The Hard Way, 1943, Warner Bros. Starring Ida Lupino, Dennis Morgan, Joan Leslie, Jack Carson. Directed by Vincent Sherman. B&W, 109 minutes.
In the industrial city of Green Hills, Katie Blaine (Joan Leslie) dreams of wearing an eight-dollar white dress to her high school graduation. Her sister — and guardian — Helen Chernen (Ida Lupino) can’t afford it. Seeing the pain on Katie’s face, Helen promises a bright future, one that she will do anything to obtain for her little sister.
Helen is shrewd and calculating. When she realizes Albert Runkel (Jack Carson), a song-and-dance man passing through town, is in love with Katie, she works the situation to her — and Katie’s — favor. Soon Albert and Katie are married.
Albert’s musical partner, Paul Collins (Dennis Morgan) is the more cynical of the two, and he sees through Helen’s ploys. There’s a risk she’ll come between the two men, but as it turns out, the partnership she nearly destroys is her sister and brother-in-law’s marriage. With guile and cunning she works hard on Katie’s behalf, propelling her sister into stardom.
But fame has its price, something all four learn the hard way.
Lupino was superb in this role, hitting every note as the single-minded stage “mother” focused solely on her sister’s success as a performer. She threw herself into the part, intent on proving herself to Warner Bros. executives. For two years she had struggled at the studio, ultimately resulting in hospitalization for exhaustion. Despite her clear success, however, she was said to be unhappy with the role, as well as director Vincent Sherman.
Her unhappiness could have been the result of more than her own physical ailments. In addition she bore the burden of her father’s terminal illness, something he insisted she keep from her mother. Stanley Lupino died while The Hard Way was in production. Although filming was not complete, Ida took time off to deal with her father’s demise and her own poor health.
She began to express a desire to direct films during this time, something she ultimately achieved, the only woman in the studio system to move from actress to director.
The script for The Hard Way was first offered to Ginger Rogers, who turned it down (the original story was rumored to have been based on her and her mother Lela), and was considered as a vehicle for Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, which never panned out. Before production began Warner Bros. announced that Olivia de Havilland and John Garfield would star, but that, too, fell through. (Shortly after the time of filming, de Havilland was embroiled in a nasty lawsuit against Warner Bros.)
While The Hard Way was not nominated for any Oscars, Lupino did receive the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress. This is a moving film with a fine cast, that despite its depressing tone manages to stay above the mire of its topic.
This post is my contribution to the Ida Lupino Centenary Blogathon, hosted by Maddy Loves Her Classic Films.