On Dangerous Ground
Lupino was a multi-generation vaudeville brat. Instead of the 3 R’s, Lupino learned acting, scriptwriting, and tumbling. At 13 Ida’s early stint at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art was cut short when she snagged her first part as a “hooker”* in 1933’s Her First Affaire.
As a teenager her hair was dyed blond and she continued to specialize in slatternly roles earning the nickname, the “Jean Harlow of England”. The dye wasn’t necessary. Even later as a brunette, Lupino was never destined to be the girl next door– like Gloria Grahame she shined when her motives were shady.
Paramount signed her at the seasoned age of 15 but didn’t know what to do with her. Later, at Warner’s she found her stride. Lupino found lots of Bette Davis cast-off work at Warners, but she was miserable. And she didn’t like some of her co-stars — Bogart in particular. In High Sierra, Lupino received top billing. After the movie was released Bogart got the top spot and all the attention. Lupino felt Bogart disrespected her and didn’t want to work with him again. This, along with her tendency to turn down roles and her saucy attitude resulted in a series of suspensions.
Like all great “suspensions” the last one proved pivotal. Instead of sitting around on the beach, Lupino along with her husband, Collier Young, formed a production company. Although every starlet on the planet these days has a production company, in 1949 women did NOT DO THIS. In fact, for several years Lupino became the only female directing feature films in the US.
Additionally, The Filmmakers selected subject matter that was generally treated in an exploitive/pulpy manner and tried to handle it in a sensitive realistic way. Lupino’s first film, Not Wanted, tackled unwed teenagers and pregnancy. It is interesting to note that rates of teenage pregnancy were higher in the 50’s than today — everyone just acted like it didn’t happen. Other unpopular subjects The Filmmakers explored included rape and bigotry.
Unfortunately after two films, The Filmmakers couldn’t make payroll, no matter how frugal Ida and her partners were with regard to costs. Luckily, one of Lupino’s old flames (from her blonde Harlow days) stepped in at the last minute to save The Filmmakers. Howard Hughes folded The Filmmakers under RKO wings with a $250,000 cash infusion. The money allowed Lupino the artistic freedom to continue to create the type of arthouse films she wanted. It also allowed Howard the Helpful to scrape up all the profits.
After the last film, Private Hell 36, The Filmmakers fell apart. Divorce, brawling and Booze took their toll. (And Howard’s generousity extended only so far.)
Lupino was down, but far from out. Her next move was really smart. She started directing television. She aligned herself with Four Star Television (and rumor has it, CEO Dick Powell) and proceeded to direct hundreds of television shows for the next 20 odd years. She tackled every type of subject matter: western, mystery, thrillers, sci-fi, comedy, — everything but true romance.
But she could not leave acting–lucky for us. Lupino finally got to out-do Bette Davis later in life with some of her later “bad girl” roles. In 1955’s Women’s Prison she was a wasp-waisted slapaholic prison warden. Personally, I always enjoyed the creepy warden in Women in Chains, 1972. I think it gives Bette’s Baby Jane a run for her money… Bitches Rule.
Near Mint. On Dangerous Ground. 1952, Half Sheet, style A. Paperbacked. Restored. Directed by Nicholas Ray. This is a fairly obscure poster.
*Lupino lore. Her role was really more of a comedic Prime of Miss Jean Brodie seduction than a Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver.