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Ida Lupino's "Petey Brown" in The Man I Love (1947) is both a quintessential Lupino character and an ideal Raoul Walsh heroine: tough and gutsy yet also tender, a woman who flourishes on both qualities. This was Walsh's fourth time directing her, and he knew just how to guide her strengths as an actress to get what he wanted.
Based on a novel called Night Shift by Maritta Wolff, the movie's screenplay originally bore that title and was set to star Ann Sheridan and Humphrey Bogart. Script rewrites led to a new title, Why Was I Born?, before Warner Brothers finally settled on The Man I Love, both of which are names of George and Ira Gershwin songs which crop up in the picture. The story, a romantic melodrama, finds Ida Lupino as a New York nightclub singer who travels to California to visit her sisters and brother. She decides to stay awhile and lands a job in Robert Alda's nightclub, where her sister also works. As the shady Alda tries to seduce the nave sister, Lupino falls for her married pianist (Bruce Bennett).
The Breen Office wasn't happy with certain elements of the script. They objected to the story's "low moral tone...of adultery and illicit sex" and found many specific touches that had to go, such as a reference to a slot machine, a suggestion that a cop was crooked, and scenes that "encroach too closely on the intricacies of married life."
But The Man I Love is not a film which thrives on plot. Atmosphere is everything here. The late-night jam sessions, underworld characters and steamy songs all make for a memorably moody experience. (That's probably what attracted Martin Scorsese, who called this film the main inspiration for his New York, New York, 1977.) The Gershwin songs, aside from the title track, include "Body and Soul," "Why Was I Born?," "Bill" and "Liza." Lupino's singing voice is dubbed by Peg La Centra.
Lupino biographer William Donati has written that the actress was suffering from exhaustion while making this film in the summer of 1945. She tended to arrive late on set, and for a short time was even bedridden. The blistering summer heat didn't help. While shooting a scene with Alda one day, she fainted; Alda caught her just before she hit the pavement. According to Donati, Lupino's dress was so tight-fitting that it "had to be snipped off to revive her."
Production moved at a snail's pace due to Lupino's condition, as well as to constant script revisions and to the fact that everyone on set was distracted by war news - especially news of the atomic bomb. When shooting mercifully came to a close, The Man I Love was 19 days behind schedule and $100,000 over budget. Lupino threw a big wrap party for the entire crew and "insisted on dancing at least once with all the men, until she twisted her ankle. She was sidelined for weeks on crutches." (Donati)
Critics were mixed to negative ("a brittle sex romance" is how Variety described it), but The Man I Love touched something in filmgoers and became a big hit. As author Donati has written, "Lupino fans, especially women, lined up to see it. When hard-edged Petey Brown, tough but emotionally vulnerable, finds herself alone when her man sails to sea, a responsive chord was struck in many a woman's heart."
Producer: Arnold Albert, Jack L. Warner
Director: Raoul Walsh
Screenplay: Jo Pagano, Catherine Turney, W.R. Burnett, Maritta Wolff (novel)
Cinematography: Sidney Hickox
Film Editing: Owen Marks
Art Direction: Stanley Fleischer
Music: Max Steiner
Cast: Ida Lupino (Petey Brown), Robert Alda (Nicky Toresca), Andrea King (Sally Otis), Martha Vickers (Virginia Brown), Bruce Bennett (San Thomas), Alan Hale (Riley).
by Jeremy Arnold