DIRECTED BY

Ida Lupino

 

STARRING

Edmond O'Brien

Frank Lovejoy

William Talman

 

RATED

NR

 

RELEASED IN

1953

 

RUNNING TIME

1 Hr., 10 Mins.

The Hitch-Hiker / The Bigamist March 12, 2019  

1/2

DIRECTED BY
Ida Lupino

 

STARRING

Edmond O'Brien

Ida Lupino

Joan Fontaine

Edmund Gwenn

 

RATED

NR

 

RELEASED IN

1953

 

RUNNING TIME

1 Hr., 17 Mins.

businessman who, as the film opens, is beginning the adoption process with his business partner and wife, Eve (Joan Fontaine), who is unable to bear children.

 

True to the title, it’s discovered, once someone from the adoption agency begins to investigate the prospective parents’ pasts, that there are two Harry Grahams. Not meaning that there is another person with the name in California, but in the sense that Harrison has two lives. In one, he owns a shop with Eve. In the other, he’s married to and has a child with a waitress named Phyllis (Lupino). Much of the film unravels in flashback; it takes the form of an “as told to” piece, with Harrison sharing the story of how he came to be a bigamist with an austere adoption agent Mr. Jordan (Edmund Gwenn), who wants a clearer picture of what's going on.

 

Contrasting with other films of the era, which typically had a crystalline moral throughline, The Bigamist is an oddity in that it neither condemns nor supports Harrison. Daringly, Collier Young’s screenplay homes in on the messiness of dysfunctional romantic relationships, and how attempts at appeasement can ultimately result in more harm than intended. Harry is rendered almost woefully: miserable with Eve but still in love with her; besotted with Phyllis but perhaps partial to idolizing her as a sort of emotional rescue personified. The leading performances pulsate in their unease.

 

No decision Harrison makes is necessarily a good one. But The Bigamist, so wretched and boxed-in, intelligently muses on social mores and the ways moral uncertainties can grow thornier the more uncertain things get. It’s uncomfortable to watch, but that Lupino ventured to make something so intentionally unsettling — especially in her demotically moralistic era — is commendable in the first place. One wonders what might have come of her directorial legacy had she been afforded the same opportunities as her male counterparts.

 

The Hitch-HikerA

The Bigamist: B

upino directed only two more feature-length films after The Hitch-Hiker. One, a Rosalind Russell-starring comedy, was released 13 years later, and called The Trouble with Angels. The other, released nine months after The Hitch-Hiker, was The Bigamist. Another collaboration with O’Brien, and the last movie Lupino directed under the tutelage of The Filmakers, The Bigamist stars the actor as Harrison, a somber, middle-aged

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the aegis of the American studio system. Among the company’s first productions was 1949’s Not Wanted, which was co-written by Lupino and directed by Elmer Clifton. Mid-production, though, Clifton suffered a mild heart attack, leaving him unfit to finish the movie. Lupino, by necessity, stepped in. She ended up helming most of the feature in toto, but, out of respect for Clifton, gave him directorial credit.

 

This insertion kicked off a formidable albeit oft-overlooked filmmaking career. By the time Lupino died, in 1995, she had directed an octet of feature-length films and over 100 episodes of various television shows. Her movies were subversive, claustrophobic, and sometimes confrontational — usually not in conversation with but rather in opposition to the cinematic status quo. In some circles, she is considered among the most essential and cerebral directorial voices of the 1950s. But in large part because of her far-more-extensive acting work, and her own (possibly methodical) personal dismissal of her filmmaking aptitude, that Lupino was not only a trailblazer but a certifiably gifted director has become more a fun fact than a widely recognized truth.

 

Lupino’s best-known work as a filmmaker is 1953’s The Hitch-Hiker, significant not just for being the first and arguably only film noir directed by a woman, but also for being one of the genre’s tersest, most outwardly facile but subliminally complicated entries. A fatless 70 minutes, the movie stars Edmond O’Brien and Frank Lovejoy as Roy and Gilbert, road-tripping friends whose planned fishing trip goes awry when they pick up a murderous hitch-hiker (William Talman, appealingly rabid), who has recently embarked on a much-reported-on killing spree.

 

Rather evocative of a one-setting thriller, even though it does change its setting like clockwork, The Hitch-Hiker’s structural and narrative plainness allows it to be sort of elaborate, thematically protean. Also in part because of its being driven by a trio of characters, with one being improbably dominant, the film comes across as a story about three things other than mere on-the-road predation: an allegory for capitalism, homosexuality, or — ever-meta — the experience of being directed. Perhaps the titular antagonist stands in for an industrialist doing what he wants with his dependent hires until they’ve been exhausted for all they’re worth. Perhaps the men can be interpreted as lovers, with the hitch-hiker symbolizing an oppressive, homophobic society. Perhaps the movie, above all else, commentates on the way that, through their manipulation of actors, directors, represented by the eponymous villain, have a slightly distorted sort of power.

 

You can also enjoy The Hitch-Hiker simply as a cut-rate thriller — a no-frills roller coaster that emphasizes the terror of being trapped and a this-could-happen-to-you frame. (The movie, as an early title card informs us, was based on a true story.) Regardless of the interpretation, it’s startlingly effective — and I’d like to think that Lupino, in the first place, was aiming to obliquely show that a thriller exercise can rend its limitations and become something more.

he English-American actress Ida Lupino’s directing career began rather abruptly. At the end of the 1940s, Lupino, by then an established actress in Hollywood, started an independent company called The Filmakers with her then-husband, Clifton Young. The Filmakers, small and cost-effective, sought to put out urgent, social-issue-oriented movies that largely did away with the escapism-first approach of films produced under

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