Saturday, April 07, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Hard, Fast and Beautiful (1951) at UCLA

Last night I had a wonderful time at the opening double bill of this month's UCLA tribute to Ida Lupino.

Last night featured Lupino starring in THE HARD WAY (1943), followed by a film she directed, HARD, FAST AND BEAUTIFUL (1951). The screenings continue tonight at UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater in Westwood with OUTRAGE (1950) and THE BIGAMIST (1953). Lupino directed both films and costarred in the latter.

I last saw THE HARD WAY (seen below right) almost exactly a decade ago, in mid-April of 2008. At that time I found it absorbing but dark; I loved circling back to it with another ten years' viewing behind me, as I appreciated even more the performances of the lead quartet of Lupino, Joan Leslie (only 17!), Dennis Morgan, and Jack Carson. I also enjoyed the small but eye-catching roles for Faye Emerson and Julie Bishop -- especially as I'm in the midst of watching three new Warner Archive releases starring Emerson.

It was wonderful timing in another way, as I had just been on a tour of the Warner Bros. backlot. Exterior sets seen in the film are still standing today, including the building where Leslie has her high school photo taken early in the film and the theater and alley where Leslie and Morgan part ways with Lupino at the end. Seeing that trio standing where I'd been just 48 hours before gave me goosebumps! You can see photos of the exteriors as they look today in my linked tour post. (Update: Please also check out a Photo Gallery of stills from the film.)

THE HARD WAY was screened in an absolutely beautiful 35mm print. That kind of big-screen viewing experience, watching actual film, is what makes the long drive up to UCLA so worthwhile.

HARD, FAST AND BEAUTIFUL was screened in a 16mm print which we were told was the only existing film print of the movie, and it may soon be retired from circulation. It was somewhat faded in spots but entirely watchable, without skips or jumps. It is to be hoped another film print will be struck of a terrific movie.

HARD, FAST AND BEAUTIFUL was director Ida Lupino's third credit in that role; she had also done uncredited work on NOT WANTED (1949).

Set against the backdrop of amateur tennis championship competitions, HARD, FAST AND BEAUTIFUL shares much in common with THE HARD WAY. In each film, a careworn older sister (Lupino in THE HARD WAY) or mother (Claire Trevor in HARD, FAST AND BEAUTIFUL) wants more in life for a talented young miss (Joan Leslie in the first film, Sally Forrest in the second). Although not overtly stated, it appears each woman may help matters along by sleeping with powerful men.

Each young girl is initially thrilled by success (acting in the first film, tennis in the second) and the things which accompany it, like a nice wardrobe; in the end, each girl tires of being pushed toward greater and greater heights, preferring to "power down" and focus on getting married. Having already abandoned their own unhappy marriages, the sister and mother now have nothing left in life which gives them meaning.

Forrest began in films as a background dancer in 1946 and gradually moved into ingenue roles, including Florence in HARD, FAST AND BEAUTIFUL. She had also worked with Lupino on NEVER FEAR and would costar opposite her in WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS (1956), reviewed here last weekend. She's charming as Sally, a young woman discovering both herself and love. She has a very sweet, natural poolside love scene with her beau, played by Robert Clarke (seen by me last month in SUNSET PASS).

Claire Trevor is riveting as the mother; her body language in an early scene, as she expresses annoyance with her husband, is superb. (And take a gander at their odd twin beds setup, facing so they won't even see each other!) She quickly learns the ropes on how to manipulate the men (Joseph Kearns and Carleton G. Young) with the power to help her daughter along. It's a classic "mother" performance which deserves to be much better known.

Seen from today's vantage point, the boyfriend is in some ways perhaps as manipulative as the mother; both mother and fiance have a vision for what Florence's life should be and expect her to go along with it. The difference between the boyfriend and the mother is that the boyfriend actually cares about Florence's happiness, and we see that she is no longer enjoying tennis and wants a life with him; the mother, on the other hand, gradually loses sight of improving Florence's life for her daughter's own sake and is instead living through her, especially enjoying what Florence provides as a "meal ticket."

Kenneth Patterson is touching as the husband rejected by his wife but adored by his daughter, who eventually gets her priorities straight.

Be sure to watch the crowds watching tennis carefully for a couple of interesting cameos!

HARD, FAST AND BEAUTIFUL was filmed in black and white by Archie Stout. It's a well-paced 78-minute film with a screenplay by Martha Wilkerson, based on a novel by John R. Tunis, who specialized in sports stories.

HARD, FAST AND BEAUTIFUL is an interesting, dramatically engaging film. Recommended.

THE HARD WAY is available on DVD from the Warner Archive, as is HARD, FAST AND BEAUTIFUL (click here).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Laura, another good write-up of a good movie. HARD, FAST, AND BEAUTIFUL is a good movie made on a tight budget. Claire Trevor was really good as the domineering mother in one of the compact B movies that Ida Lupino directed for her own production company in the late 1940's and early '50's. Lupino was a maverick writer-producer-director for that time period, because as a viewer you have to think of when this movie was filmed.

9:29 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you, Walter! I really appreciate this type of fast-paced B movie which accomplishes a great deal without a lot of money behind it.

Last night it was fun to see some of the same faces turn up in OUTRAGE (1950), a Lupino film released the previous year.

I enjoyed the weekend so much I pulled out my TCM recording of NEVER FEAR (1949) in which Lupino also directed Sally Forrest. I hope to watch it soon -- if I can squeeze it in among this coming month's film festivals! I'd love to track down NOT WANTED (1949) on which Lupino did uncredited directing work with Forrest and Keefe Brasselle, who also appears in NEVER FEAR.

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts on HARD, FAST AND BEAUTIFUL!

Best wishes,

10:44 PM  

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