Woman in Hiding (1949)

Psychological tremors abound ― promised in the haunting voice of the dead bride who introduces the movie. 

Accident ― suicide ― or murder?

Woman in Hiding (1949) does not at the outset present a solid film noir man and woman relationship. 

Ida Lupino plays a sensible level-headed albeit dead woman who back in the days when she was living, was fairly confident she could resist the advances of her father’s factory manager.

She presents the vulnerability of the bereaved person, and its this value that Ida Lupino plays to the fore, as she set out to be one of the most consistently swithering paranoid women in all of the world of noir. 

Her imagined illness is a perfect foil to the creepy Seldon, who uses the death of her father to try and crowbar his way into her affections. He's the worst kind of schemer crooked film noir husband there is, and is after her father's mill, although his real focus is on being the biggest bully of women going.

His main thing is persuading otherwise wise women like his wife, that they are in fact suicidally crazy. Once the women doubts herself, the rest of the world will just take his word for it.

Seldon seems to want more than this, also, and there are some speeches made by him in which he surveys the history of those who made the town of Clarksville what it was, want with him being a Clark and all. It is his grandiose male ambition, strangely contrasted with Ida Lupino's character, who wants more than anything just to be left alone, and at any cost. Several times in the movie, she begs her husband to take all of her inheritance, if only he will leave her alone.

But nah. He just has to kill her. That's all he can think of and the only expression of doubt concerning this, has him instead threaten to lock her up.

Ida Lupino generates that noir feel meanwhile, with her dead woman’s narration, berating her younger self for not seeing what was coming as the two gaily jump into smiling, married life. 

Domestic bliss is a large theme in film noir, and it usually ends badly. All through the high period of film noir, from 1950 to the late 1950s, again and again, domestic bliss is portrayed only to be shattered and overturned.
The dangers in this type of film noir, are therefore right beside you, if not already within you.

How one man came to bully two women, at once! Woman in Hiding (1949)

Further wickedness is at hand in the louche and easy-going character of Patricia Monahan ― played by Peggy Dow. She is the femme fatale in Woman in Hiding, and hers is the danger, the power and the trigger to disaster. 

Curiously, then, Ida Lupino as the leading lady senses the danger before it starts to materialise, but by the time it starts to materialise, we know from film noir as a whole ― it’s too late.
Immediately then, the honeymoon turns violent ― spoiled forever. Unravelling masculinity manages to explain away the presence of the other woman: “She was drunk and she was lying. Sure I had dates with her. I’ve had dates with lots of girls.”
Yet throughout, the ill-fated Deborah remains nervous, fidgety, always worrying in the face of another imminent life decision. And suddenly she is trapped in a deadly relationship with a psychopath, and all through bad choices, or even no choices at all. 

As in any good woman’s picture of the day ― Ida Lupino’s character Deborah is trapped. The husband is a bully, a controller and is quick to use violence ― creating the ultimate marital cage.

Ida Lupino trying to bite off her wedding ring in Woman in Hiding (1949)

Woman in Hiding however does up the stakes on most women’s pictures of the time, however, with Ida Lupino’s character quite suddenly finding reserves within herself to make her the match and ultimately we hope the nemesis of the bullying husband, who has only married her to get his hands on her father’s mill, anyway.
The problem with being a woman on the run in film noir however, is that you are prey to all young eligible men ― even the nice ones ― as exampled here in the figure of Howard Duff, whom Lupino would marry for real in October 1951.

Later, paranoia begins to kick in, a sure-fire sign we are in film noir territory. Faces seem to peer in the diner where Deborah attempts to work anonymously, and suspicion starts to haunt her every move. She is instead saved  by Howard Duff, who plays a good-natured good guy ― still after her nonetheless ― promising a marvellous and easy feeling, with his romantic thoughts of sailboats and sunsets.
Ida Lupino’s performance is great in this low budget thriller ― it isn’t all in the hand-wringing ― far from it. It seems perfectly reasonable in fact that one would be able to kill her in virtually any way one liked, and still have everyone believe it was suicide. The question remains then ― is she an empowered woman, or the subject-matter of more male fantasy?

The trouble is that as so often in film noir ― the paranoia is real. Everyone is in fact out to get the vulnerable Deborah, even the good guy ― especially the good guy, it appears, despite his reasonable intentions. The dichotomy the film tries to present is one quite at home in the 1950s ― a women who appears hysterical or even mentally unwell, is in fact neither ― and has justified reasons for her fear.

Her husband is a murderer and is trying to kill her too, so perhaps we can try and sort out this rich metaphorical stream, and see exactly what is happening.

Apparently, the order is:

  • Suitor must kill his proposed bride’s father
  • Next, the husband must murder his wife
  • When he does this emotionally but not physically, a rescuer arrives
  • The rescuer appears to save the wife ― but fails because he respects the bonds of marriage too much and so must give her over to her rightful owner, even though he knows this is wrong.

Back in the clutches of the original suitor, Ida Lupino’s character is finally persuaded that she is mad, and that she needs to be ‘put away’.

Ever in search of a romantic ending, Hollywood would never conclude a movie there, and as you know must happen, Ida Lupino's Deborah Clark must end up in the right arms, those of a husband who does not wish to kill her.

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