NEW YORK — All too slowly, Hollywood's short list of woman-made movies is growing longer as directors like Kathryn Bigelow, Betty Thomas, and Penny Marshall continue to challenge the industry's male-dominated traditions. As more female filmmakers join them, it's worth remembering that a handful of pioneers made similar efforts in bygone decades.
None had more impact than Ida Lupino, who built a major directing career at a time when Hollywood moguls scoffed at the very idea of a woman in the director's chair. Her films are back in the spotlight now that Kino has released three of them on the home-video market.
Lupino started as an actress, becoming a star in Hollywood hits like "High Sierra" and "They Drive by Night." Determined to stretch her creative wings, she left Warner Bros. in the late 1940s and helped form The Filmmakers, an independent production company.
When the director of their third project became ill, Lupino, already co-writer and co-producer of the picture, took over behind the camera. The result was "Not Wanted," a poignant 1949 drama starring Sally Forest as a decent young woman coping with the tribulations of unwed motherhood.
At once tough-minded and compassionate, "Not Wanted" displays what might today be called a feminist sensibility. So does "The Bigamist," released in 1953. It stars Edmond O'Brien as a misguided man who makes the mistake of marrying both women he's fallen in love with: an energetic but conventional businesswoman (Joan Fontaine), and an independent-minded worker (Lupino).
Rounding out Kino's series is 1953's "The Hitch-hiker," an effective "film noir" melodrama about two men abducted by a killer.
Lupino directed several more feature films and many TV episodes ranging from "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" to "Gilligan's Island." Kino's three-cassette package is a fitting tribute to her artistic skills - and to her courage in conquering a domain that few women managed to enter during Hollywood's studio era.