When Kristy, boss ass bitch who’s heading up Pajiba’s 52 Films by Women series, asked her fellow Overlords whether they’d like to contribute an essay or two, I knew immediately that I would be banging the Ida Lupino drum. (Not like that. Perverts.) There are a lot of female directors putting out a lot of great films nowadays, but back in the Golden Age of Hollywood, that just wasn’t the case. Between the ’40s and the ’60s, you have Ida Lupino and Dorothy Arzner and… that’s about it. It’s not that the talent wasn’t there—certainly, there were women working outside the Hollywood system, like experimental filmmaker Maya Deren—but Hollywood was exponentially more of a boy’s club than it is today, and there just weren’t many opportunities for women who wanted to direct.
Karina Longworth’s podcast You Must Remember This, which we’ve written about before, has a great episode on Ida Lupino: How she started out as an actress but always had a yearning to tell her own stories, ones that eschewed melodrama and spectacle for shining a light on the everyday struggles of real people. How it was a stroke of luck (good for her, bad for someone else) that got her her first gig: The director of a film she co-wrote and co-produced, Not Wanted, had a heart attack shortly before filming was set to begin. Lupino, who knew her way around a film set after a lifetime in the entertainment business, stepped in as his replacement, though she didn’t take a director’s credit. Though not well-known today, Not Wanted was financially successful when it came out in 1949, which meant that Lupino had the leverage she needed to helm her own projects.
And then there’s America’s great eccentric, Howard Hughes, with whom Lupino had been romantically involved in the past. A wannabe film tycoon, Hughes was on the hunt for low-budget movies to invest in that would appeal to audiences’ tastes for the salacious. Not Wanted was one—it’s about unwed mothers.
Outrage was, too.
It’s about rape.
Mala Powers stars in Outrage, Lupino’s first credited film as a director, as Ann, a young woman with a bright future ahead of her. She has a job and a loving mother and father, and her boyfriend has just proposed. Then, one night, she’s followed home from work by a food vendor who’s been aggressively flirting with her and is angry that she’s not been responding to his advances. In a terrifying 6-minute sequence, he chases a terrified Ann through the streets before raping her.
Contrary to what Hughes might have wished, Outrage is defined by the way it’s not, in any way, salacious or exploitative. The rape is not shown on-screen. In fact, the word “rape” is never used; characters refer instead to Ann’s “vicious assault” or “brutal attack.” But what happened is incredibly clear. What follows Ann’s attack is an incredibly sensitive portrayal, not just of the trauma the follows sexual assault, but of rape culture. People turn to gawk at Ann as she passes them on the street. They whisper behind her back. Eventually, an overwhelmed Ann runs away from home and ends up in a small farming town, where no one knows her name or what happened to her. Eventually, with the help of a kind-hearted Reverend (Tod Andrews), with whom [SPOILER] she does not become romantically involved, , Ann begins to heal.
On top of the admirable way Lupino, who co-wrote Outrage’s script with husband/collaborator Collier Young and Malvin Wald, tackles the film’s subject matter, she also displays a real flair for visual storytelling. Check out the header pic, of the scene where a doctor visits Ann after her attack. Look at how she’s penned in by the headboard, confined, trapped. And, throughout the movie, it’s not just inanimate objects that she’s trapped by. Men are constantly encroaching on Ann’s space, in ways both small (a male coworker who’s been flirting with her leans into her conversation with a friend and then gives her a proprietary tap on the hand while congratulating her on her engagement) and big (the obvious).
On top of this imbuing Outrage with a sense of menace and adeptly portraying the concept of Schrodinger’s Rapist—“You may or may not be a man who would commit rape. I won’t know for sure unless you start sexually assaulting me.“—it’s a brilliant “show don’t tell” approach to Ann’s recovery process. We see her go from being oblivious to men’s everyday proximity to being frightened of it to, eventually, not being so hyper-aware. (Another point in Outrage’s credit is that it doesn’t end with, “Oh, boy! She’s completely recovered! She’s going to go off and have 2.5 babies and live in a house with a picket fence!” Instead, it’s very much “you’re on the right road but you still need tons of and tons of therapy and emotional support, which is completely natural because a horrible thing was done to you and it’s not something you just get over by the time the credits roll.”)
It’s important to note that the men who invoke a traumatized reaction in Ann are, quite frequently, good men who are only trying to help her. In a scene where Ann tries to identify her assailant in a police lineup, the suspects are framed in a less physically imposing way than the lead detective on the case, who positively looms over Ann as she tearfully tries to remember—and, at the same time, forget—the face of the man who raped her.
And, praise be to Ida Lupino, the movie never judges Ann for reacting how she does. “But #NotAllMen!,” says Classical Movie Dudebro. “The detective never hurt her. Why’s she acting like such a bitch?” Well, Classical Movie Dudebro, it’s because she went through a traumatic experience. When someone is scared of you, or reacts strangely to what you perceive to be an innocent comment or action, maybe you should realize that they have reasons that you don’t know anything about. Maybe you should respect the way people feel instead of whining about how, geez, you just wanted to compliment her, so why’d she put her head down and start walking faster when you told her she had nice tits?
“Above all,” notes Richard Brody in a New Yorker essay on the film, “[Lupino] reveals a profound understanding of the widespread and unquestioned male aggression that women face in ordinary and ostensibly non-violent and consensual courtship.” The cat-and-mouse chase scene preceding Ann’s rape is terrifying, but no scene in Outrage sticks with me nearly so much as the first conversation between Ann and her fiance Jim (Robert Clarke) after Ann’s rape. On the surface, Jim is sympathetic. He doesn’t ask her what she was wearing or whether she said anything that might have encouraged her attacker. He still loves her. He still wants to marry her.
What he doesn’t do: He doesn’t give her space. He doesn’t listen to her when she says she doesn’t want to marry him, or anyone else, because “I don’t want you to touch me! Everything’s dirty, filthy and dirty.” He doesn’t respect her wishes and her needs, instead making Ann’s attack all about him—how he’s angry and he’s sad. “We’re going to be married, right away. I want you. I want to live with you. I want to have kids with you. We can be happy like other people!,” he says, while grabbing and shaking the woman who was raped a few days (if that!) prior. Granted, the woman he loves being raped is going to have an emotional impact on Jim, too. But taking his anguish out on Ann, yelling at her to shut up when she tells him that he’ll never be able to look at her without thinking about what happened, is grade A shit behavior, and Outrage presents it as such.
And here’s the thing: How many times in classic Hollywood movies do we see a leading man grabbing and shaking a woman, expressing the “violence of his affections” physically as well as verbally? Hell, Jimmy Stewart did it in It’s a Wonderful Life, and he’s Jimmy Stewart. How many swoonworthy classic romances have men casually asserting their “daddy knows best” authority over a woman (*cough*CaryGrantinHisGirlFriday*cough*CaryGrantinPhiladelphiaStory*), and we just kind of have to wince our way through it because, well… it was a different time.
Outrage shoots that shit right the hell down, and it was made in 1950. Now, in 2016, we’re living in a time when rape is frequently tossed into TV shows for its shock value, with little or no thought put into the emotional consequences of sexual assault. And here we have a movie where a full hour of its one hour and fifteen minute running time is devoted entirely to a woman recovering from being raped. Not that everything was all sunshine and rainbows in 1950, for women and otherwise; Roe v. Wade was still 23 years in the future, and Brown v the Board of Education wouldn’t order the desegregation of schools for another four. But in this one area, Outrage wasn’t just ahead of its time. It’s ahead of ours.
Ida. Christing. Lupino.
Now for the bad news. Outrage, as far as I can tell, is impossible to get on home video. It runs on TCM occasionally. IMDB lists Outrage’s DVD distributor as Olive Films, but it’s not listed on their website; when I asked them whether there are any plans for release, they said that “we don’t discuss any titles we do or don’t have unless they’ve been announced by us,” so it’s a shrug there. The easiest way to watch Outrage is on YouTube, where it’s available in its entirety. The quality’s not great, but it’s what we have.
Several of Lupino’s directorial efforts are available on Amazon Instant Video, including 1953 films The Bigamist (free on Amazon Prime) and The Hitch-Hiker; together, they mark Lupino as the only female film noir director of the era. (Neither film, it is worth noting, features a femme fatale.) Later in her career, Lupino also directed season five Twilight Zone episode “The Mask,” which is available on Netflix.