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Beware, My Lovely

Ring a Ding Ding

Beware, My Lovely (1952)

     Thrillers are my favorite type of fright movie, at least as I define them. They contain no gore, no monsters, just a horribly unnerving situation that sets one’s heart pounding as she perches on the edge of her seat. Beware, My Lovely is not only nerve-wracking but also visually well constructed and supported by fine performances.

     That great dramatic actress Ida Lupino will fall captive to the slightly split personality of Robert Ryan‘s handyman, but before we get there, the movie opens on Ryan completing some chores about a house, all the while calling for the woman owner to inform her of his work’s completion. He opens a closet and sees we know not what before running out the door. A moment later a shot of a bucket overflowing with a faucet’s water also lends to a peek into the closet where an open-eyed woman lies on the floor, blinking once. The man runs endlessly before hopping a moving train and speeding out of town.

     We now meet widow Helen Gordon (Lupino), who is struggling to clean up her home where she offers piano lessons. Children leave her house as does a boarder who is to be gone for two weeks. With his departure comes Ryan as Howard Wilton, whom Helen has hired the day prior to clean the residence. All seems fine at the start, but Howard clearly does not like the look of himself in the mirror, especially in comparison to a photo of Helen’s husband in his military uniform. He is especially set off when Helen’s niece (Barbara Whiting) gives him grief, and he locks the door after she leaves, pocketing the key. He is paranoid about whether Helen is happy with his work, and the woman, despite the man’s obvious issues, reassures him and is friendly, at least until she realizes she has been locked in the house.

     As Howard reveals that he has memory lapses that allow him to, for instance, forget where it is he is currently living or that he has hurt someone, finding a body later, Helen realizes the extent of her danger. She verbally tiptoes around the man so as not to increase his anger. Howard eventually rips the telephone from the wall and shuts Helen in the cellar while he shoos away her piano students, who are too young to know anything is wrong. The stress escalates as we worry Howard might force himself on her or worse. In the end it is Howard himself who frees Helen, but the conclusion holds one final stress for the audience.

     The story has similar themes to the later Die! Die! My Darling in which crazy old Tallulah Bankhead‘s character holds her dead son’s wife captive in her rural English home as a mentally handicapped farm hand and butch maid help. In that version, however, the captive was much more aggressive in her attempts to escape. Lupino, however, could not seem to raise her voice above a whisper when shouting out windows for help from a house situated in the middle of town. She breaks a window at one point, but only to whisper for help, not to crawl through. Helen also makes no consideration of climbing out an upstairs window, as would be my instinct. The time period is 1919, however, and Lupino’s character is older than Stefanie Powers‘ in Die! Die! My Darling, perhaps making it less logical for her to be running, climbing and forcing her way from the home.

    Both Lupino and Ryan were fantastic in Beware, My Lovely. Lupino is restrained in her performance of fear and never over does it. Although I think her Helen behaved naively at the start of Howard’s show of a personality disorder, she certainly grew into the physically strained woman thinking that death is around the corner. Ryan does a great job of playing both a rather regular Joe and a man with subtle and more obvious problems. His psychosis grows and subsides with the movement of the story so that we can never be sure what he is capable of or how severe his next reaction will be. Beware, My Lovely was a great Halloween season nail-biter that proves how unnecessary gore and violence are in a frightful flick.

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