A Star is Torn – Rediscovering ‘The Hard Way’ (US 1943 – 109 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - March 02, 2015
A Star is Torn – Rediscovering ‘The Hard Way’ (US 1943 – 109 mins)

A well- made melodrama from Warner Bros. about the downside of tinsel-town, ‘The Hard Way’ is an enjoyable showbiz sleeper and one that holds up extremely well after all these years.

Helen Chernen (Ida Lupino) is fed up with living in poverty in the coal-mining town of Greenhill. Left to look after her younger sister Katie (Joan Leslie) when their mother dies, Helen is determined to push Katie into the showbiz world after the sisters are introduced to song-and-dance pair; Paul (Dennis Morgan) and Albert (Jack Carson). Paul and Katie soon marry while Helen leaves her hubby to join them on the road. Through her sister’s constant meddling, Katie and Paul split, and a depressed Albert kills himself after being rejected due to Katie’s newly-found stardom. Turning to alcohol, Katie begins to grow weary of Helen’s interfering, and finally musters up the courage to leave her. Now alone and with nowhere to go, Helen is left with suicidal thoughts of her own.

Movies about the rise and fall in show business have been told many times since movies began, and While ‘The Hard Way’ doesn’t say anything new, it is wonderfully grim and gripping, and features a quartet of fine performances. In a part intended for Bette Davis (who later regretted turning it down), Ida Lupino is great as the desperate ‘stage-mother’, trampling over anyone who gets in the way of her sister’s rise to fame. A fine actress, Lupino had previously co-starred with Humphrey Bogart in ‘They Drive by Night’ (’40) and ‘High Sierra’ (’41), and would later prove a talented director when she made the terrific 1953 noir ‘The Hitch-Hiker’. Playing Katie, seventeen year old Joan Leslie had one of her best roles here, and is very memorable as the rather naïve wannabe. Leslie had earlier made an impression playing a crippled teen in ‘High Sierra’ (’41), before playing Gary Cooper’s fiancée in ‘Sergeant York’ (‘41), and James Cagney’s wife in ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ (’42). As the tragic Albert, reliable character actor Jack Carson had one of his meatiest roles, as did his regular co-star Dennis Morgan, who proved he was more than just another song-and-dance act. Also notable was Gladys George as an aging performer being relegated by the conniving Lupino.

Director Vincent Sherman does a solid job here, although his following Bette Davis movies; ‘Old Acquaintance’ (’43) and ‘Mr. Skeffington’ (’44) would prove far more popular with audiences. Peter Viertel and noir regular Daniel Fuchs wrote the tight screenplay, while legendary cinematographer James Wong Howe provided the excellent camera work.

Dark and sometimes depressing, ‘The Hard Way’ is an entertaining psychological tale of ambition and jealousy, and proves that too much determination can ruin multiple lives, including your own.

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1 Comment on "A Star is Torn – Rediscovering ‘The Hard Way’ (US 1943 – 109 mins)"

  • Marc Leslie Kagan

    Also Ida Lupino won The New York Film Critics award for Best Actress for her role in The Hard Way and she was not even nominated for an Academy Award. Go figure Hollywood.
    Great Website

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