Lupino Noir

Taut little black-and-white "B's" with a penchant for taking on sensational themes in a no-nonsense manner
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REVIEW A Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts-trained Londoner born to Brit vaudeville parents, Ida Lupino improbably wound up one of hardboiled studio Warner Bros.' favorite tough all-American dames in the 1940s. Albeit not quite favored enough: WB already had Bette Davis and Ann Sheridan, and then acquired Joan Crawford, so Lupino didn't get the pick of parts despite some stellar work. When they let her go in 1947, she continued to act but proved her mettle by becoming something extremely rare: a director, writer, and occasional producer. She was, in fact, the only woman occupying a Hollywood director's chair at the time. Lupino directed features just between 1949 and 1953 (then innumerable TV episodes for another 15 years), but they're all admirably taut little black-and-white "B's" with a penchant for taking on sensational themes in a no-nonsense manner.

This Film on Film Foundation double bill revives two. The Bigamist (1953) stars Edmond O'Brien as a businessman explaining to a shocked adoption agency investigator (Edmund Gwenn, Miracle on 34th Street's Santa) how he came — with the best intentions, really — to be married to both elegant San Franciscan Joan Fontaine and working-class Los Angeleno Lupino. The latter character is striking for being the kind of unapologetically self-reliant single woman portrait Hollywood generally wouldn't get around to until much later in films like 1974's Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore.

The real find here, however, is 1950's Outrage, a surprisingly frank (even if the word "rape" is never uttered) study of a young woman's psychological deterioration as a consequence of sexual assault. Attacked after a long, Expressionistically atmospheric stalking through a late-night warehouse district, young Ann (Mala Powers) has to endure the subsequent whispers and stares of neighbors and coworkers. (Her name was printed in the newspaper crime report — something not uncommon then.) Unable to cope, she flees town, ending up incognito as an orange-farm worker. But her lingering trauma can't simply be run away from. Outrage has its flaws. Yet there's still considerable force in the way Lupino stylistically conveys Ann's panic attacks, and the screenplay's unusual, sympathetic focus on aftereffects rather than the crime itself.

"LUPINO NOIR" double feature, Sun/8, 7:30 p.m., $7. Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft, Berk. www.filmonfilm.org

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