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HARD, FAST AND BEAUTIFUL

USA, 1951 (MIFF 1996, Ida Lupino - Director)

Director: Ida Lupino

No exemplary sports biopic peppered with personal problems and topped with sweet victory, Hard Fast & Beautiful signally refuses to equate life with 'the game'-in this case, tennis. Phenom Florence Farley (Sally Forrest yet again), far from breaking with her family (out of adolescent revolt or sexual trauma) embodies and plays out all its contradictions, fluctuating between two conflicting role-models of ambitious movie Claire Trevor and benign father Kenneth Patterson.

It is Claire Trevor's mother character who seems to hold the reins of Florence's life. Her single-minded drive up the social ladder having fallen short of her goals, all hopes and efforts have been withdrawn from her nice-guy husband and focussed upon Florence. But in that transfer from husband to daughter, the vicarious (living through her daughter) and the exploitative (riding on her coattails) have become strangely mingled.

At the centre of these spoken or unspoken demands is Florence. Her concerted energy dominates the brilliantly edited tennis sequences, so that the cross-cut convergence of the hopes and dreams of others can but hang suspended on her forceful drives and hard-line serves. From the opening scene of Florence determinedly thwacking balls at the numbered squares painted on the garage door to the grandstand finals, the entire film revolves around the contrast between her co-ordinated meshing of mind and body, consciousness and reaction on the tennis court and total inability to relate this to the world outside. As unworldlywise as an eighteenth century demoiselle fresh from the convent, it takes her forever to see the web of promotion and exploitation spun around her. Yet even after her eyes are opened, Florence can do little with her bitter knowledge but renounce the game. It's Claire Trevor who understands the depth of that Loss, and it's she who's left abandoned on the wind-swept court. (RS)

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