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Private Hell (36) Movie Review

lupino lilli cal duff

Private Hell 36 has one of my all-time favorite lines of dialogue, deftly delivered in a bar by Ida Lupino (who also wrote the screenplay). I won't spoil its impact by telegraphing it here, but in a few short words, it tells you everything you need to know about what sort of gal nightclub singer Lilli Marlowe is, right down to her toenails. The rest of the noir script is also terrific, interpreting the deep malaise of 1954 Los Angeles as only a sharp, perceptive insider can observe it. Detectives Cal Bruner (the underrated Steve Cochran, 1917–65) and Jack Farnham (Howard Duff, 1913–90) hate risking their lives on cop's salaries, but Jack has the outlets of a wife (Dorothy Malone as Francey) and baby (Lupino's and Duff's real-life daughter Bridget, then two), while Cal can only seal up his feelings of anger and resentment. When they investigate a robbery that ended in homicide, the partners meet Lilli, who received some of the stolen money as a tip. Cal and Lilli strike sparks, but she thinks she wants a guy with dough and he doesn't have any. By the time Lilli realizes that the guy might be more important than the dough, Cal's in a fatalistic tailspin. Cochran is great at portraying twisted characters who try like hell to convince themselves they can do no wrong. The materialistic yearnings shared by Jack and Francey are nowhere near as intriguing as the feverish passions that ignite Cal and Lilli, but this IS 1954 and conventional morality is GONNA prevail. Lupino's tight script and Donald Siegel's brisk direction manage to keep this clash of ethics on the boil and we get to hear Lupino as Lilli sing, too. A crisp, much-overlooked indie with Ida Lupino at the top of her game.

1954 81m/B Ida Lupino, Howard Duff, Steve Cochran, Dean Jagger, Dorothy Malone, Bridget Duff, Jerry Hausner, Dabbs Greer, Chris O'Brien, Kenneth Patterson, George Dockstader, Jimmy Hawkins, King Donovan; D: Donald Siegel; W: Ida Lupino; C: Burnett Guffey; M: Leith Stevens. VHS, LV

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