Beware My Lovely, 1952. 9/10

Much better than I thought it would be. Beware, My Lovely is a chilling ‘domestic noir.’ Robert Ryan (as Howard) portrays a mentally disturbed person with incredible nuance. His interaction with Ida Lupino’s Helen become a gripping blend of sympathy and fear. Ryan’s ability to convey mood with facial expressions is something to see. He flickers between despondency, suspicion, and menace, again and again, forcing Helen to continually adjust her persona to survive.

Although most of the film takes place in daylight, there’s plenty of the noir motif of reflections. Howard confronts his image in pails, mirrors, and photos; the creepiest of his reflections are in the Christmas ornaments that taunt Helen. The cheeriness of the bright day, and the Christmas season, with the pesky but well-wishing children, plays ironically against the sudden descent into the unknown that Howard embodies. We’re reduced to.hoping that if only Howard would just go away, if only Helen could get help…The fact that she comes agonizingly close to deliverance a couple of times makes it all the more uncomfortable. It’s something like a nightmare; things are seemingly familiar, but at the same time not quite right.

Helen’s dilemma is two-fold: will Howard calm down and be ok to deal with? If not, how does she get rid of him? He gets progressively worse, building tension, making it less likely that she’ll find a way out. It’s hard to believe that things started out in a very ordinary way. For a short while they seem to be in the same lonely boat “I haven’t any friends” he confesses. She lets on that she could be his friend, but he soon finds himself incapable of trusting even such a sympathetic person. When he says that he sometimes “can’t find my way home” it’s pitiable, but also enigmatic. Does he mean that, due to his memory lapses, he literally doesn’t remember where he lives, or is it that he hasn’t any home to go to? The bit where he opens the music box shows how he craves ordinary life, perhaps with a recollection of innocence.

Some reviewers don’t like the ending, but I think it works well. Presumably, due to both Helen’s and the telephone repairman’s ability to identity him, he could be apprehended. If he does simply disappear, then it’s likely he’ll move on to victimize someone else. Beware, My Lovely, therefore, ends the nightmare for Helen–normal life is restored to her and her neighborhood–but there’s still evil out there, somewhere. Another thread that’s been mentioned by others echoes of the Ryan/Lupino film noir On Dangerous Ground. The mentally disturbed character in that movie is also presented sympathetically, despite his murderous impulses. His fate is definite, unlike Howard’s. Although Ryan’s character, the focus in both movies, does seek redemption of a sort in Dangerous Ground, he’s not the outcast criminal character that he is in Beware.

I wonder why this is set in 1918. Apparently, it was a radio play, a short story, and a stage play before it was a movie; but the first of these was in 1945. The bicycles the kids have look very much like they’re from the 40s or 50s, and I question whether there were electric Christmas tree lights before the 30s. But if those are mistakes, they aren’t big deals. The vehicles, and everything else here could work for 1918.

Very captivating drama; this has something for fans of Robert Ryan, thrillers, and film noir. 9/10.

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