The latest film season at the BFI South Bank is a reappraisal of Actress and Director Ida Lupino- not the most well-known of auteurs – which runs throughout June.
I caught with my brother the introduction to Ida Lupino and her work with a short-ish lecture by well-known film programmer Geoff Andrew. Although the talk was not up to the standard of say Sir Christopher Frayling’s talk on Sergio Leone’s westerns recently, it was though a good entry into the world of Lupino.
Born in London (well- Herne Hill although Andrew said it was Camberwell- but what’s 2 miles?), was born into the ultimate showbiz family, her mother was a stage actress who married the better known Stanley Lupino who was a regular writer and performer of shows in the 1930’s. He hailed from the famous Italian Lupino family who had its theatrical origins going back to the 17th century.
Ida Lupino being brought up in such a family was a precocious child, who had written her first play by the age of 7 and by 10 had memorised all of Shakespeare’s female roles. It was not long before she started working in films both in the UK and Hollywood, although she soon got fed up playing the familiar ‘bad girl’ roles she was so often asked to portray.
You may have caught her recently on Talking Pictures TV in the 1933 I Lived With You written by and also starring Ivor Novello. She move to Hollywood fairly soon afterward. She made a film career out of a series of Columbia films (like The Light That Failed (1939)) before really hitting her acting stride for Warner Brothers. Her output there was impressive playing the sultry femme fatale in They Drive By Night (1940) and High Sierra (1941)- and in both films gave Humphrey Bogart a run for his money.
However, super stardom avoided her perhaps because she was seen as being too picky in her roles as she was often on suspension at Warner Brothers for either turning down roles offered to her or where she suggested too many changes to the script.
The suspensions though were to allow her a career as film-maker to flourish. With her second husband Collier Young (perhaps best known as creator of Ironside (1967-1975) ) she formed her own production company and together they made a series of low budget, independent films about social issues. They ranged from Never Fear (1949), about Polio (Lupino herself suffered from the disease), Outrage (1950) regarding Rape & The Hitchhiker (1953) about a real life psychopath. Her film making career though ended around 1965 where she transitioned to TV mostly in guest roles in such stuff as Bonanza (1959), The Virginian (1963-65) and The Streets of San Francisco (1975). Lupino also directed an episode of The Twilight Zone –the only woman to have done that.
She retired from the entertainment business when she was only 60 (1978).
The excerpts Geoff Andrew chose of Lupino’s career both in front and behind the camera were good examples of her work and you could tell that she was probably happier as a film maker where she was able to craft stories of realism that she felt audiences –particularly after WWII- were seeking. Andrew said that he was unsure if you could call Ida Lupino a feminist filmmaker but certainly she was a rarity in being one of the few female directors around and she has been influential and her films are worth catching.