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Still only in her 30s, Ida Lupino was a well-established and respected actress by the time she embarked on a new career behind the camera in the late 1940s. She and her then-husband, producer Collier Young, founded their own company in 1949 and began to turn out low-budget, location-shot films that centered on intense interpersonal and psychological conflicts. Many of these were directed by the pioneering Lupino, but for Beware, My Lovely (1952) she and Young decided to give a chance to production designer Harry Horner, who had won an Academy Award® for his art direction on The Heiress (1949) and impressed Lupino with his design for her directorial effort Outrage (1950). Lupino gave a great deal of assistance to the novice director, agreeing to star in the film and even stepping in to direct several scenes herself when Horner had to spend time with his wife in the hospital.
Beware, My Lovely centers primarily on just two characters. Howard Wilton is a disturbed, itinerant handyman who flees after discovering his employer strangled, not realizing he did it himself in a moment of rage. He shows up at the door of Mrs. Helen Gordon, a teacher and war widow who takes him in to help her around the house. Howard becomes convinced his new employer is spying on him, and when a young girl taunts him for doing "women's work," it sends him into another of his psychotic rages. He locks himself in the house with Helen and terrorizes her.
The script was written by Mel Dinelli, adapted from his own play The Man. Dinelli was already established as a creator of intense suspense in his scripts for The Spiral Staircase (1946), The Window (1949) and The Reckless Moment (1949). His film noir credentials were well established through his work with such directors as Fritz Lang and Robert Siodmak.
For the part of Howard, Lupino cast Robert Ryan. The same year, the two co-starred in another (and many say much superior) noir thriller, On Dangerous Ground (1952), directed by Nicholas Ray. Ryan had also played a brief unbilled cameo in a film directed by Lupino, Hard, Fast and Beautiful (1951). Never a star of the top leading-man echelons, Ryan nevertheless had a lengthy, solid and much-praised career for his ability to create ambiguous, off-balance characters and for imbuing tough-guy roles with a richer complexity. He jumped at the chance to work with Lupino, especially since Horner had been trained under the great German director Max Reinhardt, as Ryan himself was. He also supported Lupino's decision to hire cinematographer George E. Diskant, who lensed On Dangerous Ground and an earlier Ryan picture, The Racket (1951). Diskant also had some impressive film noir credentials: They Live by Night (1949), The Narrow Margin (1952), Kansas City Confidential (1952). The scant attention Beware, My Lovely received on its release was largely due to Diskant's work, especially his use of reflections and superimpositions to heighten the sense of menace and madness, although Ryan was also praised for bringing pathos and sympathy to what was essentially an extremely negative character.
Shot in 18 days and coming in at only 77 minutes, Beware, My Lovely was withheld from release by RKO for a year. The studio's owner at that time was Howard Hughes, already well known for the bizarre, erratic behavior that would increasingly mark his later years. Ryan always suspected Hughes of trying to bury the movie because of Ryan's active and vocal leftist leanings. When it was finally released, Beware, My Lovely opened in New York on a bill with eight vaudeville acts and was consigned to programmer status across the country for the remainder of its brief run.
Director: Harry Horner
Producer: Collier Young
Screenplay: Mel Dinelli, based on his play, The Man
Cinematography: George E. Diskant
Editing: Paul Weatherwax
Art Direction: Alfred Herman, Albert S. D'Agostino
Original Music: Leith Stevens
Cast: Robert Ryan (Howard Wilton), Ida Lupino (Helen Gordon), Taylor Holmes (Walter Armstrong), Barbara Whiting (Ruth Williams).
by Rob Nixon