Beware, My Lovely (1952) Harry Horner
Beware, My Lovely is one of those movies that contains some obvious problems (which we’ll get to in a moment), but offers rich rewards, especially for fans of Robert Ryan and Ida Lupino. After an attention-getting opening (which I will not describe), we find itinerant handyman Howard Wilton (Ryan) looking for work in a quaint, small town sometime after World War I. Helen Gordon (Lupino), whose husband died in the war, happens to be by herself for the holidays and hires Howard for help with a few chores. Helen is friendly and Howard begins his work well, but we soon suspect that something is terribly wrong. Howard swings back and forth between moments of kindness and dangerous rage, often in the same sentence. Realizing that Howard is volatile and unbalanced, Helen carefully tries to read his moods and act in a way that will placate him long enough for her to alert someone as to the danger she’s in.
During these incredibly tense moments, Howard and Helen are interrupted by a delivery boy, a dog, and several local children. Many of the situations in the film may be contrived and unbelievable, but the two leads deliver astonishing nuanced performances. Ryan is powerful as Howard, a man who both terrifies us and evokes our sympathy. Lupino matches (and perhaps surpasses) Ryan in that she has to believably respond to Howard’s opposite extremes of rage and calm, all the while looking for a way out of the prison that has become her own home.
Beware, My Lovely was a project of The Filmmakers (Lupino and then husband Collier Young) but Lupino chose to work in front of the camera this time, having already directed four films by 1951. To direct, she chose Harry Horner, the Oscar-winning production designer of The Heiress (1949) and director of The Filmmakers’ Outrage (1950). If Beware, My Lovely seems like it’s essentially a two-person play, that’s because it was: Mel Dinelli wrote the screenplay based on his own play The Man. To give the film a more cinematic feel, Horner added several outdoor scenes and George Diskant’s camera work (as well as a variety of interesting lighting set-ups) helps give the film more of a noir atmosphere. Fans of the Nicholas Ray noir On Dangerous Ground (1951) will enjoy comparing the Lupino/Ryan roles with those of Beware, My Lovely. Although it has its problems, Beware, My Lovely is a film well worth discovering.
Next time: “Kindly omit flowers…”
Photos: Movie Poster Warehouse, TCM, Suddenly, a Shot Rang Out…