Release Date(s)1950 (November 5, 2019)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: C-
The first scene of Woman in Hiding is gripping. Newlywed Deborah Chandler (Ida Lupino) drives a car at high speed over winding roads, crashes through a fence, and plunges into a river. We later see her fiancé, Selden Clark (Stephen McNally), watching as police drag the river for her body. An extended flashback then shows us what led to the crash.
Selden manages a factory owned by Deborah’s father (John Litel). Deborah has accepted Selden’s marriage proposal but is having second thoughts and is preparing to leave town for a while when she learns that her father was killed in a fall at the factory. Grief-stricken, she cancels her trip and, over time, Selden charms her into marrying him. Their honeymoon at a remote cabin sours when Selden’s old girlfriend, Patricia (Peggy Dow), greets them at the door and tells Deborah that she and Selden have been having an affair. He intimidates Deborah into staying married to him. She feels helpless, betrayed, and trapped.
She suspects that Selden caused her father’s death and, terrified, drives away. She meets Keith Ramsey (Howard Duff), a newsstand clerk who becomes attracted to her, and she confides in him, but his assistance only gets her into graver danger. Selden is determined to silence her once and for all.
Ida Lupino’s Deborah is not a helpless victim. She is resourceful, smart, and quick-witted, yet her attempts to escape Selden backfire. There are also a few moments in which Lupino shines. When Deborah is informed of her father’s death, she is clearly crushed. He is the only person who truly loved her, and his loss is a terrible blow. Later, in a noisy party sequence, she’s confronted by Selden and placed in great peril. Sheer luck prevents her from being killed. The climactic scene, set at the factory at night, is highly atmospheric, with ominous shadows and the sound of machinery (to stifle Deborah’s cries for help) forming a sinister setting.
McNally is an unctuous villain. At first, he seems to be a concerned husband hoping for his wife’s body to be found, but we ultimately see that his motivation is to gain control of the factory, first by killing Deborah’s father, and later by arranging for Deborah’s death. Director Michael Gordon (Portrait in Black) crafts some memorable shots in which McNally’s Selden suddenly appears from out of the darkness, his emotionless expression chilling.
Howard Duff’s Keith comes into the film rather late, and his introduction is awkward. He’s an ex-GI drifter currently tending a newsstand who immediately gets involved with a total stranger, Deborah. Keith senses something is wrong, but he’s primarily interested in the reward her husband has offered for finding her. Eventually, he becomes more personally involved in Deborah’s plight.
Peggy Dow’s Patricia is a typical film noir type—a beautiful, shady young woman who gets involved with a bad guy. She has two big scenes, both crucial to the plot, and features prominently in the climax. Patricia’s brash forwardness contrasts with Deborah’s reserved, fearful manner.
Woman in Hiding is a fast-paced thriller with superb black-and-white cinematography by William H. Daniels (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof). Director Gordon succeeds in maintaining tension throughout, helped tremendously by Lupino’s high-strung performance.
The Unrated Region A Blu-ray release, featuring 1080p resolution, is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.37:1. Though the content falls within the realm of film noir, only the finale actually features cinematography justifying the label. The factory at night provides long shadows, dark corners, low-angle shots, half-hidden characters, and labyrinthine catwalks. A post-funeral scene after Deborah’s father has died features attendees in black with a mood of sadness pervading. Immediately afterward, the mood abruptly changes as a smiling Deborah and Selden in a white convertible drive under sunny skies to their honeymoon cabin. The opening scene switches between long shots of Deborah’s car hurtling down the road and an inside view from the car filmed against a process screen, showing Deborah’s frightened expression. A memorable sequence is a staircase filmed from high angle, in which Deborah—alone—flees from Selden during a party.
The soundtrack is English 2.0 mono DTS-High Definition Master Audio. English subtitles are provided for the hearing impaired. The dialogue is crystal clear, even in outdoor scenes, which contain little distracting noise. The factory motors, turned on by Selden to obscure Deborah’s cries for help, provide a constant whirring as Selden tries to kill her. The car crash and its plunge into the river is spectacularly filmed for a low-budget movie and starts the film with dramatic sounds of a fence breaking apart and a giant splash. The party scene is loud, with the sounds of tipsy conventioneers contrasting with the quiet of the staircase where Deborah is stalked by Selden.
Bonus materials on the Blu-ray release include an audio commentary and a series of trailers.
Audio Commentary – Film historian Kat Ellinger refers to Woman in Hiding as a blend of a woman’s picture and a film noir. The film’s kinetic energy begins immediately with the car crash. The film “lets the audience in on a secret.” In flashback, we see what led up to the crash. Director Michael Gordon uses mirrors and windows to suggest Deborah’s longing to escape from a bad situation. Howard Duff, who had played Sam Spade on the radio, was just establishing his film career. Betrayal is a major theme. Deborah is betrayed by Selden, Patricia, and even Keith. Lupino made this movie “at a pinnacle moment” in her career. She had taken over the direction of Not Wanted in 1949 when director Elmer Clifton had a heart attack, and she did not claim credit. Howard Duff and Ida Lupino would marry in 1951. Heine Conklin, who had worked in Mack Sennett comedies during the silent period, is seen briefly as a waiter precariously balancing glasses on a tray amid a crowd. He was known as a “gimmick artist." Many of William H. Daniels’ shots reveal a sense of emptiness and emotional detachment. The factory finale is lit like a typical film noir. Much of the commentary tells us what we’re seeing on screen. Not much background is provided.
Trailers – Trailers are included for the following motion pictures: Naked Alibi, He Ran All the Way, Cry of the City, and It Always Rains on Sunday.
– Dennis Seuling