Ida Lupino was a prominent movie star/film siren in the 1930s and ‘40s whose career segued into directing both movies and television episodic series, such as “Bewitched,” “The Fugitive” and “The Rifleman”. If you look around the web, she is referred to as “widely respected as a pioneer for women filmmakers” and “[t]he second woman to be admitted to the Director’s Guild.”* Lupino directed and co-wrote “Outrage”(1950), a progressive movie for its time as it dealt with a then-taboo topic: the subject of rape. Of course, in 1950, the word “rape” could not be used in feature films, but instead was consistently called “an assault” of a vicious and violent nature.
“Outrage” begins innocently enough: the main character, Ann Walton (played by Mala Powers) had recently become engaged; her parents are happy for her, yet in a progressive moment, her father expresses some dismay that she will be married instead of going to college and becoming a teacher. Walton works as a clerk in a nondescript office and gets along well with her fiancé and co-workers. Her life seems to be headed on a very light and happy track.
However, one night, upon leaving work after dark, she is stalked by a local food-cart worker and raped, although from the action in the actual attack scene, it is difficult to discern that it was a rape. We realize later, from the language used to describe her emotional state of mind and the reactions to the “assault” that it was, indeed, a rape.
After the rape, Walton is attended to in her home by her parents, a family physician and two police detectives – one male and the other female. Clearly, by her affect and demeanor, and the fact that she cannot remember all the details of the attack or even the rapist’s face, she is already showing signs of significant emotional trauma. Today, we would call her condition Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and treat it accordingly.
Not everyone in the movie is sympathetic to her plight. Both neighbors and co-workers whisper in her presence, and some physically touch her lightly in ways that imply some kind of understanding and yet no real concern or help. The subtext is get over it and get on with your life.
Walton has an emotional meltdown and runs away from her engagement and her parents’ home without a clear destination in mind, but somehow headed to Los Angeles. She ends up taking a bus from the fictional “Capitol City” to a rural California community, where she is rescued by a World War II vet named Bruce Ferguson (played by Tod Andrews).
Ferguson has some of his own war-induced demons, and he has also become a minister. They forge a friendship of understanding and comradery. To Lupino’s credit, she did not take the easy route with their relationship and conveniently contrive it as intimate and/or romantic. The bond between Walton and Ferguson is genuinely based on their mutual need for healing, compassion and empathy.
Walton hides out in this rural community, and is accepted without too many questions until an incident takes place between Walton and a very intrusive and physically inappropriate local named Frank Marini (played by Jerry Paris, who would go on to be a very prolific TV producer). Then suddenly, Walton is on trial – most likely Lupino’s metaphor for what often did happen to women in the aftermath of rape.
In the courtroom, Ferguson is her champion. He understands that Walton is “innocent” completely, that she has been “suffering in her mind,” and that she “needs people who love her as well as needing psychiatric treatment.” He also gives a monologue which may be construed today as a liberal rant:
We are guilty of criminal negligence. It’s our fault. All of us. Our generation has produced too may neuroses, too many displaced people here at home. We need more hospitals, more clinics, more trained men to turn human (waste) back into useful human beings.”
I can recommend this movie as long as the viewer is generous in remembering the historical context of the 1950s, with its Victorian censorship and prohibitions on realistic language and mature situations. Also, the viewer should understand that Powers’ acting became increasingly more melodramatic as the movie progressed.
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*Biography for Ida Lupino,” The Internet Movie Database (IMBD).