This is my contribution to the Ida Lupino Blogathon being sponsored today and tomorrow at www.missidalupino.wordpress.com. The banner for this Blogathon is posted on my sidebar at right. Don't miss these wonderful articles about a wonderful actress!
Beware, My Lovely is not a typical film noir. It does not take place in the underworld of Chicago or the back streets of New York. It is not set in modern time, nor does it involve crime bosses or femme fatale molls. Yet, it is as the genre name indicates, a dark movie, tense and disturbing, about a crime already committed and potential crime yet to come. The setting is a small American town in the year 1918. It is Christmas time in a lovely tree-lined neighborhood where children are laughing and playing and the sun is shining.
The film opens in the kitchen of a big-city apartment, where handyman Howard Wilton (Robert Ryan) discovers the dead body of the lady he has been working for. Howard looks at the body, shocked and confused. We know he does not know what to do, and in his fear he flees the building. The next scene opens in the small town described above, in the home of a World War I widow Helen Gordon (Ida Lupino). Helen is cleaning and preparing her house for Christmas. She is also saying goodbye to Walter (Taylor Holmes), her longtime boarder who is moving away. Helen’s niece Ruth (Barbara Whiting), a particularly sullen and malicious adolescent, is being punished by her mother, who has ordered her to help Aunt Helen with her cleaning. Some of Helen’s little piano pupils drop by, and Helen’s little dog is happily romping around with all the company.
Beware, My Lovely began as a stage play and then a radio play in 1945 on the popular Suspense program, starring Agnes Moorhead and Frank Sinatra in his radio drama debut. Ida Lupino and her husband produced the movie of Beware, My Lovely in 1952. Lupino was one of the first women to begin working behind the camera to produce and direct movies. Director Harry Horner did his usual wonderful job (he also directed one of my favorite movies, The Heiress). The cast was solid, including long-time character actor Taylor Holmes and young Barbara Whiting, the sister of famed singer Margaret Whiting and the daughter of Robert Whiting, a prolific songwriter whose compositions included “Hooray for Hollywood”, “On the Good Ship Lollipop”, and “Too Marvelous for Words”. The art direction was done by the wonderful Albert D’Asgostino, who was also responsible for art direction in The Magnificent Ambersons. Mention must be made of the costume designer, Michael Woulfe. Lupino’s costume with the long hobble skirt popular in 1918 gives her an even greater look of trapped inability to save herself. Ryan’s clothing, including an oddly short tie, is rather dorky and sad, like a man who does not know how to dress himself.
With all these winning elements, the fact is that Beware, My Lovely is Robert Ryan’s film. Audiences accustomed to seeing Ryan as intensely masculine, tall and dominant, saw him in this movie as a sad, tired, mentally ill man. He is indeed menacing, but at the next moment unable to remember what had happened and afraid of his confusion. He terrorizes this woman, and at the same time has gentle feelings for her. His character cannot be pigeon-holed into good guy/bad guy, and Ryan masterfully creates this disturbing presence. Beware, My Lovely belongs in the film noir genre despite its uncharacteristic elements, maybe even because of the peculiarity of mental volatility and disturbing undercurrents that darken the sunniest day.