Not Wanted (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Dennis Seuling
  • Review Date: Sep 20, 2019
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Not Wanted (Blu-ray Review)

Director

Elmer Clifton/Ida Lupino

Release Date(s)

1949 (September 24, 2019)

Studio(s)

Emerald Productions/Film Classics (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
  • Film/Program Grade: B
  • Video Grade: B
  • Audio Grade: B-
  • Extras Grade: A

Not Wanted (Blu-ray Disc)

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Review

Ida Lupino’s directorial debut, Not Wanted (1949), is the story of Sally Kelton (Sally Forrest), a 19-year-old night club waitress who is infatuated with pianist Steve Ryan (Leo Penn, Sean’s father). She thinks he’s a genius, but Steve recognizes he will never be more than a lounge piano player. Sensing Sally’s vulnerability, he asks her out. After a few dates, they progress to sex (offscreen). Sally sees marriage as the next step, but Steve leaves to accept an out-of-town gig. Sally follows him, but Steve makes it clear that he’s done with her.

Downcast and feeling that she can’t return home, she takes a job in a gas station run by disabled war veteran Drew Baxter (Keefe Brasselle). Drew is interested in Sally and asks her to dinner but she refuses and soon thereafter learns that she’s pregnant. She disappears into a home for unwed mothers. After her baby is born, Sally considers the extreme biases of society against people like her and their children as she decides whether to give up the child for adoption or keep it.

Though the credited director is Elmer Clifton, he had a heart attack shortly before production began and Lupino stepped in to direct. The film tackled a social problem that the major studios of the era wouldn’t touch. Lupino treats the subject in an almost documentary style, with many scenes shot on city streets. We see events unfold through Sally’s eyes. Made on a shoestring budget, the film was shot in stark black-and-white by Henry Freulich, which gives the melodrama a noir-ish aura as Sally’s situation becomes a waking nightmare.

In the 1940s, Hollywood celebrated motherhood in such films as Little Women, I Remember Mama, and Mrs. Miniver. Not Wanted looks at a young woman who has a baby as a result of non-marital sex, a scandalous taboo of the time. Seen today, the film is still powerful and Forrest’s Sally is a sympathetic character. She has followed her heart and is paying a heavy price. The film fails to address the responsibility of Steve, who obviously contributed to Sally’s problem. Director Lupino merely dismisses him as self-centered. Made for a budget of $153,000, the movie grossed over a million dollars and would find a second life years later on the exploitation circuit, with added color footage of childbirth.

This 4K restoration, featuring 1080p resolution, is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The overall quality is somewhat disappointing for a Blu-ray release. There is a bit of flutter throughout, most noticeably in interior scenes, and images are soft rather than sharp. The shadow of cell bars against Sally as she sits in jail is the kind of lighting you’d see in film noir. The flashback, which constitutes most of the film, ranges from bright and sunny for exteriors to sultry and atmospheric as Steve plays piano, a cigarette’s smoke billowing around him. A nice touch occurs when Drew demonstrates the night/day lighting on his model railroad. Through the evening shadow, many lights twinkle, suggesting lamp light from miniature houses and other buildings. Drew flips the switch several times. When Sally is wheeled on a gurney, hospital corridors and the ceiling shot from her point of view create an ominous mood. The climactic chase uses various outdoor locations, many with stairs – a formidable obstacle for disabled Drew. A great tracking shot in this sequence was created by having the camera race in front of Sally and Drew as he chases her along a narrow foot bridge.

The soundtrack lacks the clarity of other Kino Lorber releases of 1940s films. Dialogue is clear throughout, but there’s a muddy quality to Leith Stevens’ score. Lupino is not as inventive with sound as she is with visuals. Steve’s piano playing is meant to contribute to Sally’s fascination with him, but the piece he plays is rather mundane. The climactic chase sequence runs approximately five minutes and is dialogue-free. Sound is ambient street noise, including cars, a passing train, the footsteps of Sally and Drew as they run, and their heavy breathing. This lengthy sequence is filled with tension. At one point, Sally attempts to climb over a stone wall and jump into the path of an oncoming train. Drew struggles to keep up, hampered by his artificial leg. Subtitles are included for the hearing impaired.

Bonus materials on the Unrated Blu-ray release include an audio commentary and several trailers.

Audio Commentary – Barbara Scharres, director of programming at the Gene Siskel Film Center, and filmmaker/historian Greg Ford, emphasize the solitary nature of Sally Kelton. She is always moving forward. Credited director Elmer Clifton had a heart attack shortly before filming began, so co-writer Ida Lupino directed the film herself. Her signature style is evident throughout. The extended flashback that comprises most of the film represents Sally’s interior drama. “The mother’s rant is a tour de force of nagging.” The decor of Sally’s home is described as shabby-chic. Drew is squarely working class. Sally is in a dream state waiting for a call from Steve. There are many permutations of the title Not Wanted. The original title was Bad Company. Both Forrest and Brassellle went on to undistinguished acting careers, though Forrest would make additional films with Lupino. Sally Forrest successfully carries the film, providing subtlety with her facial expressions. Pregnancy is signaled by fainting and the word itself is never used. Lupino, a fan of Fellini’s neo-realist films, made the film at a time when motherhood was revered. The final sequence has an “air of surrealism” as it returns to Sally’s state of mind at the beginning of the picture. The movie comes full circle as Sally walks up the hill. When the flashback ends, Sally is back in jail. At the very end, she stops running and moves toward Drew – the first time we see her going back rather than forward.

Trailers – Six trailers are included:

  • The Wrong Rut/Hygiene Reel – During the 1950s, prints of Not Wanted were obtained by independent producers and re-released to the exploitation film circuit under the title The Wrong Rut. It was usually shown with this “hygiene reel” that combines footage of Not Wanted with a sex lecture and explicit childbirth footage.
  • Daisy Kenyon
  • Female on the Beach
  • I’ll Be Seeing You
  • The Tarnished Angels
  • Portrait of Jennie

– Dennis Seuling

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