Ida Lupino was one of Hollywood’s real tough cookies, a romantic heroine who could hold her own against the brawny heroes and rough villains of Warner Bros. crime movies. The Man I Love isn’t a crime film per se, but it’s far more than a typical melodrama, thanks in large part to the strong, tough direction of Raoul Walsh. Set in the post-war era of swank nightclubs and the seedy types they attract, it’s a refreshingly mature film rich with stories of frustrated lives, unrequited loves and tough times just getting by in the world without selling your soul. Lupino is the calloused heroine, a New York chanteuse who goes home to Los Angeles to see her family – a married sister with a child and a soldier husband in the hospital for shellshock, a sweet younger sister infatuated with the married man next door and a cocky brother who sees his future as a hired thug for sleazy nightclub lothario Robert Alda. Lupino knows her way around the octopus hands of night club operators and puts herself between Alda and her family to save their innocence from the urban corruption that threatens to seep into their lives.
Lupino may have a weak singing voice but her smoky delivery is filled with understanding and regret, as if she’s lived the lyrics of her songs of lost loves and bruised romanticism, and her tossed-off delivery of smartly scripted lines gives her an American urban worldliness. The film is best known today for Scorsese’s claims that it was his inspiration for New York, New York, but it’s not the plot that found its way into his film. It’s the shadowy culture of working class folks tangled in the post-war culture of seductive night life, of dive bars and the itinerate musicians and singers and underworld types who frequent them, and in the tough attitude that Walsh and Lupino bring to the film. They made a great pair and she is the perfect Walsh heroine: tough, smart, experienced, and still something of a romantic at heart. This is one of the great “women’s pictures” of the era, never showy but always simmering with complicated relationships, frustrated desires and unfulfilled affections that are more authentic and conflicted than most Hollywood pictures.
This is part of the recent wave of Warner Archive Collection, the no-frills line of DVD-on-demand. Also released are two more Lupino films – The Hard Way (1942) and Deep Valley (1947, with Dane Clark) – and a trio of Ann Sheridan films. She was called “The Oomph Girl” and was a popular pin-up in the war, but behind her all-American looks was an urban girl with a lot of grit. Vincent Sherman directs her in two of her more shadowy melodramas. The Unfaithful (1947) is an uncredited reworking of The Letter with Sheridan as a married woman who kills a prowler who turns out to have been her lover while her husband was in the war. The potential salaciousness of the material is played down as the characters at the center of it – including Eve Arden as a gossipy cousin who becomes protective of Sheridan as the media vultures swoop in for the story – deal with the issues like adults. Sherman also directs her in the noirish melodrama Nora Prentiss (1947). None of the films have been restored for DVD, but the preserved prints from the Warner library are fine for what they are.
The discs in the Warner Archive Collection are available directly from the Warner Archive website.