Ida Lupino was a talented and versatile actor
, appearing in every genre from light musical
s to film noir
, who became one of the first women
to work as a film director
. Later in life she moved from film
, acting and directing in a number of TV series
; she had also written
a number of the films she directed.
She was born in London in 1918 to a theatrical family. her father was the comedian Stanley Lupino. Ida attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) in London, and in 1934 she moved to Hollywood to look for film work. Her early roles were predominantly in comedies and musicals through the 1930s, such as Anything Goes and The Gay Desperado (both 1936).
However, she was never terribly successful, her acting career moving through fits and starts, and in 1940 she turned to film noir and action movies and meatier, tougher parts: They Drive By Night (1940), High Sierra (1941). But success continued to be elusive, and she took a variety of acting roles as the decade wore on, including Emily Bronte in Devotion ([1946), and Road House (1947).
She sought new opportunities in writing and directing B-movies or second features: The Bigamist (1953)is a tough melodrama with a feminist subtext concerning with women's vulnerability. The Hitch-Hiker (1953), which she also wrote, is her best-known directorial job, a dark thriller about a young couple who pick up a psychotic hitch-hiker.
Her films were made independently, by her own company The Filmmakers, and she was able to have considerable control over them, with the freedom to make what films she wanted. Her films tend to focus on ordinary, working class characters. Her characters are typically trapped in passive lives, and the stories she tells are often pessimistic or coloured with cynical wisdom.
At the same time, she continued to act, appearing in Nicholas Ray's On Dangerous Ground (1951), and reportedly also directing some of it. She worked as an actress with a number of excellent directors, appearing in Don Siegel's Private Hell 36 (1954), Robert Aldrich's The Big Knife (1955) and Fritz Lang's While The City Sleeps (1956).
After that she worked mainly in television, as an actor and director. Much of her early work was in TV Westerns, and she gained a reputation as a director of tough action stories, typecasting from which she struggled to escape. But in 1966, she directed the TV movie The Trouble with Angels, set in a convent, and starring Rosalind Russell, Hayley Mills and Gypsy Rose Lee. She also directed episodes of Gilligan's Island, Bewitched, The Fugitive and The Dick Powell Show.
She effectively retired in 1978, and died in 1995 from a stroke, in California. But she had had a long and interesting career, from the golden age of Hollywood cinema in the 1930s through to the growth of television as the dominant entertainment form in the western world.
She proved that a woman could make tough and entertaining films, as a writer and director. She also served an important role as a feminist icon: there was nothing sentimental, girlish or weak about her film-making. Perhaps if she was young today she would have got beyond B-movies to the A-list, but she still leaves a sizeable legacy as both a role-model and an artist.
Films as director
Hard, Fast and Beautiful
The Trouble With Angels
Note: some references, such as the IMDb, give her year of birth as 1914 or 1917, but 1918 appears more widely accepted, and is the date given in David Thompson's A Biographical Dictionary of Film. (London: Andre Deutsch, 1994)
David Thompson A Biographical Dictionary of Film. (London: Andre Deutsch, 1994)
Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com (accessed 2001/11/17)
Ally Acker, "Ida Lupino", Reel Women, http://www.reelwomen.com/lupino.html (accessed 2001/11/17)