Film Review

Never Fear

todayJune 22, 2023 119

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By – Gareth Jones

For fans of Ida Lupino, documentary-like but still melodramatic depictions of disease, 1950’s small budget independent films, complex stories

For a period of time, Ida Lupino was the only female director working in Hollywood.  She had immigrated from England to act in Hollywood in the 1930’s and had some amazing roles including a couple of great film noirs with Humphrey Bogart, They Drive By Night and High Sierra.  She had a very combative relationship with the studio system as an actress, often turning down roles she was offered.  As a result, she started her own production company with her husband called The Filmmakers. The first film for the company was in 1948 where she was the uncredited director of Not Wanted, having to take over when the first director had a heart attack.  She followed this with her first credited directorial film, Never Fear, a very personal story about the effects of polio on a young dancer.  The film had a very low budget, giving them the freedom to tackle subjects that the big studios were not going to touch, especially from a female perspective.  These topics included unwanted pregnancy, bigamy, and rape.  In the case of Never Fear (or The Young Lovers), Lupino wrote and directed from her own experiences with polio and how it affected her physically and emotionally.  

The film begins with the two young lovers practicing the new routine and they are just about to break it big in the hoofer world.  Unfortunately, Sally begins to experience pain, fever, and blurred vision (a great use of POV) and she is diagnosed with polio. She is fortunate to have the support of her boyfriend, Guy, and her father and is able to enter the Kabat-Kaiser Institute (a real, innovative center for rehabilitation.)  Here, Lupino shows us real patients and the routines used for physical therapy.  She casts non-professional actors to give additional realism to the experience.  For 1949, it is a startling genuine depiction, and even from today’s standards, it has a feeling of authenticity.  The physical challenges take a back seat to the psychological challenges that Sally is facing. She pushes Guy and anyone who wants to help her away, engulfed in self-pity.  There is a constant refrain of what being a woman means, and how she has lost her identity as a dancer and as a woman.  It is highly melodramatic at times, and the dialogue has certainly been dated, but it is a very important film from a female perspective.  Ida Lupino would go on to make bigger films such as The Hitchhiker and have a long career in acting/directing in television, but Never Fear is an excellent beginning to her credited directing career. She would direct eight films, each crucial for film history. They are worth revisiting, especially as Hollywood continues to not give enough opportunities to women and other underrepresented communities.

Available to stream for free on Plex or with a subscription to MUBI

Written by: Gareth Jones

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