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The siren lure of show business must have had a more irresistible song in the days when stars, in the flesh, came right to towns like Pocatello, Idaho and Biloxi, Mississippi. The dreams were delivered fresh and piping hot, not through the many scrims of television and movie screens, and not through the machinations of crafty publicists and a fawning press. That's the milieu of Green Hill, a sooty steeltown where Helen Chernen (Ida Lupino) has cut her losses and her hopes until her little sister (Joan Leslie) gets a whiff of the greasepaint and hears the roar of the crowd. Lupino up and leaves her laborer husband to propel sis right to the boulevard of broken dreams. First steps on the stampede to the top are the mediocre vaudeville duo of Jack Carson and Dennis Morgan; Leslie marries Carson but leaves him in the dust at Lupino's bidding. Soon Leslie is poised to be the toast of all Broadway, but the tinsel is turning to ashes, and she's turning against her unstoppable bulldozer of a big sister. The bookends of this story told in flashback involve an ermine wrap, a pier on New York's waterfront, and a couple of New York cops....You get the idea. The Hard Way still packs a punch (after all these years), if a punch somewhat softened with a tinge of nostalgia. This is one of Lupino's strongest roles (along with Lily in Road House), and at her best she makes you wonder why she didn't achieve the superstardom of a Davis, a Hepburn, or a Stanwyck. She's just that good.
Rarely seen these days, and unavailable on tape, THE HARD WAY is a melodramatic gem, vaulted by five strong performances. True, the beginning looks as if we are going to watch 'Mildred Pierce', and, true, the ending is totally false if you know anything about the theater at all. Despite the script's weaknesses, this is a film to see, and I am glad that I have been able to obtain a copy. Ida Lupino is excellent as the grasping, obsessive, manipulative elder sister who pushes her younger sibling into show biz prominence. Lupino won the N.Y. Film Critics' honors but, surprisingly, was not nominated for an Oscar. It is a strong performance that, perhaps, needs a little shading here and there. Joan Leslie has an even more demanding role, however, in that her personality and growth is altered throughout the film. She is exquisite even though, as it often was in films of the 40's, the show-within-a-show sequences really are weak. Leslie's career ended because she was essentially blacklisted after she sued to get out of her Warner Bros. contract. (She had been considered to be the lead in 'The Constant Nymph' so some saw her emerging talents!). Jack Carson is remarkable, as he would be later in such films as 'The Tattered Dress'; Dennis Morgan gives his best acting work; and Gladys George, in a cameo, is wonderful even though it is evident the character is out-of-focus in terms of the way in which Broadway works (she never would have been given just one song in a revue). Vincent Sherman's direction is uniformly good in that it often leaps over plot contrivances and zeroes in on the performances. Leslie's acting abilities would be wasted until she free-lanced in REPEAT PERFORMANCE, BORN TO BE BAD (a better look at Broadway), and others. THE HARD WAY remains a forgotten and generally fine film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If ever a fine film deserved the term "neglected", it's the rarely seen 'The Hard Way' with Ida Lupino, Joan Leslie, Dennis Morgan and Jack Carson all giving strong, believable performances. It's a gripping story, a well-told tale (in flashback) of a manipulative older sister (Lupino) who pushes her younger sister (Leslie) into a show biz career and proceeds to destroy the girl's relationship with the man who loves her (Jack Carson) because he doesn't have the status her sister deserves. Carson creates a sympathetic character of a man who is heartbroken when he loses the woman he truly loves. All four stars are at their best--and Lupino won the Best Actress citation from the prestigious New York Film Critics circle for her work. She herself wasn't at all sure how far to go to portray the woman's dark side and needed lots of assurance from director Victor Sherman that she was on track. He was more optimistic about her performance and proved right when she won the N.Y. Critics award. Equally impressive is Joan Leslie, only seventeen at the time, who had to become a bitter and dissolute woman of the world toward the end. By all means, a gritty film that established Victor Sherman as a director to be reckoned with and led to other meaty assignments. Watch for my article on Ida Lupino due for publication in FILMS OF THE GOLDEN AGE later this year.
This was a terrific film. I was riveted as I watched the story unfold. Ida
Lupino, fast becoming one of my favorites, was absolutely magnificent as the
stage sister, a "Svengali" using her sibling to propel both of them out of
poverty. No wonder I don't go to the movies much -- I'd rather stay home and
watch performances such as Miss Lupino's!
I was a bit confused by the blossoming relationship between Leslie's and Morgan's characters (though they both gave noteworthy performances). It could have been built up more, since I thought I missed something when the relationship evolved to its resolution. A small flaw.
But the best part of the film was an unusually strong and moving performance from Jack Carson. He is known more for his comic relief (I hate comic relief!) roles in such films as "Mildred Pierce." Heres, Mr. Carson presented a three-dimensional character that you could not help but feel bad for. A pleasant surprise which only added to a must-see film.
This is a very enjoyable film, with a terrific central performance from Ida
Lupino. But there are times when she seems to be working harder than she
needs to, so that we see her acting. This is not surprising given the very
light-weight performance given by Joan Leslie. Ida has to work very hard to
get anything out of her. It's a shame, because I think a great actress in
the Leslie role might have turned this film into an unforgettable
exploration of sisterhood. Just imagine someone like Anne Baxter or Susan
Hayward in the role. The really laughable sequence is the musical number
that launches Leslie to stardom. It's a horrible piece of choreography and
a very ordinary song, and the routine climaxes in Leslie doing some truly
ridiculous cartwheels, that would have made her the laughing stock of
Broadway. Instead she is the toast of the town, and a top playwright
immediately offers to write a play for her! The climax of the film is also
very silly, as anyone who has worked in the theatre would know. The actions
of Morgan and Leslie here are completely unbelievable.
There are shades of ALL ABOUT EVE in THE HARD WAY - although the dialogue lacks the wit of Mankiewicz. It's good to see Carson and Morgan playing more meaty roles than usual - they were both top notch performers. But the best performance in the film is given by the wonderful Gladys George, who plays an ageing stage star manipulated out of her lead role by Lupino, to be replaced by Leslie. She is funny, touching and utterly convincing in a powerhouse cameo - can't imagine her doing those cartwheels though!
The stars- Lupino, Leslie, Morgan and Carson give great performances. Leslie was only 17 when she made this movie- she gives the best performance of her career. Morgan was always underrated as both a singer and actor. Lupino should have gotten the Academy Award for this. The movie has drama plus good songs from an earlier time. It's surprising, but Leslie was essentially finished as a star at 25. She was delectable.
This is a forgotten classic.It shows the dark side of fame and fortune.Ida Lupino and Joan Leslie were great and this is the best dramatic film I've ever seen Jack Carson in.He really got a chance to show his acting talent being dramatic.Dennis Morgan was excellent and I was glad to see him sing a little even in a drama.I recommend that you see this movie and see all these actors at their best!
Ida Lupino plays the ruthless, ambitious, domineering sister of Joan
Leslie in "The Hard Way." The film starts with Lupino attempting
suicide by jumping off a bridge, and the resulting story is one big
flashback. Unhappily married in an ugly industrial town, Lupino sees a
way out for herself and her sister, played by Joan Leslie, when two
vaudevillians, Jack Carson and Dennis Morgan, come into town. Carson
soon is married to Leslie and Lupino joins everyone on the road,
beginning her path of destruction to make way for Leslie in the big
Ida Lupino does a terrific job, as does the entire cast, including a wonderful appearance by Gladys George. Leslie is fresh and young but no phenomenal musical talent, so one has to attribute Lupino's drive to her success! A very good Warners Bros. offering.
This movie is highly under rated. At the time of production, director
Vincent Sherman agreed with his star, Ida Lupino; will this project hold up?
The answer is...yes. The finale could be reworked a bit, but this film is
appreciated more now with age.
Joan Leslie plays a young woman that has suffered a dismal life until it is discovered that she has enough talent to try the stage. Lupino is the overbearing, older sister that pushes her little sister to stardom. Soon the two woman are competing for the glory.
Good song and dance movie, evocative of the times.
Also features; Dennis Morgan, Jack Carson and Paul Cavanagh.
Vincent Sherman's 1943 'The Hard Way' stars Ida Lupino as an ambitious,
manipulative woman who pushes her younger sister into a musical theater
career, stopping at nothing to get her sister to the top. Despite her
strong central performance, the film is a disappointment. It would have
worked a lot better if it had been a backstage Hollywood story, like the
original 'A Star Is Born,' rather then set in the world of vaudeville and
the musical theater. The musical numbers were simply at odds with the
typically gritty Warner Brothers 1940's production values. The film looked
very noirish, and all that singing and dancing just didn't fit into the
atmosphere director Sherman created. The film can't seem to make up it's
mind what it wants to be, much to it's detriment.
However, Ida Lupino is first rate as the domineering older sister, who's single-minded determination to push her kid sister to the top ruins several lives, including her own. She's a perfect Warner Brothers actress, with a forceful screen personality that dominates a film much like the way Davis and Crawford did. I would not have named her best actress of the year, as the New York Film Critics did. But she's very good.
Dennis Morgan and Jack Carson also do marvelous work as a song and dance team, and the terrific Gladys George has a sad, touching vignette as an aging musical performer on the downside of her once successful career. She nearly steals the film right out from under Lupino with her moving performance in the small but flashy role. And while Joan Leslie, as the younger sister, was pretty enough and a competent actress, she's no Judy Garland (or even June Allyson, for that matter). It's quite hard to believe that she would be proclaimed the sensation of the New York musical theater world. More believable casting in the important role would have helped the film immeasurably.
All in all, the film is worth seeing for fans of the Warner Brothers melodramas of the 1940's. But as a star vehicle for one of their top studio actresses, it's not in the same league with Crawford's 'Mildred Pierce,' Davis' 'Now, Voyager,' or Lupino's final Warners film, 'Deep Valley.'
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