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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
Microphone shadow visible over fireplace when Mrs. Fiske has showdown with sisters about hauling junk into her home. See more »
How about makin' the most of a male fish now one has been washed up, ay? What about a smacker?
No, you mustn't! I don't know you!
You don't have to know people to kiss them.
See more »
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 »
A huge stone bake oven, a curly blonde wig, a dead crow, and an old ink blotter are all elements that propel the drama in Charles Vidor's "Ladies in Retirement". This terrific -- and now largely forgotten -- piece of Victorian noir certainly deserves to find a new audience among classic film buffs.
Actually, "Ladies in Retirement" plays much like a "set piece" with almost all the action occurring inside a British country home. And the dramatic structure of the film is lifted faithfully from the stage play, but like the similar "Night Must Fall", the dialog, the characters, and the plot machinations make it an absorbing and suspenseful, and for those not familiar with the play, fairly unpredictable. Director Charles Vidor manages to keep it vital and visually interesting by setting some action on the dim and dank marshes that surround the house, and certainly the set designer and set dressers did a spectacular job in imagining the marshes of England, in a very subjective and ominous manner. The black and white cinematography makes the most of the foggy mist, the twisted trees and shrubs, craggy rocks, and the myriad birds that enliven the scenery. You can almost smell the mold and stagnant water in these scenes.
What makes "Ladies in Retirement" so terrific is the performances by the expert ensemble cast. First mention should go to veteran performer Isobel Elsom, who recreated her Broadway role in this movie, and certainly hits all the right notes as the retired showgirl Leonora Fiske. She's wonderful and perfectly cast, and lends a depth and sincerity to a character that played by a lesser actress would have seemed buffoonish. But Elsom can appear both flighty and silly, but also steely in her determination and cold and unyielding as a iceberg.
Ida Lupino plays Ellen Creed as repressed woman, desperate, and almost ready to explode at any moment, and she appears in sharp contrast to Elsom's blowzy Miss Fiske . From the first shot in the movie, Ellen's face is dark and tormented, as she reads her mail and then tortuously twists the letter in her hands before stuffing into her apron. She then expertly hides her distress over the plight of her sisters before Miss Fiske and her domestic Lucy, in a scene that showcases Lupino's command of the character. Ellen Creed thinks, plots and even connives at how to keep her family together, and the stress certainly reads in her face as she controls every scene by subtly hinting at her stifled emotions and repressed hostility. Even her affection for her poor sisters seems measured, restrained and qualified.
There's also great entertainment in the supporting performances. The inimitable Elsa Lanchester scowls and grumps, becoming a truly remarkable Emily. She seems to favor her sister Ellen, since she can be decidedly serious and dark, then lighting up only at rare times. Lanchester's persona was perfect for this role, as she can tiptoe the line between pathetic and frightening. She's a formidable presence with her angular features and bellowing voice, certainly enough to cause pause in any sensible person.
As the fragile and flighty sister Louisa, Edith Barrett may come off as a bit too broad and over-played, but she certainly endears herself to the audience. Her character is girlish, flirtatious and also quite wide-eyed and deranged, and her exchanges with a coachman supply great comic relief. Barrett makes her scenes so amusing that you really do care for the fate of her character. This actress is certainly one who should have achieved greater acclaim in supporting roles.
Louis Hayward portrays Ellen Creed's crafty "nephew" Albert Feather. He charms and flirts his way into the Fiske household like a low-rent Cary Grant, with a cockney accent and very winning ways. Hayward and Lupino were married at the time of filming and there scenes are electric with sexual tension. Albert provides a great temptation to Evelyn Keyes' innocent housemaid Lucy, who also deserves mention as an important member of the ensemble. Her accent is perfect, she glows with youthful beauty, and her tiny tantrums and sly flirtations still enliven every scene in which she appears.
"Ladies in Retirement" exemplifies classic Hollywood film-making at its apex of artistry by the great performances of its players, the refined and expert vision of its director, and the wonderful imagination of its designers. From the Columbia Studio fanfare until the end credits roll, classic film enthusiasts should find enjoyment in every frame.
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