s Outrage script was begging for… before the person goes completely off the rails, as disturbed people often do without true friendship and ‘love’ to confide and perhaps share the odd laugh with.

Mala’s charges are dropped and she parts from Andrews, who tells her, as she faces some rehabilitation or treatment: “People who mean something to each other never say goodbye… they’re never really apart no matter how many miles or years.” This is the reverse of PTSD being related to another violent or predatory person.

The surrogacy of a transitory friend for life is central and part of the faith and spirituality which she needs to belong, even if this time she doesn’t return home back to the arms of her former fiancée. Outrage leaves the ending open but it contains a message of hope. As a result, Outrage is Ida’s masterpiece and its message is once again universal.

The idea of PTSD and psychosis was perhaps inspired by Ida’s first marriage to the actor Louis Hayward (1909-85 lung cancer). The marriage which began in 1938 ended in 1945 after Hayward returned a drastically different and changed man by his experiences during the Second World War possibly due to PTSD.

Hard, Fast and Beautiful (1951) poster
Ida and Robert Ryan make a brief appearance in Hard, Fast and Beautiful (1951)

Ida’s next directing assignment for The Filmmakers would be a departure from the first three films, an unofficial trilogy, she directed. Hard, Fast and Beautiful (1951) was made in a period during Ida’s life where the idea of becoming a mother and its ramifications may have been considered.

In real life, it would appear she was separated from husband Collier Young but she got pregnant with her daughter shortly after the film’s release in May of 1951. The father of the child was actor Howard Duff (1913-90 heart attack) despite the fact she was still married to Young. Duff had already had a tempestuous affair with Ava Gardner (1922-90 pneumonia) between her marriages to bandleader Artie Shaw (1910-2004 unspecified) and singer and actor Frank Sinatra (1915-98 heart attack).

Daughter Bridget was born seven months after Ida and Young’s divorce and six months after Ida married Duff. If it were today it wouldn’t be a big deal and it didn’t appear to be too much of a big deal as Duff and baby Bridget appeared in the last film co-written by Ida and Collier: Private Hell 36. Was it really a private hell? Young was perhaps already having an affair with actress Joan Fontaine whom he married in 1952. Fontaine stars along with Ida in The Bigamist (1953) which Ida directed and Young wrote. It was such incestual behaviour on the part of the stars but I’ll discuss that film a bit later.

Ava Gardner and Howard Duff out night-clubbing

Hard, Fast and Beautiful stars Claire Trevor (1910-2000 respiratory failure) as the mother of Sally Forrest, again sitting in for Ida as a surrogate star. It is a role Ida was too old for anyway. Trevor wants her daughter to succeed more than anything and thus there is a relationship this movie has with Ida’s The Hard Way (1942) where she played the mother figure. I don’t know how much Ida’s mother was a driving force behind her success… But Sally’s great at tennis and her mother wants to control and chaperone her… but in the end Sally dumps her and her championship future for love with actor Robert Clarke.

Tennis was as popular sport in Hollywood but I don’t think this film had box office potential in small towns and poorer communities. It’s based loosely on a novel called American Girl by John R. Tunis (1889-1975) who ‘invented’ the sports story as a genre in book and film form. The book itself was an unflattering portrayal of tennis champion Helen Wills Moody (1905-98) who held the most Wimbledon titles record of eight before Martina Navratilova came along in 1990 and won nine. Wills also was the original inspiration for artist Frida Kahlo’s (1907-54 pulmonary embolism) Allegory of California mural. The truth is that several well-known tennis stars were forced to play by their parents and were unhappy as a result.

Robert Clarke and Sally Forrest in Hard, Fast and Beautiful (1951)
Wimbledon champion Helen Wills Moody in action
This book title by John R. Tunis sums up the movie

Apart from the fact that Sally Forrest was trained by Eleanor Tennant (1895-1974), who was nicknamed ‘Teach’ by Clark Gable (1901-60 heart attack) and Carole Lombard (1908-42 plane crash) for teaching the stars tennis, and that it was released the same year as Alfred Hitchcock’s tennis themed movie Strangers on a Train (1951) the film is otherwise unremarkable. It did, however, begin to show weak male characters which would appear in Ida’s next two movies. It has also been compared favourably to the mother and daughter melodramas of director Douglas Sirk (1897-1987) who was popular in the 1950s. Maybe I’ll like it later.

Ida would go back to realism but it wouldn’t be one with a social conscience by directing and co-writing The Hitch-Hiker (1953). It is considered the only true noir film directed by a woman and is probably her most exploitative effort in the real meaning of the word.

The Hitch-Hiker (1953) with its famous tag-line

Inspired by the spree murders of Billy Cook (1928-52 executed), who murdered six people on a 22-day rampage across several states in 1951-52, and based on a story by Daniel Mainwaring (1902-77) who wrote the novel for the film noir classic Out of the Past (1947), the screenwriters, which included Ida, Young and Robert L. Joseph (1923-2002 head injuries from fall) were also perhaps influenced by director Raoul Walsh’s road film They Drive by Night (1940) which had starred Ida.

The Hitch-Hiker had a budget of $200,000 which was about the norm for a The Filmakers movie along with an average shoot of about two weeks.

It is reported that Ida went to San Quentin prison to get Billy Cook to sign a release to use his story in the script along with the two survivors of Cook’s spree who are played in the movie by Frank Lovejoy (1912-62 heart attack) and Edmond O’Brien (1915-85 Alzheimer’s disease). Cook’s role of killer is played by William Talman (1915-68 lung cancer), who was one of the first celebrities to film an anti-cancer advertisement which was played posthumously pleading for people to not be ‘losers’ by smoking. Yul Brynner (1920-85 lung cancer) did the same in the 1980s. Talman’s make-up in The Hitch-Hiker even had the deformed eyelid of Cook.

Actor William Talman had Billy Cook’s droopy eye in The Hitch-Hiker (1953)
The real killer Billy Cook
A tattoo on killer Billy Cook’s hand

The cinematographer for The Hitch-Hiker was Nicholas Musuraca (1892-1975), who worked on several of Val Lewton’s productions before he worked on the classic Out of the Past. His work in black and white is considered masterful and, together with Ida, they have created a claustrophobic piece in terms of image where the close-up is used to great advantage.

It was Ida’s first all-male cast and it appears The Filmakers were making an attempt at a mainstream movie which would do major box office by reporting the facts about Cook’s murders. But the Production Code wouldn’t allow all the murders to be shown and the amount of killing was cut down to three victims. They were also told the script had to be fictionalised, which it was, although RKO’s publicity machine promoted in the prologue and the poster that “the facts are actual”.

Some of the great cinematography and lighting used in The Hitch-Hiker (1953). Frank Lovejoy (left) and Edmond O’Brien (right).
Ida seems to wear the pants as she directs The HItch-Hiker (1953)

Frank Lovejoy said in an interview about working with Ida as a director: “She’s the prettiest director I’ve ever worked for. And it was a pleasure to call my director ‘honey’ or ‘doll’.” Reports of how Ida worked on set differs, with one report that she always referred to herself as ‘Mother’ on the set even to the point of having a director’s chair which had the word ‘mother’ on it for publicity purposes. It is said she would approach the actors with the words: “Darling, Mother has a problem…” Then there are other reports that she wore the pants as a director and called all the shots in a masculine way. The truth being somewhere in between I gather.

She did say about directing: “Keep your powder dry and your puff handy.”

The Doors song Riders on the Storm mentions a hitch-hiker murderer
Jim Morrison in his short film HWY: An American Pastoral (1969)

I should mention the relationship The Hitch-Hiker has with The Doors front-man Jim Morrison’s (1943-71 heroin overdose) short film HWY: An American Pastoral (1969). Morrison wrote and co-directed and produced and starred in it. HWY was based, in part, on Billy Cook and that short film was, according to Morrison, meant to be “the warm-up for something bigger” as he plays a hitch-hiker and possibly a murderer by the end of the film. Filmed in March 1969, it was overshadowed by the murders of Sharon Tate and her friends by the Manson Family in December of that year and remained more or less unreleased. In that it was meant to lead to something bigger seems to relate to it being a kind of introduction to the last album by The Doors featuring Morrison with its serial killer related songs Riders on the Storm with its lines: “There’s a killer on the road…. Give this man a ride, sweet family will die…” and the album’s title song L.A Woman which is also about a murderer blowing into town. Billy Cook, incidentally, killed an entire family which included young children aged under ten years of age. “I hate everybody’s guts,” he said at the time of his arrest, “and everybody hates mine.”

Ida in They Drive by Night (1940) screams: “The doors made me do it!”

Just one last link and Ida Lupino’s character in the road movie They Drive by Night (1940) breaks down into madness in the court room at the end and in upstaging the entire cast cries out: “I saw the doors! I saw the doors!… The doors made me do it!… Yes, the doors made me do it!” before breaking out into maniacal laughter. I wonder if film students and The Doors founders Morrison and Ray Manzarek (1939-2013 bile duct cancer) were impressed by this scene?

Then Ida directed her last feature film for many years, The Bigamist (1953). Its failure spelt the end for The Filmakers, as RKO refused to distribute the movie or The Filmakers chose to do it themselves because of their success at the box office with The Hitch-Hiker. The company would only produce two more movies which were Private Hell 36 and Mad at the World (1955). The last two titles carry some sort of frustration with Hollywood and perhaps tensions among the creative team of The Filmakers which had worked together between 1949 and 1955.

The Bigamist (1953) poster
Howard Duff and Ida Lupino with daughter Bridget

The Bigamist is considered a masterpiece by some and as a movie created through the grace under pressure of infidelity and broken marriages and the birth of baby Bridget Duff. Perhaps Young couldn’t produce a child for Ida, or didn’t want one? Anyway, the film is selected in the book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.

The Bigamist stars Edmond O’Brien again as a man who wants to adopt a baby with his wife played by Joan Fontaine. They have to go through a rigorous investigation into their lives by the man in charge of allowing adoptions played by Edmund Gwenn (1877-1959 stroke and pneumonia). O’Brien’s a travelling salesman based in San Francisco but his long sojourns in Los Angeles leave him lonely until he meets Ida on a bus which is on a tour of the homes of the stars of Hollywood… The film is cited as the first American feature film where a female star directed herself.

Joan Fontaine, Collier Young and Ida Lupino on the set of The Bigamist

The song It Wasn’t the Stars that Thrilled Me takes on new meaning as the lonely O’Brien takes the bus even though he’s not really interested in the tour. One of the homes which is pointed out on the tour is that of Edmund Gwenn, as some kind of in-joke, as well as an existential moment added to underline the reality of the piece and the infidelity of Ida, Young and Fontaine’s real-life love or hate triangle which is on display. Perhaps they remained friends and we are shown insight into the real homes of the Hollywood stars by proxy. While Young wasn’t really a bigamist himself, or was he keeping two households? It doesn’t matter as he had already split with Ida by the time this film was made and was married to Fontaine… but we get the idea from the script that Young preferred Ida’s earthiness to Fontaine’s classiness. Or both!  It seems an antiquated idea that you can only love one woman. Can a woman also love two men? Ida and Fontaine were possibly past the point of their greatest beauty by the time this movie was made and the film doesn’t dwell on beauty except in terms of the love one person can have for another, or in this case, more than one person. It is that bohemian notion again of an open marriage that you can carry on with another person and not necessarily behind another lover’s back. The Bigamist tells this legitimately within the traditional confines of the times and a male point of view. A woman is not a bigamist and yet Ida got pregnant while still married to another man. These are the dynamics which give the film depth.

Edmond O’Brien transitions towards infidelity and bigamy when he meets Ida on a bus in The Bigamist (1953)

Ida’s work in a traditionally male role produced some interesting movies within its parameters and while they may, or may not, have shifted public attitudes or enlightened people to the degree that they meant to, they generated some interest and discussion.

“You kill me…,” says Ida to O’Brien, when he takes her on the town with champagne away from her job as a waitress in a Chinese restaurant. It is then that the song It Wasn’t the Stars that Thrilled Me takes on another meaning from the tour of the star’s homes, as the couple dance. The casting by Ida of her earlier movies also supports this song from her perspective… But the true meaning is probably about romance and money and even lust without God or the universe in the minds of the protagonists. The film is eventually just about infidelity and how we shouldn’t make a big deal of it.

It is the face-off in court where Fontaine and Ida sit as O’Brien is on trial for the title crime which has the best dialogue. It was also probably meant to generate box office in terms of the Hollywood gossip machine… The judge sums up: “There are many bigamist marriages going on that nobody knows about… This is a condition which strikes at the very roots of our society… There’s tragic irony that the defendant may have even loved both these women… Perhaps he even needed them both… I suspect he’s lost them both.”

He’ll have to support them both as a result. He was already doing so! I guess the film is saying don’t get caught or don’t get married in the first place. It’s just a convention.

A scene from The Bigamist (1953). Can a man or a woman carry on a sexual relationship with just one person?
Sally Gray and Stanley Lupino in Cheer Up (1936). Sally had a long affair with Ida’s father. The dynamic of the name Sally as the unwed mother in Not Wanted is interesting.
Ida’s mother Connie Emerald. Much loved and sainted?

“I don’t want Bridget in here,” says Duff about the baby, played by real daughter Bridget, as Ida and he and his friends booze in the loungeroom, in Ida’s last The Filmakers movie.

This movie is Private Hell 36 (1954) which Ida wrote with Young, and it was a last hurrah for the ex-couple and new husband Duff.

“Maybe they’re having a little trouble in the doe department,” Ida says about another couple in one line from the movie and the film’s story of cops who steal $100,000 is almost an indictment of RKO’s creative accounting, which possibly left Ida and former husband Young’s The Filmakers, out of pocket.

Private Hell 36 was directed by Don Siegel, and it is said in Siegel’s biography that Ida was on the set arguing with the director about how some of the over the shoulder shots should be done.

“I liked Ida personally and admired her talent. We just couldn’t communicate,” complained Seigel, who usurped her in terms of reputation and the amount of feature work he completed later in his career.

It is probably ironic that Siegel’s films are remembered these days while Ida’s directorial efforts are forgotten. Further, Siegel got a nomination for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures by the Directors Guild of American for Riot in Cell Block H in 1955, when Ida’s career as a movie director more or less ended. Poor Ida never got any recognition in terms of awards, not even a nomination in a minor competition, and long after she called herself ‘a second-rate Bette Davis’, she also called herself ‘a second-rate Don Siegel’ in retrospect. Meanwhile Ida’s contemporary, director Stanley Kramer (1913-2001 pneumonia), who produced the Brando film The Men, which I mentioned earlier, would go on to win an honorary Oscar in 1961 for the “message movies” produced by his own production company such as The Defiant Ones (1958) which was about racism.

Barbra Streisand strikes a blow for women and collects a Golden Globe for Best Director
Kathryn Bigelow with the Best Director Oscar for The Hurt Locker (2008)

Women would have to wait for a directing award when Barbra Streisand (1942-) won a Golden Globe for Best Director for her movie Yentl (1983). It would be Kathryn Bigelow (1951-) who would be the first woman to win a Best Director Oscar for her movie The Hurt Locker (2008).

The last movie produced by The Filmakers was Mad at the World (1955) and Ida had no artistic connection. Directed and written by Harry Essex (1910-97), it is one of the first vigilante movies as it also depicts the social problem of juvenile delinquency. While Alan Ladd’s (1913-64 drug and alcohol overdose) penultimate movie 13 West Street (1962) based on a 1957 novel by Leigh Brackett (1915-78 cancer) also saw the potential of the vigilante genre, it wouldn’t be until Billy Jack (1971), Dirty Harry (1971) and Death Wish (1974) that it would truly establish itself. The Filmakers distributed a few more films and then folded.

Ida would appear in a couple more movies in the 1950s and then in the 1960s went on to direct over sixty episodes of tv, including an episode of The Twilight Zone, as well as episodes of other shows such as Bewitched and Gilligan’s Island. She even played a villain with Duff on the tv show Batman in 1968.

Howard Duff and Ida Lupino as Dr. Cassandra in the Batman tv series in 1968
Ida in Sam Peckinpah’s Junior Bonner (1972)

The last film she would direct would be The Trouble with Angels (1966). It would be her only film in colour and she said in an interview at the time: “We are shooting in colour but the prevailing colours will be black and white and charcoal grey. Then there will be sudden flashes of bright colour – a turquoise swimming pool, a green meadow. The possibilities of colour are fantastic. It’s such a nice change. No blood spilled at all, darling!” and added: “It’s all a change of pace.”

The tv movie-like production of The Trouble with Angels starred Hayley Mills (1946-), who was shaking off her Disney image, as one of two pranking girls who have misadventures while they attend an all-girls Catholic school run by nuns. It is also a film about spiritual as opposed to sexual awakening and enjoying yourself within a convent or conventional surrounding. The lead nun was played by Rosalind Russell, who was a Catholic girl that went to Catholic schools and respected the film’s production and depiction of nuns. Ida was also a Catholic but when Russell spotted her drinking on the set, she complained to producer William Frye (1921-2017) who had a word to Ida and the drinking stopped, at least on set.

The ‘cute’ The Trouble with Angels (1966) poster
Hayley Mills (left) did the smoking while Ida did the drinking on the set of The Trouble with Angels (1966)
Ida Lupino around the time of The Trouble with Angels (1966)

Frye had offered Greta Garbo (1905-90 pneumonia and renal failure) a million dollars to play Russell’s role but, of course, she refused. The Trouble with Angels was originally called Mother Superior, which may have originally attracted Ida, with the ‘mother’ tag in terms of her directorial style. The film is kind of funny in that Russell’s world-weary Mother Superior bends the rules by not heavily disciplining her misbehaving students and who once had “visions of creating my own designs” … something of Ida’s spirit as a filmmaker.

You get the idea that Ida was rapped across the knuckles by nuns while Russell watched in detached amusement in terms of Catholic schooling. This polarity is interesting with Ida as the liberal-minded mother/director and Russell as a conservative Mother Superior who at least doesn’t contribute to the corporal and sexual crimes of the Catholic church… Leave that to your minions!

Ida, as a social realist and a Catholic, was probably aware of the worst of these crimes and despite the jokes about the church being selfish money grubbers in the movie, you can see why this film drove Ida to drink on set. What an expose semi-documentary drama she could have made if she had the money and total control!

“The world is not yet ready for you,” says Russell to Hayley Mills, who apparently used to poke her tongue out behind the back of the veteran actress. This line suits Ida’s earlier career down to a tee.

In the end, the director didn’t have final cut and several scenes were dropped. The film was a box office hit though and spawned a sequel. But with Ida’s reputation for drinking on set, there were no further invitations to work in features and the directing gig was up.

Ida as she appeared in Road House (1948)
A young Ida Lupino with an 8mm camera long before she started directing movies

Ida’s alcoholism increased over the years and when Sam Peckinpah from the old days used her for an appearance in his movie Junior Bonner (1972) she was bloated. There is an anecdote on the internet that she was invited to present an award at the Oscars that year but she turned up so drunk that the producers of the show had no choice but to lock her in a room when she passed out. After the show she was still asleep.

In the end, she appeared in a couple of cheap horror movies entitled The Devil’s Rain (1975) and Food of the Gods (1976). Estranged from her daughter, she died a recluse in obscurity in the mid-1990s, just as interest was starting to renew in her directorial efforts. However, she remained a star of the screen to old movie lovers. Her marriage to Duff had officially ended in 1984.

Ida Lupino’s career seemed to suffer the same hard luck as the hard-bitten characters she portrayed most successfully in the late 1930s and 40s. Her great role in Road House went unrewarded, but it seemed to sum her up, as she escaped one possibly abusive relationship for another with a man who promised a new beginning… In this case the end of her marriage to the disturbed Louis Hayward and the beginning of one with Collier Young. Their union formed The Filmakers and spawned some movies, which for their low budgets, achieved their artistic aim of providing entertainment along with a making a social statement. As one of the first female director’s in Hollywood Ida Lupino should be truly remembered. She was also a strong woman who possibly loved her relationship to the Emerald sisters – her mother and aunt – very dearly.


  1. Anne

    Sad that Ida was never recognised for her pioneering achievements in Hollywood. Sad that female directors are underrepresented in Hollywood. Well written and informative article on Ida. I almost feel as if I know her!


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