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Just 21 when The Lady and the Mob was released in 1939, Ida Lupino already had 23 films to her credit and some of them, such as Peter Ibbetson (1935) and Anything Goes (1936), had been major productions. But she had yet to break free of her chic young leading lady or supporting player status. When Columbia cast her in an undistinguished role in The Lady and the Mob, she became worried about her career, especially since the studio had no other roles for her. But later this same year she achieved notice for her work at other studios on The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939) and the Kipling-based romantic drama The Light That Failed (1939), eventually landing a contract with Warner Brothers in 1940. It was here that she was offered the best roles of her career, often playing a tough but vulnerable woman from the wrong side of the tracks.
In this mix of gangster flick and comedy, she is not the lady of the title; that distinction belongs to Fay Bainter as Hattie Leonard, a grand old society dame who becomes a female Robin Hood; she starts her own gang to combat the influence of mobsters who are shaking down the town's hard-working merchants. As she begins to uncover dirty doings at the highest levels of town government, Hattie enlists the help of Lila Thorne (Lupino), her son's fiance.
What sounds like a fairly innocuous story was actually the subject of much wrangling with the Production Code Administration (PCA), the film industry's self-censorship arm. In 1937, when it was still an RKO property, the story was deemed unacceptable because it was "basically a gangster picture, showing machine guns in the hands of criminals." By 1938, it was in pre-production at Columbia, and the studio found its first screenplay draft rejected as well for the same reasons, plus the detailed depiction of a kidnapping and the use of the National Anthem and "My Country 'Tis of Thee." At that time, Edna May Oliver and Wendy Barrie were in line for the female leads. Eventually, script issues were ironed out with the PCA, and Bainter and Lupino were cast.
Bainter was a distinguished stage actress who did not make her film debut until 1934, when she was in her early 40s. Over the next decade, she was featured in a number of important roles, winning a Best Supporting Actress Oscar® for Jezebel (1938) the same year she was nominated for Best Actress for her work in White Banners. Highly sought after for a range of matron roles, her successful film career continued into the early 1950s. She then worked primarily on television for the next ten years, returning to the big screen for The Children's Hour (1961), for which she received another Supporting Actress nomination.
Shortly before making The Lady and the Mob, Ida Lupino married South African-born actor Louis Hayward, who had made a splash earlier in the year as the lead in the swashbuckler The Man in the Iron Mask (1939). The two co-starred in only one movie together, the thriller Ladies in Retirement (1941), and were divorced in 1945.
Director: Benjamin Stoloff
Producer: Fred Kohlmar
Screenplay: Richard Maibaum, Gertrude Purcell
Based on a story by George Bradshaw and Price DayCinematography: John Stumar
Editing: Otto Meyer
Art Direction: Lionel Banks
Original Music: Charles Bradshaw, Leigh Harline (both uncredited)
Cast: Fay Bainter (Hattie Leonard), Ida Lupino (Lila Thorne), Lee Bowman (Fred Leonard), Henry Armetta (Zambrogio), Warren Hymer (Frankie O'Fallon).
by Rob Nixon