Outrage: Bold and Daring Female-Directed Noir

Ann Walton (played by Mala Powers in her first ever role) is an office worker happily engaged, having nice dates with her fianc√©, wholesome meals with her parents and a great time with her friends; on her way back home from work one night, Ann is raped. Even though her parents and fianc√© are supportive, Ann’s shattered state prevents her from enjoying everything that ever brought her happiness before and she leaves town and finds a new home and life working as a bookkeeper in a farm, until a coworker’s advances force her, in the most cruel ways, to face up to her past and return to her family. That is the plot of Ida Lupino’s 1950 film noir, Outrage, the second portrayal of rape ever in post-Code Hollywood (after the 1948 Johnny Belinda), and one of the most daring and groundbreaking films of the genre and the era.

Ida Lupino, one of the very few female directors in old Hollywood, belonged to a very special category of filmmakers; artists who found a way to exploit the system and get away with serious and controversial subject matter at that time, some directors only hinted at it and relied on the audience’s intelligence to pick up the scattered clues and form the picture, Ida Lupino attacked head-on. With over 60 acting credits to her name, she was always more interested in directing and would say that being an actress was a bore when “someone else was doing all the interesting work.” She and her husband formed their own production company, The Filmakers, and made small B-Pictures that were very topical and controversial at that time, but directors of the era had a lot more freedom in the vast world of B-Movies because they weren’t as strictly governed as their “A” big production counterparts, and so, Ida started directing her own films and made seven in total; Outrage is one of the finest.

Outrage opens with a few minutes of beautiful happiness, and not the theatrical forged sort typical of big productions of the time either, Mala Powers’ character genuinely drips of joy; a beautiful score accompanying wholesome picnics and simple pleasant moments is how the director chooses to open the film. This temporary bliss is brought to a sudden stop with the terrible crime of rape, and its appearance on screen is so sudden that it almost feels like a jump scare; the beautiful melody comes to an abrupt stop, there is no sound anymore except for the footsteps, Ann’s and her attacker, and then the occasional screams as she desperately tries to call someone for rescue. The way this sequence is shot brings to mind the 1955 Killer’s Kiss with its rooftop chase, the camera is mostly static and all of its movements are slow and very narrow, but it covers an extensive range and traps its protagonist in its wide shots and unusual angles, and finally, ends with the camera moving away from the crime to show a man shutting down his windows and going back to sleep. Through her portrayal of a terrible act of rape, Ida Lupino not only condemns the crime, but also society’s hypocrisy and cowardice.

What follows is an extended arc of a victim learning to live with a terrible past. Her shock puts a whole new perspective on everything and everyone in her life, and she runs away when it becomes unbearable. Perhaps the most unsettling and uncomfortable part of the film is not the act of rape itself but the fact that it proceeds to force its audience to be in the company of a shattered victim for the overwhelming majority of the story; with a tour de force performance by Mala Powers, every simple pleasure and act in life feels like a burden, every second of Ann’s life makes the viewer know that it’ll never be the same again. Even though Outrage has the required “happy ending”, a marriage and the criminal getting caught, simply because The Production Code never allowed the depiction of criminals getting away with their crimes, it never is shown on screen; the director succeed in truly portraying a terrible crime and its tragic downfalls, satiated Hollywood’s thirst for a happy ending, but never provided one, Ida Lupino’s film is grim and stays so right till the end.

Made 70 years ago, Outrage really is one of the most audacious films of the period, written and directed by a woman who always wanted to make something of her own, something that is real and doesn’t consent to Hollywood’s pretentiousness; here, she succeeded.


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