Beware, My Lovely

November 24, 2009 at 11:34 PM (Film Noir Reviews) (, , , , )


Beware, My Lovely, from 1952, is somehow a much forgotten noir even by those who are fans of the genre. What makes this so odd is the fact that it stars two of the most notable noir actors of all time. Robert Ryan, whose noir credits are as long as anyone’s, plays the psychopath Howard Wilton. Ida Lupino, who has an equally impressive noir resume, plays the widow Helen Gordon. 

The film also includes Taylor Holmes as Walter Armstrong and Barbara Whiting as Ruth Williams. Holmes appeared briefly and often uncredited in several other noirs while Whiting had a brief film career and is more well-known for her television appearances. Harry Horner directed Beware, My Lovely and is a relative unknown, though he did also direct Vicki, which is somewhat of a Laura knockoff.

Plot Outline 

Howard Wilton is a drifter who does odd jobs, mainly for widows, to make money. He moves from job to job and town to town. He is a version of the invisible man. The film begins with Wilton finishing up a job and when he goes to see the lady to collect his wages, she is no where to be found—until he opens the closet to get his coat. She has been murdered. 

Howard flees to the rail yard and jumps a train. He eventually shows up at the doorstep of Helen Gordon looking for work. Her husband was killed during the war (WWI) and she now runs a small boarding house. She could use a hand around the place and quickly puts Howard to work scrubbing the floors. 

Everything begins okay as Howard goes to work, but things quickly deteriorate. It doesn’t take long to realize that Howard has issues. He is antagonized by the picture of Helen’s husband in his soldier uniform and becomes incredibly paranoid over the tiniest things. The tension is quickly ratcheted up when you realize that Howard has locked all the doors from the inside and is holding the key in his pocket. Helen is trapped all alone in the home with Howard and he is becoming increasingly unstable. 

Elements of Noir 

This film is similar to Don’t Bother to Knock in that the elements of noir are concentrated within the psych of the characters. There is a murder, and probably many more, but there is no femme fatale, the lighting is standard and virtually the entire picture takes place during the day away from the city. 

However, Ryan’s Howard Wilton is a bonafide disturbed human being. He is fragmented from the rest of the world. “I can’t remember anyone caring about me,” he says to Helen. He has no friends. He is a rambler and is most certainly not a man in control of his own fate. Ryan is emasculated because he was not fit enough to serve in the war and this is heightened by the young Ruth Williams taunting him for cleaning the floors. “I don’t see many men polishing floors.” 

Howard Wilton seems to be someone who is not even in control over his own nature. He doesn’t appear to be a violent person at his core, but it seems to happen in spite of his own real desire to be normal. 

Ida plays a widow, who is a regular role in film noir, who is forced to take care of herself. She is not focused on happiness or the more trivial matter like the younger Ruth Williams. Helen Gordon has to focus on making ends meet and survival. She is an example of the war coming home and inflicting its pain on those not directly involved. It is somewhat rare for the story to be set in 1918, but that fact that it is the aftermath of a war offers the same effect.   

Recommendation (Spoilers) 

Beware, My Lovely is not a top tier film noir, but it is a good movie and has some excellent elements that make it worth watching.  It is a film that makes you uncomfortable as the viewer. Even though Helen’s home is large, there is a definite claustrophobic feeling to watching the movie. This comes from Helen being trapped in the home and because you as the viewer are rarely shown anything outside of the home once Howard arrives. 

The tension in the film is similar to what you would get in a Hitchcock film. You keep expecting Howard to completely flip and do real harm to Helen. Beware, My Lovely has its twists but they are not really shocking, you see them happening, but they reinforce the tension. You want Howard out of that house and it seems so close several times. 

This film is basically Robert Ryan versus Ida Lupino. These two great actors do an excellent job handling the bulk of the work. Lupino is one of the best looking old maids you will ever see and Ryan looks like his head is going to explode any minute, of course he made a living in those roles. In this role, however, he is much more vulnerable than normal but just as volatile. 

The script is a little dry and the cinematography is lacking any sort of real style. There are some attempts at style: the wide shot of Howard running through the rail yard is nice and Horner attempts a few strange angles in the home. 

I do recommend this film, mainly because of Ryan and Lupino, but also because of the way it holds the tension throughout the film and by the way it keeps you interested even though you rarely get a glimpse of anything but the inside of the home.

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