Woman in Hiding (1950)

Woman in Hiding (1950) is a woman against the world lousy husband flashback murder and female seeker hero film noir, starring Ida Lupino as a wife on the run, escaping from a murderous marriage and finding love on the run in the form of lackadaisical magazine and cigar seller Howard Duff.

Corporate villainy also appears in this car smashin chase and hide thriller in the form of Stephen McNally playing an industry boss who is going to be appropriate screen material for the 1950s, straight outta war and into world domination, starting with mob behaviour in the boardroom.

I would seem from the Wikipedia entry on Woman in Hiding (1950) that not everybody agrees that this is a film noir. The works that are cited are the super-seminal and all-ruling guide to the subject of film noir,  Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumeton (2002). A Panorama of American Film Noir (1941-1953), and Ian Brookes Film Noir: A Critical Introduction

There are however a multitude of markers of the style in Woman In Hiding, and one of the very most of these is the presence of Ida Lupino herself, almost a marker of the style, a guarantor of the panic madness of film noir itself.

But murder and loss of identity are as solid to film noir as any other topic, as is the narrative of the woman against the world, which is entirely common to the landscape. The industrialist is also an increasingly common character in the movies, and usually with power in these circumstances, comes crazed and murderous feelings of power.

Ida Lupino in Woman in Hiding (1950)

There are areas of Woman in Hiding (1950) which do not speak so solidly of noir, and it is not a movie that is big on the femme fatale figure, with both of the women leads in this being somewhat abused victims of the lousy male industrialist lead.

In this capacity Peggy Dow plays a hurting and hurtful ex or perhaps current lover of the murderous tycoon, and she gives a fair flounce, trying to establish her own rights in the face of miserable murderous male, strangely puzzled by her female lack of ability to do anything about her situation. 

In the film Woman in Hiding, Ida Lupino’s character, Deborah, is portrayed not as a passive figure but as one endowed with resourcefulness and acumen. In a manner of misogynistically male violently speaking.

Despite her astute efforts to elude Selden, these endeavors invariably fail. Notwithstanding, Lupino’s portrayal of Deborah is punctuated by moments of brilliance. The revelation of her father’s demise leaves her visibly devastated, a testament to the profound bond they shared, as he represented her sole source of genuine affection. 

Subsequently, a scene set amidst a cacophonous celebration precipitates a confrontation with Selden, placing Deborah in imminent danger. It is only by fortuitous circumstances that she evades a fatal outcome. The film’s denouement unfolds within the confines of a factory under the cloak of night, an environment replete with foreboding shadows and the mechanical din designed to muffle Deborah’s pleas for assistance, thereby creating an ambiance of malevolence.

Film noir cabins in the film noir woods in Woman in Hiding (1950)

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.

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.

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.
Stephen McNally in Woman in Hiding (1950)

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 wicked conference delegate sequence and violent attack in delegate disguise with the famous flat receding stairwell shot. perfected by Alfred Hitchcock, but widely employed to show an impossible view, creating symmetry where there should be none, in peril, and creating the plunging depth of feeling required for noirish fate and murder.

Howard Duff is somehow swept away by conference delegates, as is Ida Lupino. It is a kind of human stampede in a hotel intended to suggest something about such corporate and capitalistic middle class American beasts of the plains, a bovine and harmless force of one kind, and here sufficient to sweep away people.

From whence emerges in conference fig, the misogynistic strangulation killer, in Stephen McNally.

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.

Peggy Dow and Stephen McNally noir in the night in Woman in Hiding (1950)

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.

Peggy Dow in Woman in Hiding (1950)

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.

While doin’ Woman In Hiding Ida Lupino fall for Howard Duff, her co-star. They play a married couple, then they really get hitched and have a kid. They do more movies, like Jennifer and Private Hell 36, not big money movies. But WOMAN IN HIDING, that’s a big one, got the best folks from Universal, like McNally and Peggy Dow.

Howard Duff’s character, Keith, is introduced belatedly in the narrative, and his entry is marked by a degree of clumsiness. As a former GI now operating a newsstand, Keith’s involvement with Deborah, a stranger to him, is precipitated swiftly. Although initially motivated by the monetary reward offered by her husband for her discovery, Keith’s involvement with Deborah’s predicament becomes increasingly personal as the story progresses.

The trope you’re referring to does indeed suggest some troubling assumptions about the relative safety of women and men. There’s a widespread but incorrect belief that women are more often victims of murder than men, and that the world is generally more perilous for women. 

However, the reality is that while serial killers may preferentially target women, the majority of murder victims—about 70%—are male. Furthermore, of the female victims, which make up the remaining 30%, most are killed by someone they know. Additionally, serial killers are much less common than other types of murderers, even though they may be portrayed as more prevalent by some media.

The implications become even more problematic when considering that the “monsters” in these films are sometimes portrayed in ways that can be interpreted as racially charged, whether intentionally or not. For example, King Kong can be seen as a metaphor for the fear of Black men preying on White women. This is because Kong, an African creature, is depicted as having a sort of lustful interest in the White character Dawn, which was quite suggestive for the era of the 1930s.

So, the story go like this: Lupino marry McNally, he run her daddy’s mill. When her daddy pass away, she feel lost and say yes to marry McNally, even her daddy didn’t like him much.

Turns out, her daddy’s death ain’t no accident; McNally done pushed him. Now Lupino, she in danger. All this come out when they on their honeymoon. Bad way to start being married!

Peggy Dow’s portrayal of Patricia aligns with the archetypal femme fatale of film noir—a beguiling yet morally ambiguous woman entangled with nefarious individuals. Patricia’s character is pivotal to the narrative, playing a significant role in two key scenes and the film’s climactic moment. Her assertive demeanor stands in stark contrast to Deborah’s more subdued and apprehensive disposition.

Woman in Hiding is characterized as a briskly paced thriller, distinguished by its exceptional monochromatic cinematography by William H. Daniels, notable for his work on “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” Director Gordon adeptly sustains a palpable sense of suspense throughout the film, a feat significantly augmented by Lupino’s intense performance.

In B Movies from the 1950s and early 1960s, there’s a trend where monsters and killers often target women in their attacks. These women are typically portrayed as young, innocent, and defenseless. While the films might depict a few men as victims, the emphasis is clearly on female characters. For example, in a sequence of attack scenes, it’s expected that all the victims shown will be women.

Howard Duff in Woman in Hiding (1950)

This pattern reflects the broader trope of the Disposable Woman, where the female characters lack a meaningful link to the Hero. Moreover, their deaths are treated with the usual level of drama and don’t inspire the Hero to act any differently than he would for male victims. Given the choice, directors tend to fill their films with female victims. Additionally, there are storylines where the antagonist deliberately preys on women.

Lupino find out her man’s crazy, she take off in the night. But McNally, he messed with the car brakes. Lupino’s car go wild and into the water. They can’t find her, but she alive. McNally, he know she ain’t dead, gotta find her 'fore she talk to cops. One time, he almost catch her hiding.

Here’s where it get silly for me. McNally don’t show Lupino’s picture 'round 'til days after she gone. You’d think he’d be quick 'bout it, with a big reward and all. She get to Raleigh, hide, meet Duff, who sell papers, and nobody know her. Papers just say she missing, no pictures.

And Dow, she outta town, nobody know where. That give her time to see McNally again.

On her escape from Selden, Deborah encounters Keith Ramsey (portrayed by Howard Duff), a veteran transitioning back to civilian life. Although educated, he’s currently manning a magazine stand at a bus depot, contemplating his next steps.

Initially, Keith suspects Deborah of being emotionally troubled and considers reuniting her with her husband for her well-being… but will he discern the truth before it’s too late?

Lupino —  Duff — film noir heaven drives the coast in Woman in Hiding (1950)

The film may not break new ground, but Lupino’s performance is captivating. Moreover, I have a fondness for Universal’s productions from this period, which are generally well-crafted and feature notable ensembles. Besides Lupino and the actors already mentioned, Peggie Castle appears in a small role as a waitress in the same diner as Lupino. Overall, it’s a thoroughly engaging 92-minute ride of tense melodrama.

Lupino, she keep hidin’, need Dow to tell cops 'bout McNally’s bad stuff. I don’t think she’d wait to go to cops, not in that kinda mess. But the story make her wait, so she get close to Duff. At first, he don’t believe her, even call McNally to take her back. That just what McNally want.

Duff see the truth, promise to help Lupino. He leave his job, go after her. And when Lupino with McNally on a train, 'bout to be locked up, Duff find 'em. Too easy.

The character of McNally is depicted as a duplicitous antagonist. Initially, he masquerades as a solicitous spouse, ostensibly yearning for the recovery of his wife’s remains. However, his ulterior motives are gradually unveiled, revealing a scheme to usurp the factory through the orchestrated demise of Deborah’s father, followed by machinations to precipitate Deborah’s own demise. 

McNally — Lupino — film noir heaven rides the train in Woman in Hiding (1950)

Director Michael Gordon, known for Portrait in Black, employs striking cinematographic techniques, notably in scenes where McNally’s character, Selden, emerges from the shadows, his impassive visage conveying a sense of dread.

But hey, the movie still keep you on edge. Lupino, she great, and her and Duff, they good together. McNally, he a top bad guy. And Peggy Dow, she do good as the other woman, wrong place, wrong time. This movie, it worth watchin’, shouldn’t be hid away.

Flashback, identity, the dead and disembodied voiceover, we have and we are film noir.

Many of the multiple paradigms of female social discontent and reckoning are played out in Woman in Hiding (1950), where once again, as with many titles in the style, including many of the film noirs of Joan Crawford, a woman is set against the world and obliged to make her way there without a man.

This is the antidote to the suburban dream, often collapsed in film noir, and more expressive of anxieties that were total to Amerasian society during and after World War number 2. 

The recreation of this fantasy is easy for film noir, a man's world from the off, where violence is the threat and where loss of identity — very much a film noir narrative staple — becomes the best means of escape when everything is against you, in the autombilised, totalised and maritally dominating society of the 1940s and 1950s. 

Woman in Hiding (1950)

Directed by Michael Gordon

Genres - Crime, Drama, Mystery-Suspense, Romance, Thriller  |   Sub-Genres - Film Noir  |   Release Date - Jan 6, 1950  |   Run Time - 92 min. 

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