Ida Lupino, who died Aug. 3 at age 77, referred to herself as “the poor man’s Bette Davis.” Although Davis overshadowed Lupino at Warner Bros. in the 1940s, Lupino went on to become Hollywood’s unsung hero. Not only was she a great, albeit underrated, actress, Lupino also was a pioneer film and television director, producer, screenwriter and a composer.
Lupino’s remarkable versatility is on display in several movies now available on video.
The British-born actress is at her scheming, conniving best in the 1940 Warner Bros. cult fave, “They Drive by Night” (MGM/UA). In this fast-paced, Raoul Walsh-directed tale, Lupino plays the unhappy wife of a trucking company owner (Alan Hale) who lusts after traffic manager George Raft. When Raft spurns her after she murders her husband, Lupino persuades the police that Raft killed her spouse. Lupino’s best moment: when she unravels on the witness stand. Humphrey Bogart also stars.
Lupino shows her tender, loving side in the classic 1941 melodrama “High Sierra” (MGM/UA). She plays an abused gangster’s moll with a heart of gold who falls madly in love with aging criminal Mad Dog Ray Earle (Humphrey Bogart). Although “High Sierra” helped boost Bogey to superstardom, it was Lupino who got top billing. John Huston co-scripted the film.
That same year, Lupino also gave a bravura performance as one of life’s losers who gets the opportunity for redemption in “The Sea Wolf” (MGM/UA). Edward G. Robinson, John Garfield and Alexander Knox also star in this rugged adaptation of Jack London’s classic. Michael Curtiz directed.
In 1948’s deliciously enjoyable “Road House” (FoxVideo), she plays a sultry singer and piano player hired to work at a popular road house. Lupino stirs up trouble as only she can when the insanely jealous owner (Richard Widmark) becomes obsessed with her and she, in turn, falls for Widmark’s best friend (Cornel Wilde). Lupino gets the opportunity to warble a few tunes, including “Again.”
Lupino and Robert Ryan make a splendid romantic team in Nicholas Ray’s evocative 1952 film noir “On Dangerous Ground” (Turner Home Entertainment). Ryan plays a cynical police detective who falls in love with the beautiful, self-reliant blind sister (Lupino) of the killer he is out to nab. Bernard Herrmann’s score (considered his personal favorite) is an added plus.
Ryan and Lupino also starred that year with less success in “Beware, My Lovely” (Republic Pictures Home Video), a dopey thriller that finds Lupino playing a widow who hires a psychopathic drifter (Ryan) to work as her handyman. The Lupino and Ryan chemistry, though, makes it worth a look.
The 1953 drama “The Bigamist” (Discount Video Tapes, Nostalgia Family Video, Horizon Entertainment) marks the only time Lupino directed herself in a movie. She plays a lonely restaurant cook who falls for a traveling salesman (Edmond O’Brien). When Lupino announces she’s pregnant, O’Brien marries her but forgets to inform her he’s already hitched to Joan Fontaine.
Lupino’s most popular directorial effort was the 1966 comedy “The Trouble With Angels” (Columbia/TriStar). This baby boomer favorite finds Hayley Mills and June Harding playing two convent high school students, who drive their stern Mother Superior (Rosalind Russell) crazy. Charming fluff.
If you want to check out a young Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, the band appears in “Petulia” (Warner Home Video), Richard Lester’s acclaimed 1968 comedy-drama set in San Francisco’s hippie heyday. Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company also perform. Julie Christie and George C. Scott star.
Garcia and the Dead also are featured in four concert videos: “The Grateful Dead Movie” (Monterey Home Video) is a 1979 film that combines footage from the group’s 1976 appearances at Winterland with rare early footage. Monterey just lowered the price to $30. On Sept. 19th, Monterey is also releasing the 1980 “The Grateful Dead: Dead Ahead” ($25) which features excerpts from a week-long marathon of shows at Radio City Music Hall. “The Grateful Dead: The Making of The ‘Touch of Grey’ Video” (6 West Home Video) is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the group’s “In the Dark Album.” And 1987’s “The Grateful Dead: So Far” (6 West Home Video) presents an overview of the band’s two decade-plus career.
News Flashes: Dying to own a copy of “The Wild Women of Wongo” or “Rock ‘N’ Roll Mobster Girls”? Well, the new Facets Cult Video Catalog is right up your offbeat alley. The catalogue includes hundreds of video and laser disc cult titles from the silent era to today and focuses on such key cult figures as David Lynch, Russ Meyer, David Cronenberg, John Waters, and, of course , Edward Wood Jr. For a free copy call 1 (800) 331-6197.
Columbia TriStar has announced that “Legends of the Fall,” starring People magazine’s current sexiest man alive, Brad Pitt, will be available Sept. 26 at the sell-through price of $20.
Special Interest: “The Microsoft Windows 95 Video Guide” (GT Interactive and GoodTimes Home Video, $20) is being billed as the first “cyber-sitcom.” Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry of “Friends” star in this comedy/instructional video, which takes viewers through the new software, explaining the top new 25 features on the much anticipated Windows 95. Aniston and Perry have charm to spare, but the one-hour video isn’t very funny. And though it’s supposedly geared to a broad audience--from PC rookies to experienced users--this rookie was confused from the first click of the mouse.
New on Video: Sharon Stone straps on a gun belt and shoots ‘em up in Sam Raimi’s Western “The Quick and the Dead” (Columbia/TriStar). Gene Hackman and Russell Crowe (“Virtuosity”) also star in this critical and box-office disappointment.
Chris O’Donnell and Minnie Driver are an enchanting couple in “Circle of Friends” (HBO Video), the acclaimed comedy-drama set in 1950s Ireland. Based on Maeve Binchy’s best-seller.
Bronson Pinchot, David Morse and Patricia Wettig head the cast of “Stephen King’s the Langoliers” (Republic Home Video), a four-hour adaptation of King’s novella about a group of airplane passengers who travel some rather unfriendly skies. “The Langoliers” originally aired on ABC in May.
Ida Lupino with Robert Ryan, left, and Ward Bond in the provocative 1952 film noir “On Dangerous Ground.”