Forgotten convict-on-the-run thriller comes with psychological trimmings and hints of a more interesting, slightly perverse film hiding in plain sight just under the surface. (And what surface in Ted McCord’s thru-a-glass-darkly lensing!) Ida Lupino stutters in fear as the mistreated daughter of Fay Bainter & Henry Hull, a couple estranged within their rundown hillbilly home. But change is a’coming in the form a new highway, built with convict labor overseen by Wayne Morris. Lupino sets her eyes on one hardluck convict, Dane Clark, a guy who hits first and hardly regrets it. But then, he’s never had anything to strive for. So, when an avalanche at the work site sets him on the run, Lupino’s eager to help. Director Jean Negulesco might as well be auditioning for next year’s breakthrough on JOHNNY BELINDA/’48 (where the handicap is upped from stuttering to deafness*) while the plot mechanics recall Lupino’s moving work in HIGH SIERRA/’41. (Very fine here, in Hollywood tradition, she’s more beautiful than ever in deglamorized mode.) But the film keeps drawing back from its troubling issues. The parents kiss-and-make-up with indecent ease, while a stunning bit of acting between Bainter & Lupino that must have been influenced by Tennessee William’s recent THE GLASS MENAGERIE, isn’t followed up at all. Same for the strange sexual overtones that switch on between Lupino & ‘nice’ foreman Morris when he suddenly turns aggressive, pressing too hard after she brings him a beer. The pic’s a basketful of psychological open wounds just waiting to be addressed.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Second-tier stars, like Lupino & Clark, were also handy as a threats to similar, if much bigger star types. Lupino could be used to keep, say, Bette Davis ‘in line,’ while Clark did the same for (or is it to?) John Garfield. So, no accident that the studio let them go just as the bigger stars were also winding things down on the lot; no longer needed as leverage.
DOUBLE-BILL: *Lupino did play a blind girl in Nick Ray’s man-on-the-run thriller ON DANGEROUS GROUND/’51.