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HARD, FAST AND BEAUTIFUL (director: Ida Lupino; screenwriters: Martha Wilkerson/based on a novel “Mother of a Champion” by John R. Tunis; cinematographer: Archie Stout; editors: George C. Shrader/William Ziegler; music: Roy Webb; cast: Claire Trevor (Millie Farley), Sally Forrest (Florence Farley), Carleton G. Young (Fletcher Locke), Robert Clarke (Gordon McKay), Kenneth Patterson (Will Farley), Marcella Cisney (Miss Martin), Joseph Kearns (J. R. Carpenter); Runtime: 78; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Collier Young; RKO; 1951)
“… trite and predictable.”

Ida Lupino (“Outrage”/Never Fear”/”The Bigamist”) made her mark as an actress and then became in the 1940s and 1950s one of Hollywood’s few women directors. She formed her own production company with her then-husband Collier Young, the film’s producer. This low-budget B-film sports drama followed the pattern of all their other films by taking on contemporary social issues. Martha Wilkerson penned it from John R. Tunis’s novel “Mother of a Champion.” It’s about an obedient teenage tennis phenom eventually rebelling against her domineering mother’s obsessive drive to see her succeed.

Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.

The pretty middle-class eighteen-year-old Florence Farley (Sally Forrest) meets nice-guy Gordon McKay, who comes from a prominent family but has no money and works as a tennis instructor in the nearby Santa Monica country club. Gordon arranges for Florence to play for free at the club. When Florence introduces Gordon to her housewife mom, Milly (Claire Trevor), she encourages the relationship because her daughter moves up the socal ladder and she doesn’t know that Gordon is not rich. While at the club, Florence builds a rep as an up-and-coming star. The swank country club’s manager, J. R. Carpenter (Joseph Kearns), honors her with a complimentary membership. Club members volunteer to pay Florence’s expenses to compete in the national junior tennis championship in Philadelphia. Florence surprisingly wins the tournament and mom, who finagled her way to Philly, meets oily tennis coach and promoter Fletcher Locke (Carleton G. Young). The two conniving soul mates team up to arrange for amateur Florence getting underhanded payments from rich sponsors. Gordon warns her what she’s doing is wrong, but she remains a mamma’s girl and refuses to go against mom. Fletcher arranges for an East Coast tennis tour; the confused gal confides in her sympathetic father (Kenneth Patterson), who advises her to patch up her differences with Gordon and take advantage of the tour. Gordon is elated with her decision and proposes that they marry once the tour is over and he gets a “real job.” At Forest Hills, Florence is promised all sorts of riches if she wins and Fletcher presents Milly with a check, made out to cash, from the president of the Continental Hotel chain, who will allow her to stay for free in the hotel and meet expenses in a European tour. Milly rebuffs her daughter’s marriage plans to Gordon because he’s not wealthy, and Gordon angrily breaks off the engagement complaining that Florence can’t make up her own mind. On the European tour, Florence becomes aware that her mom is using her and decides to go pro. She wins at Wimbledon, and returns home a world champion. On the eve of a big match at Forest Hills, she learns her invalid father has taken ill and visits his bedside on the West Coast. Florence returns to the East Coast the next day and struggles to defend her championship. After the match she announces her retirement, and Gordon comes down from the stands and asks her to marry him. Mom is in a daze, as she’s left alone.

It’s trite and predictable, but it does adequately cover in an unsentimental way a real internal family problem. The characters were modeled on real-life tennis stars, but Lupino refused to reveal their names.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”