Ida Lupino’s film Hard, Fast & Beautiful (1951) was her third outing in the director’s chair. The film was produced by Lupino’s production company The Filmmakers and distributed by RKO Pictures. Like so many of Lupino’s films, Hard, Fast & Beautiful is a sort of family affair. The film was produced by Lupino’s husband Collier Young and features a cameo by actor Robert Ryan who had recently co-starred with Lupino in Nicholas Ray’s film On Dangerous Ground (1951). But perhaps more importantly, Hard, Fast & Beautiful re-teams director Lupino with star Sally Forrest after the two had collaborated on Not Wanted (1949).
Hard, Fast & Beautiful tells the story of a high school senior named Florence Farley (Sally Forrest) whose remarkable skills as a tennis player have her caught between her mother (Claire Trevor) and manager (Carleton G. Young) and the young man she fell in love with (Robert Clarke). It’s a classic tale of a daughter whose mother’s ambitions seemingly command her life and keep her from discovering her true identity. The clash between mother and lover corrodes Florence’s identity until she reaches her breaking point.
To hammer home the themes of Hard, Fast & Beautiful Ida Lupino makes excellent use of both production design and framing. In many scenes Lupino will use a partition of some sort to separate Florence from other characters, mirroring the spatial and competitive dynamics of a tennis court. A row of flowers, a fence, a center piece, etc. all become reflections of a tennis match within intimate domestic spaces. Lupino, through this device, suggests that navigating the machinations of others is all part of the social game, a part of life. As Hard, Fast & Beautiful progresses, Florence becomes as adept at this social game as she is at tennis.
Ida Lupino’s films are seldom very subtle as evidenced by the visual stratagem described above. Martha Wilkerson’s screenplay for Hard, Fast & Beautiful is as fast paced and pulpy as Lupino’s directorial style. Wilkerson, best known as disc jockey “G.I. Jill” of WWII fame, brings her experience as a radio personality to the dialogue, crafting a snappy patter that is more closely associated with film noir rather than the melodrama.
But it is this fusion of traditionally masculine stylizations with female centric content that makes a film by Ida Lupino unique. Lupino and her key collaborators sought to not only prove that women filmmakers can be as tough and as serious as the men, but that women’s issues could and are appealing to male audiences. It’s this philosophy, this approach to filmmaking that makes Ida Lupino’s films revolutionary. Hard, Fast & Beautiful is no exception to this rule. It’s a ham fisted, cold hearted movie about fame, mothers, and daughters. The closing image of Hard, Fast & Beautiful itself rivals anything the nihilistic noir films of the fifties could muster in terms of exemplifying existential dread as Claire Trevor sits alone in an empty tennis court watching a match that ended hours ago.