Outrage is a very important, if little-seen, film from Ida Lupino. It was made in the middle of her time as a prolific director of B-Noirs and melodramas in the late ’40s and early ’50s. She would only direct one more feature after this run, the much loved The Trouble with Angels, but Lupino ended up being a very busy director on TV in the ’60s. Lupino was pretty much the only woman allowed to direct since the ’30s after Dorothy Arzner’s retirement in 1943. It wasn’t really till the ’70s with Elaine May that Hollywood really had another female auteur.
I don’t know much about the background of the film. It came out of the company “The Filmmakers,” which was Lupino, her husband Collier Young and their business partner Malvin Wald. I would assume that Lupino wanted to make a film about the subject of rape, and since she was a name actress and becoming a notable director of what were considered “B movies,” it was an inexpensive gamble for everybody concerned. RKO would end up being the distributor for the film, and it eventually landed in the Paramount percentage of the old RKO library— which is probably why it hadn’t popped up on a Warner Archive DVD already.
The film itself is rather simple, no doubt due its length, which is a grand total of 75 minutes. Ann Walton (Mala Powers) is a naïve young woman who has a steady boyfriend and is working as a bookkeeper. A young man who works the concession stand at her job is very interested in her and tries to flirt with her. One night she is stalked and then raped, or as the film simply says, “assaulted”: they were completely banned from using the R-word. The rest of the film shows the aftermath of her revealing what happened to her parents and boyfriend, and fleeing the little town she lives in to go to L.A.
What makes the film so interesting is the sensitivity with which it tackles its subject. It’s pure speculation, but it’s reasonable to think that Lupino herself had been victimised by a man at some point, and to add to this supposition, she literally dresses and makes up her leading lady Mala Powers as herself, which is very obvious to anybody who has seen a photo of Ida Lupino. It shows how the town Ann lives in shames and gossips about her after the rape, which leads to her fleeing. Her boyfriend can’t see her in the same way, there is an effect on her mental health, and it covers the failings of the criminal justice system to find her attacker. The film’s end wraps things up too neatly, but the fact that the film even exists and was made in 1950 is pretty remarkable in itself, and the performance by Mala Powers at only 19 years old is very impressive: you completely buy into her trauma.
There is some debate as to whether Outrage is a film noir or a melodrama, and it’s a tricky question to answer. The film certainly looks and feels like a noir at times, especially with the expressionist way Lupino shoots the chase and eventual attack of Ann. The Lupino connection also makes people shuffle it into the noir section of the video store. However, Eddie Mueller, “The Czar of Noir” and host of TCM’s Noir Alley, says it’s simply a melodrama about a rape victim, which is probably more accurate. It’s more akin to something like the Elia Kazan or Stanley Kramer films of the era if a little more hard-edged, but due to it being a “B-Movie” it’s easier to lump it in with noir.
The disc from Signal One only contains a stills gallery. It’s a shame that there isn’t a commentary track or maybe a video essay for the release. However, it’s just great to have this film available more widely after years of obscurity during which it was limited to sporadic TCM or 35MM screenings.