Robert Ryan and Ida Lupino a lot for their acting talents. When I see either of those names pop up in credits, I'm encouraged. That's basically why I was drawn into 1952's Beware, My Lovely. It's a film noir with a more psychological twist, but it ends up disappointing even with the considerable talent involved.
Running a boarding house, Helen Gordon (Lupino) does her best to keep her house in shape and her boarders living comfortably. It's 1918, and she is still recovering from the loss of her husband who was killed fighting in Europe in WWI. In hopes of helping her around the house, she hires a local handyman, Howard Wilton (Ryan), to do some odds and ends around the horse before Christmas, fast approaching on the calendar. Howard is a good worker if a little off, going about his business but constantly talking to himself and Helen. Is there something seriously wrong with the man though? Helen finds out the truth when she becomes a prisoner in her own house.
I've written reviews of over 30 film noirs to this point, and I imagine there will be plenty more of them coming down the road. This isn't your typical noir with gangsters and mobsters, betrayals and backstabbings, anti-hero gunmen and hookers and ladies of the night with a heart of gold. The tension and the mystery are there to a point, but it feels more like a stage-based play flipped into a movie. The whole story basically takes place in Gordon's boarding house as Howard's "issues" come to light. To a point, the house ends up becoming more of an interesting character than either Mrs. Gordon or the crazy Howard. That's never a good sign when an inanimate object is more interesting than...well, real people.
Chicago-born actor Robert Ryan is a personal favorite of mine. In movies like The Wild Bunch, The Professionals, The Naked Spur and so many others, he shows an innate ability to play this flawed, beaten down tough guy. Earlier in his career -- like here in 'Beware' -- he played some of his darkest roles, parts that ranged from down and out bad guys to flawed anti-heroes. Racists, killers, anything, Ryan could and did play the part. That this movie isn't very good is not Ryan's fault. He's just working with what's provided him. SPOILERS STOP READING SPOILERS Ryan's Howard is what I like to call "movie crazy." It makes little sense what happens to him, but he has to be confused as to what's going on in his head so in steps "movie crazy." I'd call it bi-polar if anything.
Just as Ryan rose to fame in so many film noirs, Ida Lupino did the same. If you needed a frail-looking, vulnerable female actor, Lupino was a great start. And just like Ryan, it's not on her shoulders that this movie bored me to tears. She's still recovering from her husband's death two years prior, and even putting herself in a dangerous situation is trying to figure out what's wrong in Howard's head, what makes him tick. It's not the actors. It's the gimmick that holds it all together that doesn't end up working.
Floating in and out of these epically violent blackouts, Howard has his moments of clarity where he's a decent person. But with a snap of his finger though, he resorts back to the aggressive, ultra-intimidating violent individual. So why doesn't Lupino's Helen just haul ass when he's coherent? Because she wants to help him? Hey, look, it's a stupid movie gimmick! There are other elements that don't work, some revolving around Howard's possible homosexuality. There are hints he may be gay, may be impotent, but nothing is ever spelled out. It's frustrating watching that. In my head, it's like the story is hinting that gay = crazy. I could be off base -- I was on my phone playing Pacman about 45 minutes in -- but that was my initial reaction.
Bored to tears with a frustrating movie that I thought sounded like it had potential. If you're going to watch this movie, I'd recommend it for Robert Ryan and Ida Lupino, but that's about it. Their performances make something out of nothing, but I still can't say you should seek this movie out.
Beware, My Lovely <---TCM trailer (1952): */****