Beware, My Lovely (1952)


(director: Harry Horner; screenwriters: from the play The Man by Mel Dinelli/Mr. Dinelli; cinematographer: George E. Diskant; editor: Paul Weatherwax; music: Leith Stevens; cast: Ida Lupino (Mrs. Helen Gordon), Robert Ryan (Howard Wilton), Taylor Holmes (Mr. Walter Armstrong), Barbara Whiting (Ruth Williams), Jimmy Williams (Mr. Stevens), O.Z. Whitehead (Mr. Franks); Runtime: 77; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Collier Young; RKO; 1952)

“An unpleasant woman-in-peril crime thriller.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An unpleasant woman-in-peril crime thriller with no payoff or something worthwhile to say. It is drily directed, in his film debut, by former set designer Harry Horner (“Red Planet Mars”). It’s adapted from Mel Dinelli’s play The Man (the play was inspired by a radio drama). The only reason to see it is because of Ida Lupino and Robert Ryan, who manages to artfully make his morose character seem somewhat human–no small feat. It was produced by Lupino’s then-husband Collier Young (no wonder she was in this turkey!).

The film is set in 1918 in an unnamed small town. Howard Wilton (Robert Ryan) is an itinerant handyman with some serious mental problems. He flees in a state of shock from his last job unaware that he killed in a fit of anger his female employer. In another nearby town, Howard finds temporary work with a lonely teacher and war widow, Helen Gordon (Ida Lupino), in her empty boarding house. Her husband Ned died in the war two years earlier. At first Howard finds Helen kind, but he soon becomes paranoid when he thinks she is spying on him and will find him too slow of a worker. He is concerned that she wants to discharge him. Howard puts on his loony face when a visitor, one of the teacher’s students, teenager Ruth Williams (Barbara Whiting), gets in a conversation and rattles him by saying polishing floors is women’s work.

Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.

After Ruth leaves, Howard locks Helen in the house and intermittently goes from threatening to acting friendly as he keeps her as his prisoner. In one of his psycho moods Howard tries to strangle Helen, but stops when she faints. When she awakens, he’s busy at work and doesn’t remember the incident. The anti-climactic resolution makes sense but is too bland to be interesting. Helen’s nightmare is over when a telephone repairman comes to her house. The nutty Howard is peaceful and doesn’t resist going with the repairman, but returns secretly to her house to get his coat. Out of camera range, it is assumed the police will retrieve the homeless Howard who is wandering in the streets after leaving Helen’s house.

It is shot in the film noir conventional style; its visuals are far more interesting than the narrative or the undeveloped characters. Of the many expressionistic shots taken by cinematographer George E. Diskant, the one of the small Christmas tree in Helen’s house is the most engaging. Howard’s reflection is seen fractured in many of the ornaments. In contrast, the visiting school children bath in the tree’s colorful decorations and warm spirits it gives off.