Night Shift On Film: The Man I Love (1947)

THE MAN I LOVE, Ida Lupino, 1947

Maritta Wolff was still pretty young when she sold her second novel Night Shift to Hollywood, that deal done right after selling her first novel, Whistle Stop, which was made into the 1946 film of the same name (that book written while she was still in college).

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Night Shift was necessarily retooled for Raoul Walsh’s 1947 The Man I Love, the book including some edgy content that could never make it to the screen back then, and also being mighty long (my copy being a 550-page trade pb). The film’s title is taken from the George and Ira Gershwin tune sung by Ida Lupino’s nightclub torch singer character, and that would be Petey Brown (Braun in the novel), who returns to Los Angeles from New York (instead of a small unnamed midwestern city in the book) to visit her sisters played by familiar noir actresses Andrea King and Martha Vickers. With style and sass (make that brass), Lupino promptly lands a nightclub singing gig, then falls in with a self-styled ladies’ man and small-time hood (Robert Alda being particularly sleazy here), but more to the point, falls in love with the club’s down-n-out pianist.

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Whether distilling or altogether discarding much of the novel’s soap-opera subplots and meticulously described minutiae of mid-twentieth century small town life, and instead, narrowing its focus on Ida Lupino’s character (though sisters King and Vickers get their licks in), The Man I Love is a much tauter tale than Wolff’s novel. Credit goes to crack screenwriters W.R. Burnett (Little Caesar) and Catherine Turney (one of Warner Brothers’ first female contract writers) for the expert slicing-n-dicing.

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But then, film can convey backstory, mood and so much more in mere glimpses, while a writer may need entire pages to relay the same info. This is familiar turf for Warner Brothers: Gritty urban life with its bland rooming house apartments, grim waitress jobs and oafish Lotharios, all juxtaposed with less-than-legit nightclub Romeo’s and tough-talking songbirds in glittery gowns (with a few tunes to sweeten things up). The Man I Love looks, sounds and feels like a classic 1940’s Warner Brothers film – not exactly a noir, not really a romance, and definitely not a mystery, but consistently entertaining throughout. If you’re not up for Maritta Wolff’s 550-page novel, then dig up the movie adaptation. I mean, seriously: Ida Lupino as a tough-talking nightclub torch singer…what else could you possibly want?

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The Kind They Talk About.

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They’re “the kind they talk about” according to Warner Brothers’ advance promotional pieces for Girls On Probation, a 1938 crime melodrama directed by William C. McGann, scripted by Crane Wilbur, and featuring an early feature part for a young Susan Hayward and pre-president, pre-governor, pre-Bedtime For Bonzo Ronald Reagan.

Girls On Probation stars Jane Bryan (1918 – 2009) who’d been groomed by the studio to become a leading lady and already had some important parts alongside Humphrey Bogart, George Raft, James Cagney and Edward G Robinson. Little did the studio bigwigs know that she’d soon wed a wealthy drug store magnate and happily leave Hollywood behind (hubby and wife among the key players in convincing Ronald Reagan to run for President in 1980). Bryan co-stars with Sheila Bromley (1911 – 2003), a Hollywood workhorse who’d appeared in over 70 films (mostly westerns) as well as numerous 1950’s – 60’s TV shows.

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The girls they talk about: Good girls, fats girls and mean girls…‘Good Girl’ Jane Bryan gets mixed up with ‘Fast Girl’ Sheila Bromley, resulting in a trumped up larceny charge over an expensive dress taken from a dry cleaner, the accusation made by ‘Mean Girl’ Susan Hayward. Bryan’s friendship with Bromley gets even more dangerous when they get involved with some bank robbers, though prosecutor Ronald Regan, who is in love with Bryan, saves the day. Probation, no prison.

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I’ve only seen some grainy snips of this film online, and don’t see it anywhere on disk or as a full download, but would really like to view the whole thing intact. Silly vintage Hollywood stuff? Sure, it might be. But some of these long-forgotten big city crime melodramas can surprise you and turn out to be real gems.

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The “Oomph Girl”

Ann Sheridan

Clara Lou Sheridan (1915 – 1967) came to Hollywood from Denton, Texas when she was 19, playing mostly bit parts and B-movie roles for Paramount throughout the 1930’s till she switched to Warner Brothers and the roles improved, including Angels With Dirty Faces, They Made Me A Criminal, Kings Row, They Drive By Night and The Man Who Came To Dinner, starring alongside Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Cagney, Gary Cooper, Errol Flynn and John Garfield. Along the way, she’d changed her name to Ann Sheridan, and Warner Brothers claimed that men voted her the actress with the most “Oomph”…and so marketed her as “The Oomph Girl”, a tag she loathed.

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Sheridan took a break from movies during WWII to do three grueling years on the road in USO tours, during which time she became one of the most popular service men’s pinups. She went right back to work after the war, but quickly grew frustrated with many of the roles she was offered. Just as noir goddess Ida Lupino began working behind the camera as a director, Sheridan wanted to produce, and she did just that starting in 1949, including the cult classic low-budget 1950 film noir Woman On The Run.

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In the late 1950’s and in the 1960’s, Sheridan worked mostly for television, and mostly in westerns, her final project the CBS comedy-western Pistols & Petticoats. It was during the 1966-67 season that she was diagnosed with both cancer and liver disease, passing away at only 51, an episode of her TV series airing that same night. Ann Sheridan’s not the first name that pops up when you think of the film noir and crime melodrama greats, but when an actress has gone toe-to-toe with George Raft, Bogart, Garfield and Cagney, and produced one of the classic period’s cult classics, I’d say her ‘noir cred’ is intact.

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