For Reel

The Hard Way (1943)
February 23, 2012, 2:07 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Vincent Sherman

It is said that Vincent Sherman’s The Hard Way, a stage-life melodrama starring Ida Lupino and Joan Leslie, was loosely based on the 17-year-old Ginger Rogers’ short-lived marriage with her first husband, Jack Pepper. In an early scene, a vaudeville duo spells out the relation bluntly when one man asks the other, “Doesn’t she remind you of Ginger?” The question serves as a humorous in-joke because it is directed at none other than Dennis Morgan, with whom Rogers starred in Kitty Foyle. Rogers, strangely enough, was offered Lupino’s role as the ambitious woman whose drive fuels her sister’s career, as was Bette Davis (Lupino once famously referred to herself as a “poor man’s Bette Davis” because she often took the parts that Davis rejected). Neither of the heavyweights could have been any better than Lupino, however, who gives one of her greatest and fiercest performances as the tragically driven woman whose only desire is to better her sister’s life. Though it was commonplace for the ambitious women to be punished in this era of Hollywood, the treatment of Lupino seems especially cruel. One might say that it makes the tragedy all the more resonant – that is, she is so utterly selfless that she lives her life to better someone else and, in the end, is left with nothing. The way that the picture handles the book-ending segments of the picture, however, involving Lupino’s attempted suicide and the officers who bear witness to it, is quite deplorable (while on what will be her death bed, one of the men has the gall to dismissively quip, “women“). Though the Production Code would certainly not let a women get away with foul deeds, Lupino’s actions are never excessively cruel, and certainly not warranting, even by the strictest moralizing conventions, her utter dismissal. Despite this frustration, Lupino’s work is noteworthy, and the great character actor Jack Carson gives one of his most memorable performances as Leslie’s first husband.

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