THE MAN I LOVE: Ida Lupino Rides to the Rescue of, Well, Everyone
In The Man I Love, Ida Lupino enters smoking.
She’s also got a cigarette.
If, after this, you wouldn’t want to stick around for the rest of the movie, just please don’t ever speak to me again.
It’s clear that for Petey Brown, the man she loves has come along… and come and gone. And like most of Lupino’s ladies, this one’s in deep.
Seeking some sort of sanctuary, Petey flees New York to spend Christmas with her family back home in California, where things seemed so much simpler. But they’re not so simple any more.
Her sister Sally (Andrea King) and brother Joey (Warren Douglas) are knee-deep in sleaze, working at a local dive owned by a shady hustler, Nicky Toresca (Robert Alda). Nicky has eyes for Sally, who’s got enough trouble tending to her shell-shocked, hospitalized husband (John Ridgely). Little sister Ginny (Martha Vickers) isn’t in trouble yet: she’s too busy babysitting for Gloria (Dolores Moran), the floozy next door, while the not-so-doting mother is out making time with Nicky. But Ginny’s starting to feel something more than pity for Gloria’s husband Johnny (Don McGuire).
Sorry you came home yet, Petey? Actually, no—she’s thinking she got there just in time. Petey, who was probably mothering this brood even when they still had a mother, is a rescuer in search of a mission. And boy, has she found one.
First order of business: pouring herself into the slinkiest gown she can lay her hands on (oh, goodie—she packed one!) and sashaying down to Nicky’s place to land a job as a singer, so she can keep an eye on the boss and distract him from her baby sister. Mission accomplished, with relative ease. What she wasn’t counting on was San Thomas (Bruce Bennett), the jazz pianist with a troubled past…
And just like that, Petey has another rescue on her hands—but this one’s not so eager to be saved. “I’d make you sing the blues, honey,” San warns her. “I’ll take that chance,” she murmurs back, and she means it, whatever the cost. San is broken, bruised and brooding from a bad marriage, and certain he has nothing left to give. Petey thinks otherwise, and when you see them together, in scenes so intimate you feel like you’re eavesdropping, you know she’s right.
And if you think of Bennett mainly as the helpless prospector in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre or the hapless husband in Mildred Pierce (where he somehow manages to look like the victim even though he’s the one cheating), take another glimpse. This is a man in pain, whose sensitive soul has brought him nothing but misery. His music was his refuge, until he met a woman as wounded as he is, who won’t let him hide in there alone any more. Watch him at the piano, playing the title song as Petey looks on tenderly, falling in love with him and the music and the idea of maybe even being happy again. I dare you not to fall right along with her.
This was director Raoul Walsh’s fourth film with Lupino, after Artists and Models, They Drive By Night and High Sierra (where yes, Bogart was a thief and a murderer, but the real crime was the way he treated Ida). The director and his favorite star were both alchemists who could strike the perfect balance of tough and tender. They had a great rhythm together, and he later mentored her when she took her place behind the camera. Lupino’s co-star Andrea King said they reminded her of father and daughter.
Like Walsh and Lupino, The Man I Love is impossible to pigeonhole. Is it a noir? A semi-musical? A crime drama? A dreaded “woman’s picture”? Variety labeled it a “brittle sex romance.” Which actually sounds kinda painful. Maybe Martin Scorsese, who calls the film one of his favorites, sums it up best: “The Man I Love is dark—it’s a film noir musical, and it’s what I was going for in New York, New York.”
But whatever you call it, with Walsh firmly at the helm, the film never founders. It just works. And Walsh was every bit as forceful about playtime: when he was happy with what he’d shot, he’d boom “Cut! Print!” followed quickly by “Now it’s time for the cooking sherry!”
But there wasn’t enough sherry in all of Spain to make The Man I Love a happy set. Shortly before production began in the summer of 1945, Lupino—already exhausted from her wartime duties touring hospitals and selling war bonds on three continents—strained a stomach muscle while moving a heavy trunk and was ordered to bed to recuperate. Just four days into the shoot, her injury flared up again. “Sorry, I am laid up,” she explained in a telegram to Walsh. “Wanted to come to work but doctors said absolutely no. The hypos are helping. The dogs are barking. The cooking sherry does not do any good and I just shot my aunt Kate. Will do my best to make it Saturday.”
Still fatigued and in pain, Lupino returned to work during a blistering July heatwave, and production ground on, punctuated by the star’s frequent, if unavoidable, latenesses and absences as her health failed to improve. During one scene, she fainted—with only Robert Alda’s quick reflexes coming between her and the concrete floor—and had to be snipped out of her skintight evening gown to be revived.
Adding to the tension on the set were the daily war bulletins, constant complaints about cost overruns from the front office, and endless memos from the Breen Office bleating about the film’s “low moral tone…of adultery and illicit sex,” which forced countless rewrites. When the production mercifully wrapped in mid-September, it was 19 days behind schedule and $100,000 over budget
Ida being Ida, she took the weight of the entire fiasco onto her own slender shoulders, throwing a huge party for the entire cast and crew of more than 200 and insisting on dancing with every man at least once. She promptly sprained her ankle, hobbling off the bedeviled set for the final time on crutches.