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Lupino and The Filmakers next targeted the then-misunderstood and feared disease polio, in Never Fear. Outrage was about the horror and long-term crippling effects of rape, a subject no other movie would touch (at least so bluntly) in 1951. With her next film, Lupino was able to move away from the somewhat stifling confines of the one-issue public alert film, with a witty and multi-layered story about class anxiety and the ruthlessness of "sports parents," the young athlete here being a tennis prodigy (Forrest). Howard Hughes thought up the title—Hard, Fast and Beautiful. An accumulation of small details (contingent tennis club memberships for the poorer family, snobby sniffs at cheap cigars) illustrate excruciating class awareness, and Claire Trevor is brutal as the conniving proto-Earl Woods, whose pursuit of amateur circuit kickbacks helps dash her daughter's tennis career. Lupino's capper is devastating—a shot of Trevor alone at night in empty bleachers, yesterday's papers blowing in the wind to the sound of an echoing tennis ball bounce.
In 1952, Lupino acted in two films with Robert Ryan, both shot by George Diskant. She also directed some scenes in both movies, when the directors were temporarily ill. In Harry Horner’s Beware, My Lovely, she is a housewife menaced by psychopathic handyman Ryan, convincingly sweet-then-menacing. Ray's On Dangerous Ground is the story of Ryan's rage-wrecked cop learning to see with the help of Lupino's blind Mary Malde. It travels from pestilent city streets and flophouses to snow-draped hills and isolated cabins, pushed by the frenetic modulations of Bernard Herrmann. It's a film with great range that can contain both the heights of pitiable fury ("You punks always talk!" snarls Ryan at a suspect before beating him) and the calm wisdom of Lupino, who betters the Magical Handicap grounding of her character by playing so sweetly against her more common impudent type.
Lupino's most satisfying feature as director is The Hitch-Hiker (1953), a compact morality play-cum-thriller based on real events, about a murderer who terrorizes two average bumpkins on a fishing trip. As the hitcher who sleeps with one eye open, William Talman is a lethal nuisance, and his emasculating pushing around of Edmond O'Brien and Frank Lovejoy might be Lupino's winking analogy for a male cast bossed about by a female director. The Bigamist, released the same year, musters a surprising quota of sympathy for the main character, when cruel circumstance prevents him from breaking it off with both Joan Fontaine (her parents are dying) and Ida (whom he impregnates). Lupino's character feels guilty that she "trapped" Roy (O'Brien) into a marriage with her pregnancy, an anxiety that the actress/director shared about her marriage to actor and frequent collaborator Howard Duff. Complicating the imitation of life, Fontaine at the time was married to Collier Young, then Lupino's ex.
After The Bigamist, Lupino didn't direct until 1966's nun romp The Trouble with Angels. Meanwhile, she appeared in Private Hell 36, a wicked cheapie with harsh lessons. Director Siegel attests to some struggles on the set, fueled by stars Lupino, Duff, and Steve Cochran's penchant for drinking vodka-and-ice during work hours. In Women's Prison, Lupino plays an elegantly dressed, hell-bitch warden with the always-evil name van Zandt. Playing off of the tartness of inmates like Audrey Totter, Lupino's evil matronhood elevates the delightful trash. The Mother of Us All had predecessors. Lois Weber was directing in the 1910s, and Dorothy Arzner preceded her into the Directors Guild (Lupino was only the second woman). Her seven films as director shouldn't be over-championed for the purposes of correction, though all contain numerous flashes of brilliance, and a couple are great. But no woman came close to being a threat on quite so many fronts (directing, acting, writing, and producing) as Lupino during her time.