Kit Film Noir Festival | Double Bill: The Director
The Bigamist (7:30pm)
1953 / 80 mins / b/w
Dir. Ida Lupino / Sc. Collier Young / Cine. George E. Diskant / Prod. Robert Eggenweiler, Collier Young
Cast: Joan Fontaine, Ida Lupino, Edmond O’Brien
DCP courtesy of Paramount Pictures
Introduced by Julie Grossman, Le Moyne College
“Wanted By Two Women”
During the mid-1940s, the number of women directors working in Hollywood was precisely zero, following the retirement of Dorothy Arzner in 1943. That changed five years later, when actress Ida Lupino formed an independent company, The Filmakers [sic], together with her then-husband, producer and writer Collier Young, and screenwriter Malvin Wald. The new company was groundbreaking in its collaborative nature, in which the three founders cycled through different production roles on their features. Of the twelve feature films produced by Filmakers, Lupino directed or co-directed six, wrote or co-wrote five, acted in three, and co-produced one.
But the company was also distinctive in its bid to “tackle serious themes and problem dramas,” as Wald put it in 1949. For Lupino, this meant a focus on women’s issues: the first film she directed for Filmakers, Not Wanted (1949), is the story of an unwed mother; her second, Never Fear (1950), deals semi-autobiographically with a woman’s rehabilitation from polio; and her third, Outrage (1950), with rape. In this respect, Lupino’s work can be considered part of a feminist lineage reaching back to the pioneering female director Lois Weber, who had similarly brought social issues to the screen. Unlike Weber, however, Lupino’s work is animated by a sense of fatalism and failure that links the inequities of the postwar gendered landscape to the thematics of noir.
The last of the films she directed for Filmakers, The Bigamist is an exemplary instance of what scholar Julie Grossman calls Lupino’s “home noir” – that is, her interest in “the darkened space within the postwar American house, particularly as it expresses the damaged psychic state of the women who inhabit it.” In The Bigamist, however, there are two houses, each a cruel mirror of the other – one childless, one with child – connected by the titular bigamist (Edmond O’Brien). Despite the film’s sensational title, the film offers a surprisingly human perspective on O’Brien’s character as he discovers the lesson of Lupino’s cinema: that home is where the noir is, not the heart.
– Rob King
The Hitch-Hiker (9:15pm)
1953 / 71 mins / b/w
Dir. Ida Lupino / Sc. Ida Lupino, Collier Young / Cine. Nicholas Musuraca / Prod. Collier Young
Cast: Frank Lovejoy, Edmond O’Brien, William Talman
35mm courtesy of the Library of Congress
Introduced by Julie Grossman, Le Moyne College
“Who Will Be His Next Victim… YOU?”
Lupino’s aspiration to engage real social issues reached something of an apex in The Hitch-Hiker. The film was based on the true story of Billy Cook, a spree killer who had recently murdered six people on a twenty-two day rampage in 1950-1951. Even before it went into production, The Hitch-Hiker drew the attention of the Department of Justice, who accused Filmakers of meddling in a live case and tried unsuccessfully to prevent the film from being made. (Lupino even visited San Quentin to interview Cook, who was executed shortly after filming was completed.)
But Lupino had other misgivings, aside from the potential legal controversy. She was concerned that the script concentrated exclusively on male characters, rather than on the lives of women that had heretofore been her focus. For this reason, the film has also been a troublesome entry for scholars who have discussed her work in terms of a feminist or protofeminist sensibility. In an all-male film with no typically “feminine” situations, where does one identify the Lupino touch?
For scholar Lauren Rabinovitz, the answer comes in the director’s engagement with postwar male crisis: “What Lupino offers in The Hitch-Hiker is a vision of hell that is masculinity fragmented into neurotic components of maladjustment in a world that orders adjustment.” Lupino’s fictionalized take on the Cook case focuses on two middle-class married men who go on a fishing holiday only to have the misfortune of picking up a hitch-hiking serial killer. It is the story of two men who seek flight from the constraints of feminine domesticity only to confront the masculinity run amok of a psychopathic killer – or, put another way, a story of male entrapment for which escape is ultimately the worse option.
Whatever Lupino’s misgivings, The Hitch-Hiker would become one of her most celebrated films, and the first classic noir directed by a woman. As Lupino put it in promoting the film, “The basic theme was the question – in a race against death, which survives? The sane or the criminal mind?” – a question that lies at the heart of noir itself.
– Rob King
About Julie Grossman
Julie Grossman is a professor of English and Communication and Film Studies at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, NY. She has written numerous articles and book chapters on film noir, adaptation studies, and gender and film, literature, and media. Her book monographs include Rethinking the Femme Fatale in Film Noir: Ready for Her Close-Up (2009), Literature, Film, and Their Hideous Progeny: Adaptation and ElasTEXTity (2015), and The Femme Fatale (2020). She is co-author (with Therese Grisham) of Ida Lupino, Director: Her Art and Resilience in Times of Transition (2017) and co-author (with Will Scheibel) of Wayne State University Press’s TV Milestones volume Twin Peaks (2020). With Barton Palmer, she is currently writing a two-volume study of performance in classic Hollywood film noir.