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Set in a depressed coal-mining town, The Hard Way (1942) is the story of Helen Chernen, an unhappily married woman, living on the edge of poverty. In an attempt to prevent her sister Katherine from making the same mistakes in life she did, Helen pushes her into a career in show business. At first her plan seems to be successful but Helen's driving ambition soon becomes a destructive force in her sister's life, leading to tragic consequences for all concerned.
Bette Davis had been the original choice for the role of Helen Chernen but turned it down. This might be why Ida Lupino once called herself "the poor man's Bette Davis." She would often get offered the roles Bette rejected and in the case of The Hard Way, it worked to Ida's advantage. But at first, she didn't want to do The Hard Way either and even during production was convinced audiences would despise her performance, telling Sherman, "This picture is going to stink and I'm going to stink in it!"
Sherman also had to contend with Irwin Shaw, who had written the original story and had strong opinions about who should direct it, like William Wyler, Howard Hawks, or Leo McCarey. Additional pressure was applied by studio head Jack Warner who was convinced that audiences didn't want to see a film about "dirty people in the coal mines." To pacify Warner, Sherman eventually added an upbeat prologue and epilogue that cleverly frames the powerful drama without compromising the material.
In his excellent autobiography, Studio Affairs, Sherman wrote, "Looking back, I think The Hard Way was probably the most personal expression of all the films I worked on. It said things about the human condition that are still close to me: that drive for success in our culture that causes us to do things that we might later regret - sometimes too late. I am also proud of Ida Lupino's performance." Although Lupino should have been nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her work in The Hard Way, she was awarded the Best Actress Award by the New York Film Critics.
Director: Vincent Sherman
Producer: Jerry Wald, Jack L. Warner (executive)
Screenplay: Daniel Fuchs, Peter Viertel
Cinematography: James Wong Howe
Editor: Thomas Pratt
Music: M. K. Jerome (songs), Heinz Roemheld, Max Scholl (songs)
Cast: Ida Lupino (Helen Chernen), Joan Leslie (Katherine Chernen Blaine Runkel), Dennis Morgan (Paul Collins), Jack Carson (Albert Runkel), Gladys George (Lily Emery).
BW-110m. Closed captioning. Descriptive video.
by Jeff Stafford