Thursday, April 14, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Beware, My Lovely (1952) at the Noir City Film Festival

In 1952 movie greats Robert Ryan and Ida Lupino costarred in two film noir titles. The first, ON DANGEROUS GROUND, was a small masterpiece which in recent years has begun to receive its just due.

The second film, BEWARE, MY LOVELY, was featured this evening at the Noir City Film Festival at the Egyptian Theatre. BEWARE, MY LOVELY played as the second half of a Ryan double bill; it was preceded by CAUGHT (1949), which I reviewed a little over a year ago.

BEWARE, MY LOVELY, which takes place circa 1920, is a creepy "trapped in a house with a psycho" story which takes place in a single day, unspooling in a compact 77 minutes.

Young widow Helen Gordon (Lupino), beloved in her community, hires Howard Wilton (Ryan) to do some handyman chores just before Christmas. Viewers already know what Helen doesn't: that Howard fled the scene after another employer died. His involvement in the death is unknown, but Howard is definitely unhinged. Over the course of a morning working for Helen, Howard's behavior becomes increasingly strange, culminating in him locking her in the house and terrorizing her.

Although there are some smaller roles, most notably Barbara Whiting as Helen's niece, this film is essentially a two-person character study. The plot is a bit too flimsy to make it a perfect film, but it's most enjoyable watching two superb actors.

Lupino is particularly good, taking her character from sympathetic and understanding to disbelieving, then onward to fearful, desperate, resigned, and relieved, with many stops in between. It's a bravura performance.

It would be interesting to know what Ryan thought of his character, as there's little back story or explanation of Howard's mental illness; he's simply insane, take it or leave it. Ryan makes the character's abrupt personality changes interesting and believable. Ryan had a talent for making disturbing characters sympathetic or, at a minimum, fascinating to watch. The excellent Ryan biography by Franklin Jarlett says "...among all of Ryan's 70-odd portraits, it may have been one of his most finely etched definitions of emotional pain."

Praise also goes to Whiting, who makes the most of her small but showy role as the girl who needles Howard, with unfortunate results.

The film was shot in black and white by George Diskant. Diskant's photography was superbly shown off in a crisp 35-millimeter print; I think I'll particularly remember closeups of Ryan's face.

The movie's abrupt ending left me slightly baffled, but perhaps the quiet conclusion to Helen's day of terror was the most realistic way to bring the story to a close.

BEWARE, MY LOVELY was directed by Harry Horner. (According to TCM, Lupino directed several scenes when Horner's wife was hospitalized.) Screenwriter Mel Dinelli was also the writer of THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1945), THE RECKLESS MOMENT (1949), and CAUSE FOR ALARM! (1951), which shares some stylistic similarities with BEWARE, MY LOVELY.

This film has been released on VHS. It's also been shown on Turner Classic Movies.

2 Comments:

Blogger grandoldmovies said...

Thanks for your post highlighting an interesting but overlooked film - one reason I like it is because the narrative contrasts two points of view, of the two main characters; the woman's is as important as the man's - since you mentioned that Lupino may have directed some scenes, I want to go back to my (worn) VHS copy and take a look at it again -

9:27 AM  
Blogger Livius said...

I saw this movie for the first time last summer and I came away feeling it was so-so. The basic premise wasn't bad, and I agree that both Lupino and Ryan gave good performances - although Ryan does remain something of a cypher.
My biggest problem was the ending, which I thought was just too flat bearing in mind all that had gone before.

Best,
Colin

1:40 PM  

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