Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Noir City 6: Ida Lupino in Woman In Hiding

"This is -- pinch, pinch, pinch -- a Monday night and the theater is almost full." -- Eddie Muller, on the crowd at Noir City

In Woman In Hiding, Lupino plays Deborah Chandler, heir to a mill in a Southern town with no accents. The mill is run by her wanna-be son-in-law, Selden Clark (Steven McNally), scion of the namesake family of Clarksville.

The set up has Lupino driving an out of control car at furious speeds through the mountains. We see the car crash through the wooden rails of bridge and plunge into a river. A huge organ chord swells, as the car sinks, with the wooden rails floating away. Shades of Carnival of Souls. Then, Lupino's voice from the grave ... or is she still alive?

Now watching people search for your body while your still alive is a bit Tom Sawyerish, but just in case you didn't get it, one of the search party at the river mentions Tom Sawyer as a couple of old-timers fire cannon balls in the river, trying to make the body come up.

From there, we flash back to the events leading up to the car crash, the creepy courtship conducted by Selden Clark. He asks her to marry him on the day of her father's funeral. Her father fell from a catwalk in the factory, alone up there with one Selden Clark.

An incident on their honeymoon convinces Chandler that Clark (a) killed Daddy (b) plans to kill her next. Getting away unseen from the scene of the car crash, she declares, "I've got to stay dead!" If that's not noir, I don't know what is.

While in hiding she meets up with educated drifter Keith Ramsey (Howard Duff). Master character player Irving Bacon, Duff's boss at the bus station newsstand, tells him: "Do me a favor. Please quit. It would be a shame for a man like you to get fired from a job like this."

Like Lupino's character this movie just keeps moving along. There a lot of cool set pieces: a drunken spree of a convention in a hotel (featuring a raft of colorful character actors), a fire exit staircase chase and struggle, an escape from a train (yes, they take the train to Clarksville), and a catwalk game of cat and mouse in a dark factory, with all the loud machinery running.

McNally often played villains and is very menacing here. Lupino's character is perpetually anxious and frightened, but is tough enough to fight back and even jump from her speeding car. Nice performances also from Duff and Peggy Dow as McNally's sexy accomplice.

This a noir crowd pleaser with fast pace, great stars and plenty of action. See it!

Noir City host Eddie Muller waited until after the movie to give some casting background, saying "it would have totally spoiled your chance to enjoy that movie" if he had revealed that the original choice to play Duff's part was none other than Ronald Reagan. Reagan broke his leg two weeks before shooting began. Duff not only got the role, but ended up marrying Lupino in real life.

"Think about it for a second. The course of American history would've changed," said Muller, imaging that Reagan, not Duff, might have ended up as Mr. Ida Lupino. "He would of been happy playing second fiddle to the smartest,toughest woman in Hollwood," instead of marrying the "power mad bitch" Nancy Davis.

Muller also thanked Bob O'Neill, Universal Pictures VP of Asset Management, saying "Univeral is a studio that really appreaciates what we do here at Noir City. They are willing to strike new prints at their own expense for this festival."

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