Ida Lupino’s Strange Drama about the Aftermath of Sexual Assault 



Although today’s world is no stranger to outrage, identification with director Ida Lupino’s 1950 rape trauma film Outrage may prove elusive.  While it’s vital when watching old movies to be aware of the mindset of their times and the viewpoint of the maker as best as one can, in some cases that’s far easier said than done.

When it comes to its then-verboten subject matter, Outrage proves to be as dicey as it is gutsy.  Above all, however, its visual chops and central performance by Mala Powers (her “criminal attack victim” Ann Walton resembles a fraying contemporary Julia Adams) elevate it to easy contention for Lupino’s finest filmmaking effort.  

The actress-turned-director proves her prowess with the camera throughout, particularly in the initial Noir-informed urban night sequence of Ann attempting to escape her stalker.  (This sequence in particular benefits from the restored transfer, itself presented in HD from a 4K Scan of the 35mm fine grain by Paramount Pictures.  This is a step up from the 2021 Imprint region-free Blu-ray out of Australia, it merely boasting a new 2K scan from Paramount’s original negative).  The dread-drenched heightening inevitability of the assault itself play out not only on Powers’ pronounced expressions and body language, but in the canted and sometimes distancing shots.  Case in point, just before Ann is finally caught by her pursuer, Lupino’s camera is so up and away that when it pans to follow Ann, a building gets in the way (safely obstructing the attack itself).  

Outrage stands apart from the four Lupino films that comprise Kino Lorber’s Ida Lupino Filmmaker Collection, not for the least reason being that it’s not part of that set.  Although the terms “rape” nor even “sexual assault” are never uttered (per the prudish strictness of late ‘40s/early ‘50s Hollywood), the film nevertheless stuns in terms of its very existence and unmistakable female perspective.  

Made and released by The Filmakers (sic), her and her then-husband’s production company that enabled Lupino to flourish as a director, Outrage fits into her filmography just after the 1949’s polio drama Never Fear but several years before her great Noir, The Hitch-Hiker.  While it unquestionably technically outshines her films that came before it, it is not at all out of place in terms of overall commitment to its subject matter… as well as its eagerness to veer into hyperbolic melodrama.  Throw in the “damaged” heroine’s need for a level-headed anchoring male figure, and patterns are definitely apparent.

Lupino, however culturally touted she’s become thanks to what Outrage’s audio commentor Imogen Sara Smith calls today’s “eagerness to rediscover female directors”, defies the easy embrace of contemporary progressives.  Though uncompromising in her devotion to depicting difficult women-centric experiences and characterizations, the trailblazing Lupino famously stated that she rejected feminism.  Such tension is evident in the films she made, particularly Outrage.  As conflicted as the film may seem, it does add up to a most interesting and consistently engaging experience.

By Outrage’s third act, Ann has altogether crumbled, self-exiled from her concerned parents and fiancé (a milquetoast Robert Clarke) and is in a deep, sometimes ghoulish state of shock.  The potent soul-damage of sexual assault is heavily put forth even as certain specifics of her behavior can’t help but land as over the top.  Her absolute loss of agency and even perhaps sanity can’t help but chip away at Lupino’s rather scathing social commentary in the first act when Ann’s community is sudden quietly shunning of her following her attack.  Overnight, she’s become persona non grata.  Only the patience and support of the upright yet oddly pulseless Rev. Bruce Ferguson (Tod Andrews) can shepherd her back to the life she’s fled.  

Imogen Sara Smith quite rightly questions such motivation, asking in her audio commentary track if this is supposed to be a hopeful ending for Ann or not.  The commentary track is thoroughly top notch, giving credit to Lupino and company where credit is due but also critical and/or analytical where necessary.  Smith does concur that Outrage ranks near the top if not at the top of Lupino’s directorial works, a winding journey of a film that is only ultimately enriched in its complexities.