Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Outrage (1950)

... aka: Nice Girl
... aka: Nobody's Safe

Directed by:
Ida Lupino

Outrage was one of the first American films to ever seriously tackle the subject of rape from a female perspective, but its journey from the page to the screen proved to be a censorship battle for director / co-writer Ida Lupino and Co. that was full of unfortunate compromises. After the script (written by Lupino, her then-husband Collier Young and Malvin Wald) was completed, it was submitted to and initially rejected by the PCA (Production Code Administration), an organization in place to enforce the days' strict Motion Picture Production Code (or Hays Code as it would later be called). So what did they object to exactly? For starters, the fact the entire film centered around rape was deemed "unacceptable." And then phrases like "sex maniac" and "sex fiend" and any allusions to what they considered sexual perversity were a no-no. And finally, the word "rape" itself was used far too many times for their liking in the initial script draft. To "soften" the film, the script then had to have all of the more direct wording removed before filming could commence. Paying careful attention to the film, you'll realize the word "rape" isn't uttered a single time. Instead, they had to refer to the act as "a criminal assault" or "a criminal attack."

Secretary / bookkeeper Ann Walton (Mala Powers) has fallen in love with Jim Owens (Robert Clarke), an auto parts supplier. He's just gotten a huge raise (10 bucks a week!) and now feels secure marrying Ann, moving in together and starting a family. Ann even somehow manages to get her mother (Lillian Hamilton) and stern professor father Eric's (Raymond Bond) approval, even though he's not too happy that Ann never went to college to become a teacher. Life's starting to look up for her, but Ann has unknowingly caught the eye of an unwanted admirer in the process. A food truck worker, who sells coffee and desserts outside the factory Ann works, has recently been hitting on her and making her feel uncomfortable with complements about her beauty and inquiries about her love life. He also doesn't seem too happy she's about to be married. Ann's forced to walk home late one night after a long day at work, the man follows her on her walk home and begins pursuing her through the empty streets. Ann's screams and attempts to make noise with a car horn fall on deaf ears, she's cornered in a truck yard and then "criminally assaulted."

Dirty, bruised and in a state of shock, Ann returns home, but the assault itself turns out to only be the beginning of her horrors. The crime is reported and a detective (Hal March) and a policewoman (Lovyss Bradley) show up to get information but, in order to cope, Ann's blocked out the incident to the point where she can't even remember what the rapist looked like aside from him having a deep scar on his neck. After spending some time holed up inside, she decides to return to work and try get back to her normal life. Unfortunately, all she sees on the outside is cruelty and a lack of empathy from a society out to demonize her as if she was the rapist. The assault has made the local newspaper and now everyone knows. Gossipy women point, stare and whisper. People cross the street to avoid her. Casual pats on the shoulder and gentlemanly escorts by the arm from even friends and co-workers cause her to flinch and she now can't go through with her marriage to Jim because she feels so filthy and dirty, so she calls the whole thing off.

Feelings of fear, guilt and shame, rejection from her small town and the internalization of her trauma lead the increasingly more paranoid Ann to run away from it all. She buys a one-way bus ticket to Los Angeles and makes it only so far before hearing a radio broadcast about her disappearance and then fleeing once again in the night. While walking alongside the road, she sprains her ankle and collapses. When she awakens, she's at the Harrison Ranch. an orchard / plant run by Tom (Kenneth Peterson) and his wife Madge (Angela Clarke). where she meets the compassionate reverend and doctor Bruce Ferguson (Tod Andrews) and tells everyone her name is "Ann Blake." After being offered a job there as an orange packer, she proves herself to be a hard worker and moves her way up to bookkeeper, but is so skittish and secretive about her past she begins arousing some suspicion. Eventually, another would-be rapist (Jerry Paris) sends her over the edge and a violent retaliation and trial follow.

After the erosion of the Hays Code in 1968, movies that were allowed to actually pointedly address and visualize rape usually fell into two categories: revenge fantasies and courtroom dramas. Rape was also used as a throwaway plot device simply to up the nudity / sexploitation, ensure gory mayhem and / or to titillate those into 'rape fantasies.' I've noticed in a surprising number of films, the rape itself is even frequently just brushed off by the victim as if it's no big deal. Outrage is not one of those movies and is an earnest attempt to be a thorough account of the crime, the aftermath and, finally, the acceptance and healing process. It not only condemns the act itself but also condemns a society that turns around and victimizes the victim by shaming them into silence simply because they don't want to have to acknowledge the issue. The film is also concerned with the psychological toll on the victim caused not only by the rape itself but also society's warped perception of rape.

Though it veers toward sentimentality at the end and elements are certainly dated (some viewers may even be annoyed by the lead character's lack of fight and resiliency), this still works as a fascinating time capsule view into how a more conservative era dealt with an uncomfortable topic. It's well-made on a shoestring budget, the acting is good (particularly Powers in the challenging central role) and there are some interesting directorial and editing choices here and there capturing the hysteria and delirium of the victim. It was one of several joint ventures between Lupino, Young and Wald's company The Filmakers and RKO, who'd also collaborate on Beware, My Lovely (1952) and THE HITCH-HIKER (1953).

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