Ida Lupino | Rankings | The Hitch-Hiker | The Trouble With Angels
Have Gun - Will Travel: Charley Red Dog | The Day of the Bad Man
The Virginian: Deadeye Dick
Classic Film and Television Home Page (with many articles on directors) | Television Western Articles
Lupino is a great actress. She is a member of a theatrical family that dates back to the Renaissance, one that is centuries older than such famous modern dynasties as the Barrymores, the Macreadys, the Redgraves or the British family that includes Ellen Terry and Sir John Gielgud.
Some common subjects in the films of Ida Lupino:
However there are some differences as well. The police in the film, while sympathetic, are not the central characters in the movie. Instead, the protagonists are two ordinary guys who happen to pick up the vicious hitchhiking criminal of the title. These guys never become any sort of heroes in the traditional macho sense. The bad guy has a gun on them, and they just have to do what he says throughout the film. In fact, some of the film's viewers get mad that they never fight the bad guy or stand up to him. This film of Lupino's is the only film noir ever directed by a woman, and perhaps she is exposing the myths of male heroism here. After all, what can these guys do? The film is quite realistic in this depiction, but it is clearly violating traditional filmic depictions of heroic protagonists. However, the heroes of the film are not bad guys either. The film is careful not to suggest that they in any way deserve what is happening to them. The film seems to suggest that we should root for them to try to survive. They are Everymen, and their typicality makes us identify with them.
The film has remarkable outdoor landscapes of Mexico. Filmed on location, they are visually striking. They form much of the mise-en-scène of the film.
Charley Red Dog recalls a comic book series: Pow-Wow Smith, Indian Lawman. This ran in first Detective Comics, then Western Comics (1949-1961). It was well-established long before Charley Red Dog. Pow-Wow Smith is a Sioux who is the highly respected Sheriff of a frontier town. The stories are serious, not comic. They show the job and social position to which the hero of Charley Red Dog is aspiring.
The Day of the Bad Man also recalls a comic book series: Johnny Thunder (1948-1961). This ran in comic books from the same publisher as those containing the "Pow-Wow Smith, Indian Lawman" tales that relate to Lupino's Charley Red Dog. Johnny Thunder was a highly principled schoolteacher out West, who also masqueraded as his secret identity of a gunslinger-on-the-side-of-right known as "Johnny Thunder". His two identities led to philosophical musings on the role of teaching versus violence in the building up of the West. The Day of the Bad Man also examines such issues.
Teaching is a Lupino subject. It returns in the school setting of The Trouble With Angels. She views teaching with respect.
Deadeye Dick recalls subjects from The Day of the Bad Man. Both films show cliches from Western fiction being comically intermixed with reality. There is a Pirandellian effect, of fiction merging with real life, and forming an alternate, co-existing layer.
Both films show Western tough guys, trying to aid likable young men with no Western skills, and turn them into seeming Western heroes. The illusion works in The Day of the Bad Man, fails comically in Deadeye Dick. Both men helped are young, genuinely nice, and good marriage material in their "real" lives. They simply lack the glamour of dime novel Western heroes. The two men have real life professions: teacher in The Day of the Bad Man, law student in Deadeye Dick. The episodes do not attack Western ideals, however: they merely show that "real life" alternatives are valid, too.
Deadeye Dick has a double focus for its Western fantasies vs. reality: both the Virginian and the young man. It differs from The Day of the Bad Man, which looked a single fake gunslinger.
Deadeye Dick stars a young woman, decent and sincere, trying to find her way to adulthood. This echoes the emphasis on young women characters in some of Lupino's theatrical films.