Director Vincent Sherman / 1942 / USA

Consumingly ambitious Helen Chernen in Vincent Sherman's The Hard Way is widely acknowledged as Ida Lupino's crowning performance in an impressive mid-career of portraying emotionally intense often darkly driven women. Her crucial participation in this quintessential 40's Warners melodrama earned Lupino her only major acting prize, the New York Film Critics Best Actress Award. For a role initially knocked back by Bette Davis. But what in Davis' gesticulating hands might have degenerated into histrionic overkill here develops through Lupino's tightly focussed, tough-as-tacks, hard-as-ice interpretation into one of the most complex and oddly sympathetic of Hollywood cinemas honourable line of dangerously destructive anti-heroines In an often harshly realistic rags-to-riches scenario, Lupino's Helen doesn't so much push as forcefully shove younger sister Katie (fresh-faced Joan Leslie) up the back-biting ladder of Broadway success manipulating the ingenue hoofer into a meal-ticket marriage (to vaudevillian Albert played by a tremendously touching Jack Carson), upward social mobility and finally stardom The journey to the top is further enhanced by the presence of Albert's stage partner Paul (Dennis Morgan) a suavely street­wise, semi-cad who's hip to Helen's game but helpless in its onrush and troublesomely susceptible to the arch-machinator s charms.

The film's gritty backstage milieu is compellingly captured via ex-actor Sherman's astute direction and James Wong Howe's vivid camerawork (luminous in the 35mm print from the Turner collection), both of which combined with Lupino's mesmensmgly charged portrayal move this potentially standard women s melodrama into the resonant realm of classic film noir Beyond Mildred Pierce More revealing than All About Eve Meaner than Melrose Place Don't miss it' (PK)

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