In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Ida Lupino

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Archives and Databases
  • Lupino as Actor
  • Lupino on Lupino
  • Lupino as Television Director and Producer
  • Early Mentions of Lupino as Film Director and Producer
  • General Assessments of Lupino’s Work as Film Director and Producer
  • Critical Assessments of Lupino as Director and Producer of Films Noirs
  • Short Critical Assessments of Films
  • In-Depth Critical Assessments of Individual Films

Cinema and Media Studies Ida Lupino
Jans Wager
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0215


In 1950, the director and actor Ida Lupino (b. 1914, London, England–d. 1995, Los Angeles, California) became the second woman, after Dorothy Arzner, admitted to the Directors Guild of America. She acted in over sixty-four films between 1932 and 1978. As an actor, Lupino was compared to Jean Harlow early in her career, and later identified herself as “the poor man’s Betty Davis,” since she was regularly offered roles that Davis, also under contract to Warner Brothers, refused. She started four production companies beginning in the late 1940s, including Arcadia and Emerald Productions, and later The Filmakers and Bridget Productions. She produced or coproduced at least twelve movies, scripted five, and directed seven feature films (one uncredited) between 1949 and 1953. She directed another, The Trouble with Angels, in 1966. As a director, she called herself “the poor man’s Don Siegel,” and was often identified as “the female Hitch.” Like Siegel, she directed hard-boiled and spare films; like Hitchcock, she capably created suspense and often implied violence but did not show it. Lupino acknowledged the influence of Italian neorealist filmmaking on her work, and in 1950 The Filmakers published a full-page “Declaration of Independents” in Variety to publicly assert their autonomy from mainstream Hollywood. She joined three other actors, David Niven, Dick Powell, and Charles Boyer, in Four Star Productions in 1953, which produced the Four Star Playhouse for CBS. She starred in nineteen Playhouse episodes, writing and performing in six episodes. She directed episodes for at least thirty-three television series from 1955 until 1969, including multiple shows for Have Gun, Will Travel; The Untouchables; Thriller; and Gilligan’s Island. She acted in over one hundred television shows from 1953 until 1977, half of those as the star along with her third husband, Howard Duff, in the popular series Mr. Adams and Eve. She and Duff produced the series through their company, Bridget Productions. Her prolificacy points to her proficiency, but perhaps also obscures Lupino’s remarkable contribution to film history in terms of independent film production, the postwar neorealist aesthetic in Hollywood, and television direction. The fact that she was a woman working behind the camera in the male-dominated entertainment industry makes the relative lack of attention to her oeuvre even more startling. Despite her productivity and skill, her film work has been disparaged as unexceptional and even anti-feminist, a disconcerting accusation given the misogyny implicit in the enforced containment of female agency in classical Hollywood. Ida Lupino’s remarkable output has gained more positive attention since the 1970s. Her work deserves and will reward assiduous reevaluation.

Reference Works

Despite her prodigious output and unique situation as a female producer and director of film and television, only a few biographies of Lupino exist. Donati 1996 surveys her personal and professional life and includes interviews with Lupino and those who knew her and worked with her. On a smaller scale, Vermilye 1977 provides a detailed history of Lupino’s life, focused on her various careers and amply illustrated with stills from her film and television work. Simoni 2008 includes a summary of Lupino’s life and work in a collection about female filmmakers written for young readers. Students and scholars will appreciate Kuhn 1995, with various media experts contributing to a comprehensive examination of her work as a director of television and especially film. Kuhn and others writing in the 1980s and 1990s, including the essay in Redding and Brownworth 1997, argue for a reconsideration of Lupino’s oeuvre, seeking to recuperate her from earlier, dismissive evaluations. Heck-Rabi 1984 makes a worthwhile contribution by including many quotes from popular print sources on Lupino’s work in the 1940s and 1950s, providing a sense of the social context and mainstream responses to her output. Dixon 2009 gets specific in terms of Lupino’s technical skills, comparing her positively with other directors.

  • Dixon, Wheeler Winston. Ida Lupino. Senses of Cinema 50 (April 2009).

    Dixon provides a discussion of Lupino as director, examining her technical expertise. Compares her camerawork to Douglas Sirk’s and suggests her noir lighting and direction compares to Don Siegel’s and Robert Aldrich’s. Demonstrates the sophistication, efficiency, and quality of Lupino’s television direction. Earlier version published in Classic Images (1996).

  • Donati, William. Ida Lupino: A Biography. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1996.

    Informative, with quotes from various trade and popular press of the day. Traces Lupino’s theatrical family, marriages, and moves from acting to producing to directing, and to television, in an informal, conversational style. Lacks documentation for some quotes attributed to Lupino and others.

  • Heck-Rabi, Louise. “Ida Lupino: Daring the Family Tradition.” In Women Filmmakers: A Critical Reception. By Louise Heck-Rabi, 223–251. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow, 1984.

    Survey of Lupino’s life and work in film and television as actor, director, and producer. Useful integration of quotes from various critical and popular sources of the time, including Commonweal, Monthly Film Bulletin, Time, and the New York Times as well as Lupino, in response to her output.

  • Kuhn, Annette, ed. Queen of the B’s: Ida Lupino Behind the Camera. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1995.

    Provides an insightful introduction to Lupino’s life and career, arguing for a reassessment of her work behind the camera. Includes scholarly essays on seven Lupino-directed films, an essay on her television direction, useful lists of her film and televisual output, and other resources.

  • Redding, Judith M., and Victoria A. Brownworth. “Ida Lupino: Hard, Fast and Beautiful.” In Film Fatales: Independent Women Directors. By Judith M. Redding and Victoria A. Brownworth, 23–33. Seattle, WA: Seal Press, 1997.

    Praises Lupino’s work as actor, producer, screenwriter, and film and television director, seeing her as a crucial figure in understanding the role of women behind the camera in early Hollywood and today. The authors, a journalist and filmmaker, effectively characterize Lupino as talented and innovative.

  • Simoni, Suzanne. “Ida Lupino: Using the Motherly Approach.” In Fantastic Female Filmmakers. By Suzanne Simoni, 15–27. Toronto: Second Story Press, 2008.

    Written for young readers, covers Lupino’s personal and professional life, including her bouts with depression, her three marriages, her frustration with the studio system, the influence of Roberto Rossellini, and her production and direction of movies and television. No citation of sources. A straightforward summary of her life and career.

  • Vermilye, Jerry. Ida Lupino. Pyramid Illustrated History of the Movies. New York: Pyramid, 1977.

    Detailed biography, with discussions of Lupino as an actor, producer, and director of film and television, including brief plot synopses for the films and shows associated with her work. Diminutive, but well illustrated, with production and publicity stills from throughout her career. Early version appeared in Films in Review (May 1959).

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