Monday, 28 August 2017

Britain should celebrate the actress, director, singer, and screen-writer Ida Lupino

A few years ago, I was slumped on the sofa watching an old film noir on television - Roadhouse (1948), starring the rather charmless Richard Widmark as a nightclub owner, the rather wooden Cornel Wilde as his bar manager, and Ida Lupino - an actress who had barely impinged on my consciousness until that point - playing a cabaret singer. I wasn't sure whether to stick with it - until this scene, in which Lupino delivers a mesmerisingly strange performance of "One for My Baby":
I'm not a big fan of...

...The Great American Songbook, but I've always been partial to this song (first performed by Fred Astaire in The Sky's the Limit  in 1943, and by just about everyone else since then). Ida Lupino's low, husky voice and her sullen, resentful, on-the-verge-of-tears performance is the most affecting one I've ever seen or heard - she's utterly rivetting.

Shortly after seeing Roadhouse, I was desultorily half-watching The Ghost Camera,  a silly but energetic 1933 British movie, on the Talking Pictures TV channel, starring John Mills (the full version is available on YouTube). I vaguely recognised the young female lead from somewhere, but I couldn't quite place her. I eventually hit the "info", only to discover that it was Ida Lupino. I was confused, because the Ida Lupino who starred in Roadhouse was indisputably American - and this bouncy, squeaky young woman was just as indisputably "You're med d'you hyah me? Med, med, med!" English. So I checked online, and discovered that Ida Lupino was indeed English, born into a showbiz family in Herne Hill, and that she would have turned 15 a few weeks before playing the sparky love interest in this mildly diverting piece of vintage fluff.  Mind you, she started early, enrolling in RADA when she was 13, and landed her first starring role at 14. In 1933, she appeared in five British feature films, which led to her being "discovered" by Paramount, who invited her over to Hollywood.

Despite finding her a little more adult and sultry than they'd expected (they'd been thinking of casting her as Alice in Alice in Wonderland), Paramount put her under contract - and then evidently didn't know what to do with her. She worked for several studios over the years, and made a number memorable films in amongst the B-picture dross, but had a reputation for being difficult and was suspended on a number of occasions. Eventually, maddened by the studio system, she started directing films, at a time when female directors were almost unheard of in Hollywood. She became the first woman to direct a film noir in 1953 with the tough, all-male The Hitchhiker, and, later that year, the first woman to direct and star in the same film - The Bigamist, with Joan Fontaine and Edmund O'Brien. She was married - stormily - to the actor, Howard Duff, suffered bouts of depression, became an alcoholic (just like hubby), and, when her production company folded, became a TV drama director.

Quite a gal - and a multi-talented, pioneering English gal at that. At the very least, BBC Four should commission a documentary to celebrate her achievements. Here, she performs "The Man I Love" in the 1947 film of the same name:

There's lots of stuff about Ida Lupino available online, including this decent biography:

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