The only woman director to work in Hollywood in the 1950s, Ida Lupino earned full marks as a creative innovator and a positive force in the industry. It was a restrictive time for the movies: politically, socially, every which way. But Lupino’s independent film about a rape victim passed through the censorship gauntlet — as long as the ‘R’ word was never spoken, of course. Mala Powers is the distraught victim who tries to run away from life in the powerful drama, which remains valid and topical.
1950 / B&W / 1:37 Academy / 75 min. / Street Date December 29, 2021, January 7, 2022 / Available from Viavision, Available from Amazon
Starring: Mala Powers, Tod Andrews, Robert Clarke, Raymond Bond, Lillian Hamilton, Rita Lupino, Hal March, Kenneth Patterson, Jerry Paris, Angela Clarke, Roy Engel, William Challee, Joyce McCluskey, Albert Mellen, Vic Perrin.
Cinematography: Archie Stout
Production Designer: Harry Horner
Film Editor: Harvey Manger
Original Music: Paul Sawtell
Written by Collier Young, Malvin Wald, Ida Lupino
Produced by Collier Young
Directed by Ida Lupino
By my count all of Ida Lupino’s early directing work is now available on Blu-ray save for Hard, Fast and Beautiful!, for which there is a good Warner Archive DVD. All can be categorized as high quality ‘social issue’ dramas. I’ve previously reviewed a fine disc of her The Hitch-Hiker, a noir thriller focusing on a more pressing social concern: don’t pick up psychotic killers looking to bum a ride.
A welcome full dose of Ida Lupino-directed movies arrived in a 2019 Kino Filmmaker Collection. After the war high-minded producers Dore Schary, Louis de Rochemont and Stanley Kramer were keen to ‘boldly’ introduce controversial subject matter to the movie mainstream. The issues of race prejudice and anti-semitism were handled with various degrees of openness and compromise, hobbled partly by the restrictive Production Code, and by openly racist and bigoted exhibitors in parts of the Southern market. The ‘bold’ liberal approach was often indirect: the most celebrated exposé of the double standard against Jews, Gentleman’s Agreement, centered on a gentile journalist’s second-hand experience pretending to be Jewish. Hollywood power brokers had little interest in casting black actors in leading roles. Even movies about blacks passing for white starred whites as blacks, as seen in Lost Boundaries, a courageous drama with laudable intentions.
Ida Lupino and Collier Young’s ‘The Filmmakers’ company also tackled social issues, but did not congratulate themselves as noble truth-bearers. The company approached issues that everyone could relate to even though each film acknowledges that it is veering off the narrow path of ‘polite entertainment:’ unwed motherhood, polio, bigamy, and exploitation in sports. Lupino’s central character is usually a woman, something very unusual in a film from the early 1950s.
One of Lupino’s best pictures is Outrage, a thoughtful look at the emotional effects of rape. The very common crime was seldom discussed in polite society and not given due emphasis by law enforcement. The associated social stigma caused many victims to stay quiet. Collier Young, Malvin Wald and Ida Lupino’s screenplay chooses an ‘everyday’ case: a young woman in a small town is raped on her way home from her job. The story unfolds in a non-glamorous workaday environment that ordinary people can identify with, the formula championed by producer Val Lewton. The emphasis is not on excitement or entertaining twists of fate. The ‘solving’ of the crime and apprehension of the rapist isn’t even central to the filmmakers’ concern.
We instead stick closely to the emotional life of young Ann Walton (Mala Powers), a working girl excited that her boyfriend Jim Owens (Robert Clarke) is getting a raise that will allow them to be married. Ann’s father (Eric Walton) expresses disappointment in Ann’s choice to settle for becoming some man’s housewife. Lupino turns the rape scene into a suspense ordeal reminiscent of ‘terror stalking scenes’ in Val Lewton’s horror films. There is no music backup, just the attacker’s calls and whistles. The focus remains firmly on the traumatized Ann. She fails to cast off her horror or overcome her sense of alienation. When she tries to return to work she can’t cope, and is convinced she’s become a social freak. Boyfriend Jim just makes things worse. He loses his patience, demands that she ‘snap out of it’ and physically shakes her up. Seeking escape, Ann runs away with a vague notion of reaching the big city. She immediately becomes a missing persons case.
Landing in an even smaller town, Ann is accosted by the young Reverend Bruce Ferguson (Tod Andrews), who assumes she’s a runaway but shows no alarm. A natural social worker, Bruce senses Ann’s distress and doesn’t press when she evades his questions. He helps her meet people and even find a job. Just as Ann is feeling better — and beginning to become attached to her new friend — Bruce takes her to a rural picnic, where co-worker Frank Marini (Jerry Paris) misinterprets her shyness as a come-on. He crowds her, gets fresh and then tries to get physical as well. Ann strikes out at him, and runs away . . .
It’s easy to herald Outrage as a significant ‘first.’ It’s not the first Hollywood movie with a rape scene but it may the first to concentrate on the full emotional trauma of the experience. That much is expressed right on the film’s poster, which depicts Mala Powers’ Ann in a state of unfocused distress. Ann no longer knows who she is or what her role should be. Can her coworkers see that she’s different? How can she go on living with the stigma? Lupino knows better than to turn the movie into a thriller or a courtroom drama; Ann’s internal ordeal is enough. * 1
It apparently wasn’t easy to get this film on the screen. The Production Code Office wouldn’t allow accurate terminology to be used, especially not the word ‘rape.’ Even non-experts in the film refer to the crime against Ann as ‘criminal assault.’ If that sounds absurd, remember that just two years later Otto Preminger fought a major battle against the Code Office and the Catholic Legion of Decency, over whether they could prevent the word ‘virgin’ from being spoken in his comedy The Moon is Blue. A full nine years later, it was still considered edgy, risky for Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder to speak the word ‘panties’ out loud.
Ann is presented as ‘innocent,’ which in 1950 translates as sexually unexperienced and maybe unaware of adult dangers beyond ‘stay away from scary men.’ She’s definitely not assertive, militant or a proto- feminist. A later film might have Ann build on the experience by helping other rape victims or learning self-defense. But this is before formal rape counseling or most progressive reproductive clinics. There’s also no discussion that Ann might have been impregnated. * 2
Just the same, the idea of a 1950 movie about a rape victim that skips moral lessons is breathtaking. The show doesn’t detail what exactly happens to the rapist; it’s refreshing to see a crime story where the &$@#! criminal is pushed offstage and left there. The boyfriend Jim is also kept on the periphery. Although apparently a decent guy he’s already shown his limited thinking regarding what’s expected of a fianceé. Ann’s real life with him really hasn’t begun, and that ‘adjustment’ will either work out or it won’t.
(Spoilers ahead.) We are now a little uneasy about a few things in Outrage that possibly didn’t register with audiences in 1950. Frank, the co-worker who terrorizes Ann at the picnic is treated as if he had been ‘a little forward.’ Ann’s violent response is regarded as an over-reaction. What we see is that Frank presses his attentions on Ann, won’t stop touching her and forcibly gets physical. Our conclusion is that Frank’s actions are also a sexual assault. If Ann’s defense should happen to accidentally kill him, that’s his tough luck. Later on Ann visits Frank in the hospital, and there are apparently no hard feelings either way (?).
We’re less certain about the good-hearted Reverend Bruce, whose sensitive handling of the runaway girl problem is almost too good to be true. Bruce must be the most trusted and reliable church man in America, for he takes responsibility for Ann without anybody knowing their exact relationship. If anything happened to Ann he’d be in be trouble. Outside lawmen would be curious about Bruce’s motives for not alerting the authorities as soon as he suspects she’s a runaway.
For a couple of minutes Bruce becomes a liberal-progressive pundit on crime and society. Defending Ann to a judge, his pleas emphasize that criminals are a product of a flawed society: ‘it’s not the rapist’s fault, it’s OUR fault.’ That argument never seemed very practical, and nobody enjoys being lectured to. Without these position speeches Outrage would have been a near-perfect little drama.
Ann and Bruce have a somewhat vague quasi-romance thing going on. Bruce talks about honest feelings and trust and Ann responds to his idealism by developing a serious crush on him. The saintly Bruce maintains his ‘professional’ distance — he’s reassuring and affectionate but never puts a romantic spin on their relationship. When he breaks the bubble of her crush and sends her home to her boyfriend Jim, we react more strongly than Ann does. Bruce seems an ideal life-prospect for a girl intent on taking the housewife & mother path. Who cares about Jim? In movies, the adage ‘love the one you’re with’ is the predominant rule.
Ann still seems emotionally vulnerable. Sending her home — on a bus! Nobody even comes for her! — feels very strange, as if Bruce were dodging his own feelings. Again, we wonder if the Catholics enforcing the Production Code demanded that there be no question about Reverend Bruce’s altruistic motives.
I guess I’m suspicious of displays of devout commitment. When the bus comes Ann offers no objection to being shipped back home. We look for a sign that Bruce is disappointed. Why can’t Ann show some will of her own and shout out what SHE wants to do, dammit?
We’re not so sure about this going home business at all — Ann will be expected to continue on just as before, with everybody continuing to worry about her. Following our bad habit of rewriting movies that aren’t quite right, we propose an epilogue two months later, when Ann realizes that she’s outgrown Mom, Dad and Jim. She returns to Bruce and tells him how it’s going to be: going forward they’re going to be a couple, and that’s that.
Of course there’s also a third possibility that explains why Bruce sends Ann back home despite their mutual affection. What if he’s dedicated, honest and ethical — and gay? (Spoilers finished, maybe.)
Anybody looking at 1950s movies in general can see the narrow range of roles allotted to women. Rape or the threat of rape became a primary movie theme, often as an easy way to jam ‘female interest’ into male-oriented genre films. Dozens of westerns were sold with salacious image of a Woman In Peril. Rape is implied in every horror / sci-fi poster image of a monster carrying off a girl.
In the supposedly liberated ’60s, some filmmakers made clever fun of material previously considered Taboo. Richard Lester’s impish, irreverent The Knack . . . and How to Get It allows its sweet heroine Rita Tushingham to discard her ‘delicate flower’ label. When the boys playfully pursuing her become too pushy, she finds she can put them into defensive mode by using the word ‘rape’ in public. She first whispers it and then starts shouting it, loving the way it throws THEM into a panic. I have to give Ann Jellicoe and Charles Wood credit for that brave, subversive scene. In today’s climate it could very well be interpreted literally, as offensively sexist.
But other supposed hipsters reacted to the ‘loosening up’ of limits by updating old attitudes. Robert Altman’s actresses loved him but to me he comes off as vaguely sexist. His ‘fun’ humiliation of Hot Lips Houlihan in M*A*S*H celebrates macho hooliganism; we’re not always on board. When James Coburn became a star he spearheaded the sublime satire The President’s Analyst. But he also got behind Waterhole #3, a ‘comedy’ western so sexist that it turns a flippant, dismissive definition of rape into a running joke. It’s not rape, it’s “Assault with a friendly weapon.”
Outrage benefits from rural California locations in Marysville, North of Sacramento. But the opening reel in the industrial center where Ann works all appears to be filmed on RKO’s Pathe lot in Culver City. We keep looking to see if they forgot to take a ‘Stage 3’ number off of a building. Outrage is a fine job of direction for Ida Lupino. She must have had a good business relationship with Howard Hughes, as he continued to distribute her independent productions, and apparently released them in good faith, without tampering with the final cuts.
I recommend another review of this movie at Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings.
* 1 Interestingly, eleven years later Jack Garfein’s thriller Something Wild begins almost identically to Outrage. A young student is raped, and is so traumatized that she tells nobody. Just like Ann, her response is to erase herself by running away, into the anonymous big city.
* 2 My high school girlfriend in the late 1960s was from a devout religious family. She was so admirable: brave and self-reliant. With no way to obtain information through family, school or church, she volunteered at a local (public) hospital. In addition to learning a lot about life in general, she got the full facts on sex, contraception and love-life realities directly from the young nurses she befriended — soldiers in the trenches, so to speak.
Viavision [Imprint]’s Region-Free Blu-ray of Outrage is a fine encoding of this independent film that with a couple other ‘The Filmmakers’ titles eventually found its way into the Viacom-Paramount library. It is said to be a new 2K scan from the original negative. Even without a major cleanup it’s in great shape, with very little dirt, no damage and a very clear soundtrack. Archie Stout’s cinematography brings out the sunlight in the farmland, and those noir-like night scenes have rich blacks. Also handled well (more kudos to Ms. Lupino) are Ann’s subjective-stylized views of her rapist, her blocked-out memories being limited to a large neck scar.
The one extra is an audio commentary by author Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, who lays out good reasons to honor Ida Lupino — this is a fine, honest movie about a topic that few would touch in 1950. The commentary discusses the film’s theme from multiple angles, and later on doubles back to comment on Ida Lupino’s background and full career. I note also that Ms. Heller-Nicholas has a sense of humor – she expresses a positive reaction to the handsome actor Tod Andrews. CineSavant offers some practical advice: a few short minutes of Tod Andrews in From Hell it Came will clear away those feelings, guaranteed.
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Region-Free Blu-ray rates:
Supplements: Audio commentary by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas; theatrical trailer.
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (feature only)
Packaging: One Blu-ray in Keep case
Reviewed: March 20, 2022
Text © Copyright 2022 Glenn Erickson