The Man I Love (1947)

The Man I love (1947) is not the most classifiable of film noir productions from the 1940s but it does say plenty about the style and the era.

It's also potentially a rare film noir in that it attempts to close in on the female experience of family life, dating, night life and petty criminality. Gender roles are clear in The Man I Love, as they are in all cinema of the 1940s. But they are still overturned in places.

And if you have found the overturning of social norms in the cinema of the 1940s, you have almost always certainly found film noir, even if your movie doesn't feature paranoia, corruption and the dark criminality and murder more normally associated with the style.

The Man I Love is not an immediately obvious placement in the film noir canon, and yet with its female seeker hero in the form of Ida Lupino, working her way through night clubs on the West Coast, this film has noir chops to spare.

It might be the presence of Ida Lupino, the true Queen of film noir; but more likely it is the fact that this is one of the 'ladies night' iterations of film noir. By which it appears that the viewpoint of this story seems to suggest that men are creating a helluva mess, which women suffer from in many different ways.

The women in The Man I Love do more than pick up the pieces. Of course the women play victim roles too, most notably in the form of the character played by Dolores Moran, a victim of the seductive night life that it turns out, only want the women for one thing. The villain of the piece, the sleazy nightclub owner played by Robert Alda, is actually a common character type. As he owns the club, he has a certain amount of power in that sphere, and he uses it to abuse women, and take advantage where he can.

PTSD in film noir - - The Man I Love (1947)

Ida Lupino as Petey Brown in The Man I Love (1947)

Then there is straight as they come family woman Sally Otis played by Andrea King. She is strong, and usually holding everything together, a role she has taken on after World War Two which undoubtedly deposited a legion of traumatised and potentially violent family men, back into the heart of American family life.

Andrea King in film noir The Man I Love (1947)

Although there is no single relationship in The Man I Love, to suggest that the title is about one woman and one man in particular, most prominent is the relationship between Sally Otis and her traumatised husband, who has been institutionalised and maddened by the conflict.

As if this no-hoper family man was not enough in himself, you'll note that none of the men are in fact any good in The Man I Love. Ida Lupino plays Petey Brown, who is in effect a female drifter, and there are not many of those in the film noir canon.

Sweet smokin' nightclubs of film noir in The Man I love (1947)

As well as a drifter, Ida Lupino's Petey Brown is also a fixer, and so The Man I Love is about her helping out her two sisters, and her brother, all of whom have various problems, domestic, personal and romantic. 

At the same time, Petey falls in love with a down-on-his-luck pianist San Thomas played by Bruce Bennett, who is still recovering from a bitter divorce.

Robert Alda as the gangster in The Man I Love (1947)

Ida Lupino successfully carries off two of classic film noir's lesser known tropes in The Man I Love (1947). The first of these is the drifter. Very much a feature of American life, the path of the drifter weaved out of the 1930s, when a large amount of the population was ejected on to the highways for a variety of social and economic reasons.

As in its best it does, film noir looks both behind it and to the future. The figure of the drifter, while rooted in the past and comfortable there, is increasingly a figure of doubt, and curiosity, as America approached the suburban 1950s, when everybody was much better placed tied down to a house and marriage, according to the movies at least.

Bruce Bennett as the flake in The Man I Love (1947)

The other trope exemplified by Ida Lupino in The Man I Love (1947) is more obvious, in the form of the female seeker hero. These heroes are familiar to film noir, but little celebrated. Dramatically speaking, this is when a woman solves the crime, although there is more to things than that. Witness how hopeless the majority of the characters are around Ida Lupino in The Man I Love (1947). If they are not gangsters, or incorrigible flakes or cowards, they are avaricious and stupid with it.

Ida Lupino and Dolores Moran in The Man I Love (1947)

For Petey Brown herself, the man she falls for is not entirely fit for purpose, and pretty much an insecure, unpleasant and lousy lover, unable to unhitch himself from the past, and in fact not ready or willing to take part in any relationship at all. He is the man she loves, and is useless; much like the man her sister loves, who is traumatised and in hospital. It may be a man's world, but they are messing it up big time, and the woman are suffering from it.

To contrast it all, Petey has the offer of a meaningless relationship based on money and sex with Alan Alda's character, Nicky Toresca.

Jazz-aged night club in The Man I Love (1947)

For Petey, the drifter, the nightclub is considered the apogee of social gathering, and the only place she could possibly find a man interesting enough to settle down with. Another huge film noir fail is in the offing here, however.

Also in this mix is the drunken, vampish Gloria O'Connor played by Dolores Moran, whom trouble also loves. This female character is portrayed as preferring the night life to the family life, and she drinks too much, likes to hang out in the club, and of course finds herself abused by the club's sleazy owner, Nicky Toresca, played by Robert Alda.

Ida Lupino plays an unusually wise female character, solving other people's problems, but unable to manage her own, and trading on the notion that such an intelligent and world-wise woman is not going to make it in love - - hence her status as a drifter of sorts, starting the film the same way she ends it - - by going back on the road.

Lighting up the night with Ida Lupino and Bruce Bennett in The Man I love (1947)

Aside from the ever-enjoyable Ida Lupino and some great jazz in The Man I Love, one can also look out for some heavy smoking, which seems to be more piled on than usual in this film.

Above all The Man I Love is worth paying attention to, for the focus it places on the lives of women; the busy, hassled, complicated, ever-judged and ever-problematic lives of women.

There are some juicy background details to kick things off however, starting with the fact that when Warner Bros. purchased the rights to Maritta Wolff's novel Night Shift in 1942 for $25,000,  the original intention had been to cast Ann Sheridan and Humphrey Bogart in the film adaptation.

Reflecting on love with Ida Lupino in The Man I Love (1947)

The kind of character in film noir, who heals through love, was very much a staple over the 1940s in particular, and Ida Lupino played this role several times - - that of a women whose loyalty and capacity for love helps to bring hope or regeneration to an an embittered hero.

We can only speculate on that and doubtless it would have been great, possibly even better than this. Working titles for the film were Night Shift and Why Was I Born? - the latter of these referring to a 1929 song by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein which featured in the movie.

Dolores Moran in The Man I Love (1947) - prefers nightclubs to the kitchen sink

Production was not easy on The Man I Love, and were it not for the interesting asides it casts on gender relations in the 1940s, the movie might not be missed at all, had it failed to appear.

As it was, The Man I Love fell behind schedule because Ida Lupino was suffering from exhaustion – she fainted during one scene with Robert Alda and had to be cut out of her tight-fitting dress – meaning the film finished 19 days late and $100,000 over budget.

Bosley Crowther, the one-man factory for film criticism in the 1940s, writing for The New York Times, considered the film's mood to be "both silly and depressing, not to mention dull". On the plus side, however, The Man I Love later became Martin Scorsese's primary inspiration for his film New York, New York (1977).

What else to say about this somewhat strange drama?

The first point might be that it does not readily identify as film noir. Many of the aspects are missing, although having Ida Lupino as your lead, is one string guarantee that the train is swinging into Noirsville.

As the picture opens there are yet plenty signs of life stirring in the film noir city. It's late, it's raining and in an after hours club, Ida Lupino sings among a private crowd of friendly jazz musicians. What's more is that the jazz is profiled, as the soundtrack to a generation that within six years would have created rock n roll and its entire baggage of rebellion. 

The other baggage rather unusually on display is the predatory male on the make in the form of Robert Alda's character Nicky Toresca, who is sleazy and pushy, offering in classic #metoo fashion to advance the careers of various women in exchange for romantic favours.

The world into which we then travel is a somewhat mundane place, a world of poor families and their attempts at respectability, of course a moral place, and cheery besides. As Sally (played by Andrea King) arrives home to her family, her neighbour appears on the landing, fully made up in her silk dressing gown with a husband, two babies, a lit cigarette in one hand and a baby's bottle in the other; almost the full tension of what film noir has to say about the emerging post-War middle class family, right there in one shot.

In the house however, Sally's husband is heading out on unspecified and legally dubious business on Christmas Eve. In fact, these scenes of domesticity are spoiled by all sorts of behaviour, the next one being in the form of the vanity and material loves of the above mentioned neighbour, whose interests are largely selfish, as she is causing her husband to work extra jobs, and even be injured in doing so, all so she can have a few luxury items.

Predictably, this vain housewife played by Dolores Moran prefers dance music to Christmas carols, and seems to abandon her children at every point possible.

The mis en scene of The Man I Love seems to display dating and romance, 1940s style, taking place in the clubs where people meet, drink and fall in love.  

Most crucially of all, the conclusion of The Man I Love shows something possibly unique in film noir, when Ida Lupino's character attacks and disarms one of the men, who is about to commit a murder. It's difficult to credit how unusual a sight this is, as movies in general, and without doubt across the 1940s and 1950s, are not going to feature women in cocktail dresses disarming men. But Ida Lupino does this here, saving the day and more.

Ida Lupino disarms the weakened male at the close of The Man I Love (1947)

1 comment:

  1. They really don't make movies like this anymore and that's quite sad.