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Rowland V. Lee
In the late nineteenth century, Ellen Creed works as the live-in companion to Miss Leonora Fiske, a retired actress who lives in the English countryside and who still retains her theatrical mannerisms. Ellen receives notice that the landlady of her two sisters, Emily Creed and Louisa Creed, who currently live in London, is threatening to call the police to haul them away to an asylum because of their disruptive behavior due to their mentally deranged state. Ellen will not allow her sisters to be institutionalized, and convinces Miss Fiske to allow them to stay with them for a couple of days. Miss Fiske was unaware of their deranged mental state when she agreed and is also unaware that Ellen hopes to make their stay permanent. Both issues eventually become apparent to Miss Fiske, who cannot tolerate how Emily and Louisa disrupt her home life. However, Ellen "convinces" Miss Fiske to take an extended leave from the house, while Ellen tells her sisters that she bought the house from Miss... Written by
The title of the film and the names of Ida Lupino and Louis Hayward appear as if they were rising to the surface of the swamp and floating there; the rest of the credits appear on tombstones and signs surrounding the area. See more »
Lupino almost gets old-dark-house thriller stolen from under her nose
Why so many British spinsters took to spending their twilight years in old houses at the edge of the moors, all gnarled trees and lowering skies, remains one of life's enduring mysteries: Didn't they know they were sitting ducks? Those crusty old cruets of malt vinegar weren't averse, however, to the occasional taste of honey to sweeten their vanity, especially if it came from charming young drifters harboring antisocial personality disorders. Emlyn Williams' Night Must Fall remains the classic example, but another is Ladies in Retirement, which also started out on stage before Charles Vidor started the cameras rolling.
Isolbel Elsom takes on the part of the vain old biddy with a theatrical past (and her disappearance comes far too quickly). The beguiling drifter is Louis Hayward, who comes to the door hoping to cadge 12 quid to make up for a shortfall in the teller's drawer in the bank he works for. He gets it from her, though he really hoped to hit up her housekeeper and his aunt Ida Lupino (the two were married at the time).
Lupino, alas, was off in London at the time, packing up her two dotty sisters (Elsa Lanchester and Edith Barrett) who were evicted from the last of their lodgings for their shenanigans. They park at Elsom's house `for a day or two,' but after six weeks Elsom comes to the end of her tether and gives them, and Lupino, their walking papers. At which point, Lupino decides that blood is thicker than water and acts accordingly. But her crafty nephew grows suspicious when the old lady's `travels' seem to be coming to no foreseeable end....
Vidor chooses not to ventilate the play, keeping the action squarely in the moldering old homestead which affords him opportunity for strangely angled and shadowed shots in the rabbit-warren of rooms and staircases. The cast does the piece proud, with Hayward, Elsom, Lanchester and Evelyn Keyes, as the maid, all chewing a good portion of the scenery. Lupino wisely opts to underplay, giving the tight and wary performance of a woman with too many secrets to keep.
Ladies in Retirement shows its age in its conventions and attitudes, but it's still reasonably spry; it's fun to settle into, and offers a preview of the noir style that was just starting to develop. It's a hell of a lot fresher and easier to swallow than the distantly similar Arsenic and Old Lace, that overwrought farce which coaxed out of Cary Grant the worst performance of his career.
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