Director: Raoul Walsh
Cubs were in weather delay, so I put on The Man I Love (1947) so that I might continue on my Ida journey.
Ida Lupino had previously starred in High Sierra for director Raoul Walsh, and he must have known he had about four choices in Hollywood to pull off the part of Petey Brown (my new favorite character name in anything, ever), and by 1947, Crawford and Stanwyck were not going to sell the age Petey needed to be in relation to all the other members of her family.
There's a lot of reasons to like this movie, but not least because Ida Lupino is in fabulous gowns and other outfits. She's... well cared for on this movie in some ways (she also apparently suffered from legit exhaustion on the movie, which makes me think in other ways, she was run ragged), with gorgeous lighting, hair and make-up in every scene.
And, if I may thirst for a moment, Lupino was not afraid to wear backless gowns, and that is not a complaint, placing this movie alongside Roadhouse and Private Hell 36 as very good ideas.
But Lupino is not here just to be fantastic from a 360 view standpoint. She can act the hell out of a scene, and in a movie that's almost kooky with all the stuff she has to fix (but not her own heart!), it's like every acting choice she makes in this movie is correct, even when it seems briefly weird here or there.
Petey Brown is an NYC torch singer who decides she's lonesome for her family, so decides to pull up stakes and go to Southern California where her siblings (mom and dad are clearly gone) have set up house, likely while waiting for her elder sister's husband to come back from the war (it's never quite explained). She's a drinker and no-nonsense, and she'll steal your booze right out of your hand while telling you how to live right.
Her elder sister's (Andrea King) husband, though, is at the VA Hospital, dealing with shell shock as her boss's boss is also trying to pick her up. Her younger sister (Martha Vickers) is... a nerd? An agoraphobe? I dunno. We never fix her and it's not clear she's not just pining for the married dude across the hall. That guy, meanwhile, is unclear on the notion that his wife is stepping out on him despite the fact they have twin babies. And younger brother Joe is a wanna be thug, and, man, does he just suck in general.
The guy hitting on Petey's sister, Nicky Toresca, (Robert Alda - yes, Alan's father), isn't exactly a mobster, he's more just shady and running some illegal slots and deeply unethical when he's trying to pick up women, married and otherwise. But he's a famed club-owner and restauranteur, so it's a numbers game for him. When he sends a gorgeous gown to Petey's sister, Petey takes the gown and uses it to get a job.
She also stumbles into a musician she once liked, and while Nicky is chasing her around as a conquest, she falls hard for San Thomas. Who says up front he's still in love with his ex-wife.
Anyway - MELODRAMA, people. And Petey only has 90 minutes or so to sort everyone out. Which she does, minus a body count and an ending with Nicky which made no legal sense.
There's some great stuff in this movie, but it's uneven and can't escape it's own melodramatic trappings. Raoul Walsh is a terrific director and he mostly covers up the uneven bits by keeping this going, and you're mostly watching Lupino tearing shit up, acting wise. Petey Brown is a great, independent female character, something the post-war cinemas knew how to portray, and she isn't just looking out for herself, she's swooping in and popping some sense into everyone else.
And, in the history of movies, this may be the only movie I've ever seen where someone seems someone pull a gun on someone else, basically declares "I've had enough bullshit" and slaps the guy six-ways-from Sunday until he just gives up his plans for murder. It's fucking GREAT.
I'm also kind of stunned to see a movie that has an actual romance where our lead is like "I get it, you're not that into me. I don't care. I'm that into you. I'll be here when you get off your stupid boat trip."
I mean, this movie is so weird in defying how stuff usually works, it somehow feels... more real? In some completely insane way, if you ignore that Petey fixes everyone between December 24th and roughly January 12th.
I'm not sure this is a great movie. And it feels like it should be, like, the first Petey Brown movie in a series or something. Petey Rides Again. Petey Goes West. Petey Meets the Wolfman. Straighten that dude out. But I *liked* this movie, and not just because of that silver gown in the third reel.
Oh, and I am tagging it as "noir", because it's noir-adjacent, or a sub-genre of melodrama-noir.