Ida Lupino, a pioneer of American cinema

A director, actress, screenwriter, and producer, Ida Lupino was a trailblazing woman in the male-dominated frontier of American cinema. Through six films, rediscover the grand Hollywood actress and the independent, committed director.

After paying homage to Alice Guy in 2012 and Germaine Dulac in 2013, the Lumière festival continues its Permanent History of Women Filmmakers series with a tribute to Ida Lupino, one of the best kept secrets of American film history.

Born into show business in England -the daughter of an actress mother and a musician father - Ida Lupino takes her first steps in British productions before heading to Hollywood in the early 1930s. She gains attention starring in gems of film noir, beginning with They Drive by Night, directed by the great Raoul Walsh. In this hybrid film between a thriller and a social drama, immersed in the world of truck drivers and the working class, she plays a lovelorn woman driven to murder, whose one-sided passion leads her to madness. In a more neurotic than sensual role, she overturns the traditional image of the calculating femme fatale, presenting instead the portrait of a vulnerable woman held hostage by her emotions. In Road House, another film noir of the 40s, she plays a torch singer from Chicago on the nightclub scene, a modern and liberated woman.

Une femme dangereuse(1940) La Femmes Aux Cigarettes
They Drive by Night  (1940)
Road House  (1948)

      Ida Lupino, not content to rely on her magnetic presence and stunning physique, begins observing the film technicians and spending time around the director (in her opinion, the only person constantly involved in the action). In 1949, she founds her own independent production company with her husband, The Filmakers, to work on singular projects with small budgets, films that major studios find inconceivable. Moreover, these very Studios will provide the impetus for Ida Lupino's push toward independence, after temporarily suspending her for refusing a role. The first movie produced by The Filmakers, Not Wanted, will bring about a new twist of fate… When the prospective director falls ill, Ida Lupino suddenly finds herself at the helm of what is at the time a daring and audacious storyline: a single mother in an ultra-conservative America.

 "Often I pretended to a cameraman to know less than I did. That way I got more cooperation..."  Ida Lupino

With documentary-like precision, naturalism, and a restrained budget, Ida Lupino movies will take on issues of the American middle class with a sensitive eye. Possessing the allure of an undeniably liberated woman, free of Manichaeism, she both directs and stars in The Bigamist (1953), which chronicles a man secretly married to two women. Thanks to her experience in genre cinema, she goes on to make The Hitch-Hiker in 1953, the first film noir directed by a woman, shot in the middle of the desert.

Bigamie(1953) Voyage dans la peur(1953)
The Bigamist  (1953)
The Hitch-Hiker  (1953)

      After six feature films, Lupino shifts her focus to television shows, directing and acting in cult classics like The Fugitive, The Untouchables, or the legendary Twilight Zone. She confirms her status as a trailblazer once again, at a time when television series did not have the elevated status of today. At the age of 60, Ida Lupino retires, ending a flawless career as an accomplished woman of quiet determination and sound ethics, but paying the price by fading from our memory. Get up to speed on Ida Lupino with must-see screenings at the Lumière festival from October 13!

Ida Lupino: five key dates

1918 Birth in London

1933 Arrival in Hollywood

1949 Foundation of her production company, The Filmakers

1953 The Hitch-Hiker, the first film noir directed by a woman

1978 Her last role before retiring from the cinema


All our thanks to the Cinémathèque du Luxembourg and the BFI.

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