Monday, April 09, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Outrage (1950) at UCLA

Saturday evening I enjoyed another excellent double bill in UCLA's tribute to actress-director Ida Lupino.

Lupino directed the first film of the evening, OUTRAGE (1950), which took on a topic rarely tackled in Hollywood in that era, rape. Indeed, to an extent it's still the crime which cannot be said by name in the film, referred to only as "criminal assault." Still, it's quite clear what actually happens, though it's handled offscreen.

Mala Powers stars as Ann Walton, who has just become engaged to Jim Owens (Robert Clarke, who was also the young leading man in Lupino's HARD, FAST AND BEAUTIFUL, reviewed last weekend).

One evening while Jim is working late Ann puts in some overtime herself in her secretarial job at a lumber mill. A lunch counter employee (Albert Mellen) who has unsuccessfully tried to interest her in a date stalks Ann when she leaves the office. In a sequence worthy of a Val Lewton horror film, his footsteps inexorably get closer and closer as Ann tries unsuccessfully to attract help or get away.

After the attack Ann valiantly tries to return to work but is embarrassed by stares and pitying whispers. The concerned Jim wants to marry Ann right away but the attack has left her feeling as though she never wants to marry, and she pushes him away.

It doesn't help matters that the rejected, heartbroken Jim literally tries to shake Ann to her senses, and she ultimately has a psychic break of sorts and hops a bus out of town. She eventually arrives in a rural California community and collapses at the side of a road, after which a minister (Tod Andrews) fortuitously comes to her aid; he finds Ann a home with a kindly couple (Angela Clarke and Kenneth Patterson) on a ranch and also helps her get a job at an orange-packing plant.

The troubled Ann refuses to disclose her story or true identity, even to the minister, who instinctively knows not to push her too hard. She begins to find peace in her new home, but her problems aren't over yet; at a country dance a young man (Jerry Paris of THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW) comes on too strongly to Ann. The terrified Ann has flashbacks to the original attack and manages to hit him over the head with a farming tool...

OUTRAGE is an effective film about the particular difficulty of being a rape survivor in that era, as Ann not only suffers from the original attack, but then must deal with feelings of shame and embarrassment. It's also a good look at the effects of psychological trauma; it's not gone into in great detail, but the minister himself is dealing with the aftereffects of his experiences as a chaplain during the war, which enables him to help Ann more effectively.

There's a bit of preaching from the minister about the need to rehabilitate men behind bars, and while that's well and good, I found it curious that a man of the cloth didn't also recognize that in some cases evil walks among us and can't ever be changed. I would have liked to see a more full-bodied discussion on that topic, but the film does take on some weighty subjects so I'm grateful for what it does address, rather than what it ignored. And as it happens, the actor playing the attacker was so effective, perhaps the point about evil didn't need to be overtly stated.

To an extent OUTRAGE reminded me of the previous year's THE ACCUSED (1949), in which Loretta Young prevents an attack but unintentionally kills the perpetrator in the midst of defending herself. That sequence is reminiscent of Ann defending herself from the aggressive "masher" at the dance, whose behavior triggers a flashback. Both women also deal with what we might now call post-traumatic stress syndrome. It's interesting to me that these films were released fairly close in time.

Mala Powers was an excellent actress I first became acquainted with as a guest star on my favorite TV series, MAVERICK. Aside from a small role in an early '40s film, OUTRAGE was one of her first couple of films, following EDGE OF DOOM (1950) and preceding CYRANO DE BERGERAC (1950), in which she played Roxanne opposite Jose Ferrer's Oscar-winning Cyrano. She's onscreen for most of the film and is quite touching as a young woman who is nearly broken by her experiences before finally starting to climb her way back to a happy life.

OUTRAGE runs 75 minutes, and while I'm a strong advocate for "less is more" in movie running times, in this case, having walked with Ann through her dark journey, I would have liked to see more of her coming out on the other side of things. That said, I did appreciate that the film doesn't have a pat ending, and the point at which it ends is touching and effective, if it indeed had to end at that point.

The entire supporting cast is very good, particularly those character actors playing the California townspeople who provide a safe place for Ann to live and work. I also enjoyed seeing a couple faces (Clarke and Patterson) who were in Lupino's HARD, FAST AND BEAUTIFUL, released the next year.

OUTRAGE was filmed in black and white by Archie Stout. He does a particularly fine job during the previously mentioned Lewton-esque chase sequence, which reminded me a bit of a scene from THE LEOPARD MAN (1943), shot by Robert de Grasse.

OUTRAGE is not available on DVD. It will play at the TCM Classic Film Festival on Saturday, April 28th. It's also shown from time to time on Turner Classic Movies; there's an article about the film on the TCM site.

Update: Here is my review of the other film on the double bill, THE BIGAMIST (1953), in which Ida Lupino directed herself!

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Laura, good article about OUTRAGE. I agree this was an effective film for that era. Ida Lupino and her The Filmakers production company were taking on some very controversial subjects. Ida and her production partners were brave filmmakers at that time. Times were changing after the end World War II.

9:25 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you, Walter! I find the topics Lupino took on so interesting. Once "film festival season" ends here in mid-May I'm hoping to catch up with another film Lupino directed, NEVER FEAR (1950), about polio.

Best wishes,
Laura

12:15 AM  

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