BEWARE, MY LOVELY has quite a history. It was produced here by The Filmakers, a production company of Collier young and Ida Lupino. The script was by Mel Dinelli based on his stage play The Man. Previously it was on the radio show Suspense in 1945 as To Find Help with frank Sinatra as Howard Wilton and Agnes Moorehead as Mrs. Gillis(Mrs. Gordon in the film). It was dramatized on Suspense again in early 1949 with Gene Kelly and Ethyl Barrymore in the roles, then later that year as the play.
It’s 1919 and Mrs. Helen Gordon(Ida Lupino), a widow, her husband had been killed in the war, is wishing her boarder Mr. Armstrong off on his Christmas vacation. She is going to use the time to clean the house and has hired a handyman that dropped by looking for work the day before. Mr. Armstrong mentions a friend that wants to stay in the room while he’s away and she agrees to let him.
The handyman is Howard Wilton(Robert Ryan). At the beginning of the film we see him finishing up handywork and looking for the woman who hired him to get his pay. He finds the money with a note on a table and is putting away a mop and bucket when we see a look of utter horror on his face when he opens the closet door. he backs away, turns and runs, as the door opens and we see a woman’s body lying in the closet.
Wilton flees, heading to the rail yards and jumping a freight heading out of town, all the time looking around as if he’s about to be jumped.
When he shows up for work, Mrs. Gordon’s dog, Corky, doesn’t seen to like him. He’s pleasant and nice when she’s around, but we start to get a glimpse when he’s carrying some rugs out to the front yard so he can wax the floor and Corky reacts again, swiping viciously at him with one rug, driving him off. Mrs’ Gordon soon learns when he’s talking about his past and crushes one of the glass balls in his hand.
We soon get a battle of sorts between the pair, he being set off by a petulant niece, Ruth(Barbara Whiting), punished by her mother and sent to help Aunt Helen, when she dumps potato chips on his newly waxed floor when he won’t talk to her, and Mrs. Gordon trying to control her growing fear and appease him. He’s locked both doors and has the keys. Wilton goes through periods of lucidity where he seems nice before slipping back into a menacing presence. Every lie she tells him seems to come back on her when someone arrives to trip her up.
She tells him her tenant will be home shortly, only to have the fellow that wants to use the room show up to claim it. Wilton gets rid of him. Children are dropping by to bring presents to put under the tree. One brings the groceries and she tries to slip him a note written on the back of a check, only to have the boy mention while she’s away writing it that she usually pays at the end of the month. He pays the kid and rushes him off. The phone man shows up to check the phone which has been out all day(Wilton had ripped it out to stop the ringing).
The ending was not at all what I expected for this black and white film. Completely surprised me. But it made sense when I looked back at the film.
A good one.
For more overlooked movies, check in on Tuesdays at Todd Mason over at his blog, Sweet Freedom.