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Book Excerpt: The Psychology of Fear in Ida Lupino’s ‘The Hitch-Hiker’

Book Excerpt: The Psychology of Fear in Ida Lupino’s 'The Hitch-Hiker'

Ida Lupino was the first mainstream American female filmmaker to make movies within the Hollywood system since the
beginning of film censorship in the 1930s. She is often cited by feminist
film scholars as one of the two major female directors of the mid-20th century
making women-oriented, independent films in Hollywood. 

actress initially and throughout her career, Lupino never quite achieved the
massive success of the other leading ladies of her time. The well-known story of how
she began directing is credited to a mishap during preproduction on the set of
the movie Not Wanted (1949), which
Lupino co-wrote and co-produced independently of any studio with her then-husband
Collier Young. Director Elmer Clifton suffered a heart attack right before
production began, and Lupino stepped in at the last minute to save the picture.

Clifton was on set during the production, and his name remained on the film out
of respect to his career, but Lupino was the actual director of the low-budget,
unwanted-pregnancy exploitation flick. Lupino followed
the film with her official debut as a director, Never Fear (1949), a “women’s film” about a dancer who suffers from
polio. She directed another “woman’s film” entitled Hard, Fast and Beautiful (1951) and again went uncredited on the
film On Dangerous Ground (1951).                             

Lupino’s great
contributions to the thriller genre and to the later phenomenon of horror on
television make her one of the most important women directors of genre. In the
1950s, Lupino was the first American woman to direct a film noir, a post-WWII genre of crime dramas and psychological thrillers that depicted anti-heroes,
desperate people, and criminals in complex and sociopathic storylines that were
a result of en masse post-war trauma.

The first noir film directed by a woman
in the United States was Lupino’s dramatic 1950 film Outrage, about the violent rape and subsequent psychological
unraveling of a young woman in the shameful and terrifying aftermath of her
attack. Like Lupino’s other films as director, Outrage presented an alternative to mainstream Hollywood with its
controversial topic, but was also heavily influenced by contemporary trends in
suspenseful cinema. 

Lupino returned
to the thriller genre in full force with The
in 1953. The
is a story of deviance and isolation, conformity
and monstrosity, and disturbed, unseated identity. Lupino’s crew was all-male
and the majority of the film was shot in exhausting desert landscapes in brutal
temperatures. In the book The Making of The Hitch-Hiker, Lupino is quoted
as saying, “To heighten the film’s suspense, I shot scenes in the claustrophobic
confines of the car, and to intensify the grit outside, on hot, barren expanses
of the desert.”

The official press notes written
for The Hitch-Hiker contained an
interview with Lupino entitled, “Ida Lupino Retains Her Femininity as
Director.” It was presumably written as a first line of defense
against critics, professional and peanut-gallery alike, that didn’t like the
idea of a woman directing films:

“While I’ve encountered no
resentment from the male of the species for intruding into their world, I give
them no opportunity to think I’ve strayed where I don’t belong. I assume no
masculine characteristics, which can often be a fault of career women rubbing shoulders
with their male counterparts, who become merely arrogant or authoritative.”

In 1953, Lupino
also released The Bigamist, about a
woman who discovers her husband’s second wife. Lupino then moved on to a long
and successful career in television. In addition to made-for-TV movies, she
directed for series such as 77 Sunset
, Hotel de Paree, Hong Kong,
Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Have Gun – Will Travel, The Rifleman, Thriller, The
Untouchables, The Fugitive, The Twilight Zone, Bewitched, Gilligan’s Island, Daniel
and The Ghost & Mrs. Muir,
among others. Lupino’s last film, The Trouble with Angels (1966), featured Hayley Mills and June
Harding as two spirited young women at the St. Francis Academy.

The above is an excerpt from a forthcoming book by Heidi Honeycutt. Honeycutt is a film journalist and author who has contributed articles and opinions about women directors to Celluloid Ceiling: Women Directors Breaking Through, Indiewire, Fangoria Magazine, Famous Monsters of Filmland, and MovieMaker Magazine, among other publications. She is the Director of Programming of the genre film showcase Etheria Film Night for emerging women directors.

On Friday, October 24th, Heidi Honeycutt, along with Seeking
Our Story, will present Ida Lupino’s
The Hitch-Hiker. The film will screen as part of
MiMoDa Studio’s
Night Film Club and is sponsored by @TheDirectorList

Doors at 7:30PM. Film at 8:00PM. This is a community screening with
donations accepted at the door. Please RSVP

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