Ida Lupino is on the run From her Murderous Husband in Progressive Noir Thriller.
DIRECTED BY MICHAEL GORDON/1950
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: NOVEMBER 5, 2019/KL STUDIO CLASSICS
No one believes Deborah. With a murderous husband on her trail desperate to see her dead, Deborah (a classy yet vulnerable Ida Lupino) has only herself to trust. With her photo- labeled “missing”- plastered throughout every ubiquitous periodical, moving about freely becomes more and more challenging as Woman in Hiding goes on.
A perfectly respectable upper-class woman circa 1950 (the year of the film’s release) with no trouble in her past or signs of trouble in her future, Deborah’s inability to wrestle any kind of meaningful help is the most troubling undercurrent of Woman in Hiding. Even when a kindhearted and well-meaning man enters her life, he nevertheless defaults to the published lie (those aforementioned “missing” notices are bought and paid for by her husband) that she’s mentally ill. Why won’t anyone believe her?
Clearly, her character’s gender is the sole factor in this. Directed by Michael Gordon just a few film projects prior to his McCarthy blacklisting from Hollywood, this modestly realized pursuit-based noir thriller is evidenced to be decades ahead of its time in terms of exposing society’s chronic subjugation and minimization of women.
This is not to say that Woman in Hiding is some sort of plate of cinematic vegetables in a b-movie thriller’s clothing. Nor is its underlying theme of the discounted woman accidental or a convenient contemporary read. On the contrary, this central reality of Lupino’s character is completely intentional (courtesy of screenwriters Oscar Saul and Roy Huggins) and vital to the story. (Woman in Hiding is adapted from “Fugitive from Terror”, which was originally written as a serial by James Webb for The Saturday Evening Post). With the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements of the past few years, the lessons offered by this film have only recently begun to culturally take hold. Yet, the shameful, out-of-hand dismissal of Elizabeth Warren as a viable presidential candidate demonstrates that even now, seventy years following the release of Woman in Hiding, we have a very, very long way to go.
Woman in Hiding, though a viable piece of vintage feminist cinema- insomuch as it shines a light, if it never empowers- is intended, first and foremost, as a nail-biting thriller. In that register, the film is so successful that for some that it warrants dismissal. A 5/10-star user review at IMDb calls it a “one note onslaught of jangled nerves and jitters”. Though Woman in Hiding is an imperfect piece to be sure, easy issue can be taken with the label of “one-note”. Don’t mistake its straightforward thriller narrative and baseline characterizations for negatives. If the “jangled nerves and jitters” you come away with resonate more deeply than you anticipated, perhaps that’s by design. Perhaps that is the troubling and all-too-familiar-for-many thematic element coming through.
Those so troubled by Woman in Hiding aren’t likely to forget the frightening unhinged rage of Deborah’s husband Selden, as played by Stephen McNally. Likewise, for the frustrating actions taken by Deborah’s would-be rescuer, the nice-guy drifter Keith (Howard Duff, who would marry Lupino and continue working with her), who inadvertently makes things a lot worse before he makes them better. Gordon’s direction, while not drawing undo attention, is sharp and confident. This is a filmmaker who understands his material and the register it must operate within. He’s also wise enough to let his actors follow their instincts, thus increasing sympathy and/or knowledge of who the characters truly are.
Kino Lorber Studio Classics’ Blu-ray edition of Woman in Hiding sports an amazing look, even as the packaging gives no indication of a new 4K or 2K transfer. The bold black and white cinematography of William H. Daniels pops throughout this magnificent presentation. Film Kat Ellinger provides a thorough commentary, pointing out many of the observations that were also arrived at by this reviewer. All in all, Woman in Hiding on Blu-ray cultivates all of the jangled nerves and jitters that Michael Gordon intended.