On the Loose (1951)

Jill Bradley (Joan Evans) is recovering in a hospital after attempting to commit suicide. No one is sure of what drove Jill to such a desperate place. The doctors assume it was a man. As Jill sleeps, she flashes back to the events that led up to her decision to drown herself in the ocean.

(Image via theartofmovieposters.com)
(Image via theartofmovieposters.com)

It all began on her birthday. She returned home at the end of the day, expecting to have a nice evening celebration with her parents. Instead, she finds the house empty, only a birthday cake and a note from her parents (Melvyn Douglas and Lynn Bari) to keep her company.

Jill decides to go for a walk and runs into her boyfriend, Larry (Robert Arthur), who invites her to go for a drive. When she returns home, her parents scold her for staying out so late and leaving the sink full of dishes.

It is the beginning of a downward spiral in the relationship between Jill and her parents, as they assume she’s turning into an out-of-control, rebellious teen.

Charles Lederer directs 1951’s On the Loose, a 78-minute drama from Ida Lupino’s production company, The Filmakers, along with RKO.

I selected this film on WatchTCM in September expecting a pretty standard delinquency drama. This, of course, was before I knew of the involvement of Ida Lupino’s production company. In true Lupino form, this film is much more than just a tale of teens gone bad: it is the story of a dysfunctional family and the effects of their dysfunction on each family member.

The marriage between Frank and Alice is very tense and they’re both under a lot of stress. Jill, of course, is the focus of the film. She has the most controversial storyline — one of depression and self-harm.

Jill’s story is still relevant to today’s teens. The age group hasn’t changed much: they’re still overemotional, still combative with their parents. They like to wear cool clothes, and drinking alcohol makes them feel “grown up.”  They’ve got relationship drama. Their lives are deeply affected by any tumult that may be taking place in their home environment. All of these things are true for Jill. In addition to the troubled marriage which casts a dark cloud over the whole family, Jill’s turmoil is escalated by the fact that she feels that she can never measure up to her parents’ expectations of her.

(Image via thevideobeat.com)
(Image via thevideobeat.com)

Joan Evans carries the heavy role of Jill quit well. Her fake crying isn’t the greatest, but the rest of her performance isn’t totally cornball-y.

Evans shares some very sincere moments with Melvyn Douglas. The family dynamic after Jill returns from the hospital is very interesting. Jill is despondent, Alice is completely oblivious to the severity of her daughter’s problems, and Frank good-naturedly tries his best to help Jill through slightly-misguided ideas (like throwing her a party, which no one shows up t0).

On the Loose gets a little too sentimental and heavy-handed in the end (with Alice’s sudden transformation and newfound willingness to stand up for her daughter), but it’s a pretty good watch overall. Recommended for fans of emotional family dramas. The score: 3.5/5

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