Director, producer, writer, and star… all of these positions in the film industry require talent, knowledge and skill in order to produce good results. Everyone once in a blue moon a super-human artist emerges who can fill all four of these roles successfully. Ida Lupino, an actress of many memorable performances and a pioneering filmmaker, was one such artist.
Ida was born to showbiz parents — a comedian father and an actress mother, to be more specific. From a young age, she was encouraged to explore her creativity, getting her start by taking the stage in school plays. TCM reports that Lupino began writing scripts at the very young age of seven. By 1933, with years of stage productions and a few British films under her belt, Ida made the move to Hollywood.
By the end of the 1930s, she would appear in over twenty Hollywood films… and by the end of the following decade, she would begin to find her footing behind the camera, as a director and producer.
As an actress, Ida Lupino appeared in over 100 films and television programs total, her acting career spanning five decades. Credits include High Sierra, Private Hell 36, and They Drive By Night. On screen, Ida is consistently captivating, giving strong and engaging performances. She’s what I’d classify as a powerhouse performer — giving 150% to every character, and keeping a firm grip on the viewer’s attention.
Even prior to branching out into directing and other creative pursuits, Ida as an actress was not one to be messed with off-screen. Surely not a favorite of the controlling studio bosses, Ida frequently found herself on suspension at Warner Bros. for turning down roles and wanting to guide her own career. Unafraid to ruffle a few feathers, she was willing to take suspensions as consequences, so long as she was able to make her own decisions.
Her frustration with the confinement of the studio system led her outside of it. Taking an interest behind the camera after years of working in front of it, Lupino co-founded (with Anson Ford and second husband Collier Young) an independent film production company focused on creating low-budget but high-quality films: The Filmakers (originally known as Emerald Productions). With The Filmakers she was able to produce, direct, and write rather than only remaining in front of the camera. Her first directorial gig was uncredited. She took over the direction of 1949’s Not Wanted when the original director, Elmer Clifton, suffered a heart attack in the middle of production.
Lupino’s most well-known and highly-regarded directorial efforts are The Bigamist and The Hitch-Hiker — a story about a man who secretly has a second wife and family, and a crime drama about an escaped convict. Like her directorial debut, these were both produced by The Filmakers. And, like all of the films she would direct, they have a common thread of exploring somewhat controversial topics.
Among Lupino’s directorial efforts, her subjects included unwed pregnancy (Not Wanted), secret second lives (The Bigamist), rape (Outrage), life-changing illness (Never Fear), and crime (The Hitch-Hiker). She wasn’t the only filmmaker to tackle some of these topics; the crime drama, for example, was a popular genre all its own. But with films like Outrage, Ida took on very serious issues, portraying them with a sensitive-but-honest and unflinching perspective.
NOTE: The New Yorker published a great article about Outrage after its TCM airing in June, which pretty much sums up my feelings about the film and explains why you should watch it if you’ve never seen it. It is, in my opinion, her most powerful film as director. Read the article here. The film is not available on DVD (to my knowledge, anyway) but will be airing on TCM again on October 6.
Later, Ida would join Four-Star Productions, a television production company, along with fellow actors Dick Powell, Charles Boyer, and David Niven. Lupino served as one of the hosts of the company’s first program, Four Star Playhouse, and took a starring role alongside third husband Howard Duff in the 1957-58 TV series Mr. Adams and Eve.
Ida Lupino was an Emmy-nominated actress and the second woman ever to be admitted to Hollywood’s Director’s Guild. She was a producer, a writer, a director, and a screen star, dedicated to her craft from the time that her age was in the single digits. Regardless of whether you personally enjoy her films, it’s impossible to deny that she was a trailblazer, an anti-damsel both on screen and off.
Ida-related reviews on TMP:
The Bigamist – Directed by & starring Ida; 4/5 rating
The Big Knife – Ida appears in a secondary role; 2/5 rating
Jennifer – Starring Ida; 3.5/5 rating
On the Loose – Produced by Ida’s company, The Filmakers; 3.5/5 rating
Strange Intruder – Starring Ida; 2.5/5 rating
They Drive By Night – Starring Ida; 3/5 rating
Never Fear, aka The Young Lovers – Directed by Ida; 4/5 rating