Ladies in Retirement (1941)

Ida Lupino, Louis Hayward, Evelyn Keyes, Elsa Lanchester,
The housekeeper to a retired actress tries at the same time to look after her own two emotionally disturbed sisters, with dramatic results.
  • 7.1 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Garrett Fort, Reginald Denham, Edward Percy, Writer:
  • Charles Vidor, Director:
  • Lester Cowan, Producer:

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7 / 10

This family has issues...and mighty serious ones at that!

Ellen Creed (Ida Lupino) is the servant and companion of a well to do older woman, Miss Fiske. However, Ellen has a serious problem...she's the sole support for her two mentally ill sisters...and the sisters have been tossed out of the place that was caring for them. You can understand why, as one of the sisters (Elsa Lanchester) is rather surly and the other is quite out of touch with reality. So Ellen maneuver's her employer into letting the pair stay with them a few days. However, the days turn into weeks and the sisters are almost impossible to live with, so Miss Fiske insists that Ellen make other arrangements. With no easy solution to her dilemma, Ellen does something pretty dreadful. Little does she know that her slimy nephew (Louis Hayward) is about to arrive for a visit...and he's NOT mentally ill....just a conniving sociopath! Slowly he puts the puzzle pieces together and he realizes Ellen has done something even he wouldn't do! And, not surprisingly, he plans on taking full advantage of the situation.

This is an excellent and interesting film. I especially like that the plot is quite unique....and because of this it offers many surprises. The acting by Lupino was excellent and I appreciate how she allowed the makeup folks to make her look unglamorous and 'normal'...many actresses would have resisted this. Even more impressive is Hayward's of his very best. He is wonderful as the slimy nephew...very convincing and fascinating in every scene. My only complaint in the acting was Edith Barrett as one of the mentally ill her performance seemed forced and a bit overdone. Subtle it wasn't. Overall, the good very much outweighs the bad...and it's a film lovers of classic cinema need to see.

7 / 10

Fantastic Classic Film

If you liked seeing Ida Lupino in all her films, this is a must see film with an outstanding director, producer and great acting. Ida Lupino, (Ellen Creed) plays the role of a companion for a rich retired actress who also has a maid named Lucy performed by Evelyn Keyes. The story becomes very complicated when Ellen Creed invites her two sisters to visit with her. However, these two gals are simply loony tunes in their heads and will drive you completely crazy with their great supporting roles. Louis Hayward, (Albert Feather) is a family acquaintance to Ellen Creed and he decides to stay at their home and get away from his banking problems. Elsa Lanchester,(Emily Creed), "Bride of Frankenstein", also gives a great supporting role. This is a great mystery film with a great plot that will keep you guessing just how this film will end. I was also surprised to learn that Ida Lupino and Louis Hayward were husband and wife in real life while this film was being produced.

10 / 10

Great atmospheric "Victorian Noir"

A huge stone bake oven, a curly blonde wig, a dead crow, and an old ink blotter are all elements that propel the drama in Charles Vidor's "Ladies in Retirement". This terrific -- and now largely forgotten -- piece of Victorian noir certainly deserves to find a new audience among classic film buffs.

Actually, "Ladies in Retirement" plays much like a "set piece" with almost all the action occurring inside a British country home. And the dramatic structure of the film is lifted faithfully from the stage play, but like the similar "Night Must Fall", the dialog, the characters, and the plot machinations make it an absorbing and suspenseful, and for those not familiar with the play, fairly unpredictable. Director Charles Vidor manages to keep it vital and visually interesting by setting some action on the dim and dank marshes that surround the house, and certainly the set designer and set dressers did a spectacular job in imagining the marshes of England, in a very subjective and ominous manner. The black and white cinematography makes the most of the foggy mist, the twisted trees and shrubs, craggy rocks, and the myriad birds that enliven the scenery. You can almost smell the mold and stagnant water in these scenes.

What makes "Ladies in Retirement" so terrific is the performances by the expert ensemble cast. First mention should go to veteran performer Isobel Elsom, who recreated her Broadway role in this movie, and certainly hits all the right notes as the retired showgirl Leonora Fiske. She's wonderful and perfectly cast, and lends a depth and sincerity to a character that played by a lesser actress would have seemed buffoonish. But Elsom can appear both flighty and silly, but also steely in her determination and cold and unyielding as a iceberg.

Ida Lupino plays Ellen Creed as repressed woman, desperate, and almost ready to explode at any moment, and she appears in sharp contrast to Elsom's blowzy Miss Fiske . From the first shot in the movie, Ellen's face is dark and tormented, as she reads her mail and then tortuously twists the letter in her hands before stuffing into her apron. She then expertly hides her distress over the plight of her sisters before Miss Fiske and her domestic Lucy, in a scene that showcases Lupino's command of the character. Ellen Creed thinks, plots and even connives at how to keep her family together, and the stress certainly reads in her face as she controls every scene by subtly hinting at her stifled emotions and repressed hostility. Even her affection for her poor sisters seems measured, restrained and qualified.

There's also great entertainment in the supporting performances. The inimitable Elsa Lanchester scowls and grumps, becoming a truly remarkable Emily. She seems to favor her sister Ellen, since she can be decidedly serious and dark, then lighting up only at rare times. Lanchester's persona was perfect for this role, as she can tiptoe the line between pathetic and frightening. She's a formidable presence with her angular features and bellowing voice, certainly enough to cause pause in any sensible person.

As the fragile and flighty sister Louisa, Edith Barrett may come off as a bit too broad and over-played, but she certainly endears herself to the audience. Her character is girlish, flirtatious and also quite wide-eyed and deranged, and her exchanges with a coachman supply great comic relief. Barrett makes her scenes so amusing that you really do care for the fate of her character. This actress is certainly one who should have achieved greater acclaim in supporting roles.

Louis Hayward portrays Ellen Creed's crafty "nephew" Albert Feather. He charms and flirts his way into the Fiske household like a low-rent Cary Grant, with a cockney accent and very winning ways. Hayward and Lupino were married at the time of filming and there scenes are electric with sexual tension. Albert provides a great temptation to Evelyn Keyes' innocent housemaid Lucy, who also deserves mention as an important member of the ensemble. Her accent is perfect, she glows with youthful beauty, and her tiny tantrums and sly flirtations still enliven every scene in which she appears.

"Ladies in Retirement" exemplifies classic Hollywood film-making at its apex of artistry by the great performances of its players, the refined and expert vision of its director, and the wonderful imagination of its designers. From the Columbia Studio fanfare until the end credits roll, classic film enthusiasts should find enjoyment in every frame.

10 / 10

There are worse things than stealing...

Ida Lupino as Ellen Creed cryptically says to her nephew (Louis Hayward). Lupino is in top form here as a housekeeper who must care for her two sisters who are being evicted or sent to an asylum. It is the late 1800's and the weather on the heath is unforgiving and reminiscent of a Bronte novel.

Elsa Lanchester and Edith Barrett portray the two sisters whom Lupino must care for. She lives at Leonora Fiske's (well-portrayed by Isobel Elsom) mansion and at first the sisters are allowed to stay. But Ms. Fiske is an eccentric matron and tires of their company. She informs Ellen Creed (Lupino) they must leave. ..."Have you no compassion, no feeling for the poor?"... Lupino intones this even as she sees the mistress of the house will be throwing her out on the street. Lupino feels obligation to the two wayward sisters, who have some mental issues and would have been (at that time probably) committed to Bedlam state asylum. So she decides what she must do.

Later, Louis Hayward pops up and is the nephew. He becomes suspicious when Ms. Fiske never shows up; He is intrigued that his aunt suddenly owns the house. There is much suspense here and the cinematography is haunting and shadowed; we are not certain at the capabilities of Ellen Creed (Lupino) or what she may do next. I also highly recommend "Road House" with Ida Lupino and Richard Widmark. Excellent and could never be remade today. 10/10.

7 / 10

good Gothic thriller

Ida Lupino stars in "Ladies in Retirement," a 1941 film also starring Louis Hayward, Evelyn Keyes, Elsa Lanchester, Isobel Elsom and Edith Barrett. Lupino is Ellen Creed, the housekeeper/companion to a retired actress Eleanora Fiske (Elsom) who "has friends" that send her money besides her pension. Translation: she got around. Ellen's crazy sisters (Lanchester and Barrett) are being evicted from their place in London, so Ellen gets Fiske to agree that they can visit. Of course Ellen doesn't intend that they visit, she intends that they move in. They turn out to be impossible, bringing in branches, shells, dead birds, scratching the funeral and living like coyotes, so after 6 weeks, Fiske tells Ellen that not only is she throwing out her sisters, but Ellen is going with them. The next day, Ellen kills the old woman and tells her sister she's purchased the house.

Complications arise when a relative of the Creeds, Albert Feather (Hayward) who has already been to the house to see Ellen when she was in London and met Mrs. Fiske, shows up again. It doesn't take him long to figure out what went on and what's going on.

Lupino's career would have been better, of course, if she hadn't been stuck at Warner Brothers where the plum roles she might have played went to Bette Davis. She is very good here in a restrained performance as a determined young woman who takes her responsibilities to her sisters very seriously. Lanchester turns in an excellent performance as the willful sister, and Edith Barrett, the more fragile one, is very amusing. Lupino was married to Louis Hayward at the time of his filming. Hayward could look strange, possibly when his weight was up - here he is most attractive and charming as Albert. He was marvelous as Simon Templar, the Saint, and here he brings that same smooth as silk quality to his performance. Evelyn Keyes has a small but showy role as a maid who can't resist Albert. Isobel Elsom is excellent as Mrs. Fiske - distracted, self-involved and somewhat annoying with no coping mechanisms.

The big question is, if Ellen's two sisters are crazy, and Ellen can kill so easily, is Ellen crazy as well? Hard to say but perhaps her obsessiveness over her sisters and her determination to get what she wants are indications that she has a streak of instability.

The sets are very noticeable today as is the fake fog, and I have to add that a title like "Ladies in Retirement" sounds like an early '30s film with Constance Bennett. Nevertheless, it has a good, suspenseful atmosphere and while a little slow moving, it definitely held my interest.