Director Ida Lupino's second credited feature addresses the hot-button topic of rape and its traumatic, life-changing aftermath in a bold and sensitive manner. Outrage inspires just that as it shows how a brutal attack can derail a happy life in a heartbeat. A brand-new 4K scan of the 35mm fine grain yields a strong transfer and robust audio amps up the atmosphere of this finely tuned film that showcases Lupino's blossoming talent as a director and commitment to women's issues. Recommended.
Very few Golden Age films tackle rape, and those that do often tiptoe around the touchy subject. Outrage attacks it head on...or as forcefully as the Motion Picture Production Code would allow in 1950. Leave it to a woman to make such an important movie and tell the story in a frank, no-nonsense manner that really captures what victims go through. That woman was Ida Lupino, the only female director working in Hollywood in the post-World War II period. Outrage was just her second credited feature, but despite the constraints of a bargain-basement budget and challenges of navigating a sexist industry, there's nothing amateurish about this often powerful film that brims with style and a bit of swagger.
Lupino, of course, is best known as a very fine actress, whose work in The Sea Wolf, High Sierra, The Hard Way, and a number of film noirs earned her considerable acclaim. She directed six features between 1949 and 1953 and countless episodes of TV after that (a final feature, The Trouble with Angels, would be released in 1966), and though her work was largely dismissed during her lifetime, it's highly regarded today. With uncommon fervor, Lupino bucked the establishment by focusing most of her films on women's issues and providing essential and all too rare insights into the female psyche.
Outrage is a prime example. From the moment the opening credits flash on the screen, we're thrust into the life of Ann Walton (Mala Powers), a vivacious young woman who has just gotten engaged to clean-cut Jim Owens (Robert Clarke). Their future seems bright until Ann, while walking home alone after working late one night, is stalked and then raped by the burly barista at the coffee shack across from her office. Traumatized by the vicious assault, Ann struggles to resume her life, yet her frayed nerves, paranoia, and shame make returning to work impossible and she recoils whenever her fiancé touches her.
Unable to endure the whispers, pitying looks, and perceived scorn of her friends and neighbors - and unwilling to quickly marry Jim as he insists - Ann flees her hometown. She impulsively hops aboard a bus bound for Los Angeles, but fear later forces her off of it. She collapses by the side of the road in a rural area and is rescued by Bruce Ferguson (Tod Andrews), a young clergyman. Bruce takes Ann in and tries to rehabilitate her, but the scars of her attack run deeper than the identifying scar on her assailant's neck.
Outrage runs a mere 75 minutes, but it gets under its heroine's skin like few movies of its ilk do. The script by Collier Young, Marvin Wald (who received an Oscar nod for 1948's The Naked City), and Lupino searingly addresses the horror, shock, withdrawal, and PTSD that afflict rape victims, as well as the notion that the attacker has forever ruined their chance of enjoying a normal life and spoiled their ability to experience physical and emotional intimacy. The film presents all this as more than a simple loss of innocence; rather, it's really a loss of self.
Thankfully, the screenplay steers clear of any victim-blaming from society, law enforcement, and Ann herself. There's not even a whiff of "did she flirt with him?" or "did she somehow lead him on?" Ann's account of the incident is never questioned, nor is the rapist's culpability, and he's only seen on screen as a creepy, sinister figure. Though the attack itself is never shown, the excruciating set-up provides all the information we need to fill in the horrific blanks.
Outrage starts strongly, but once Ann finds solace and comfort in the pastoral area where the country pastor resides, the paces slows, the tone softens, and sentimentality supplants grit. Though a dramatic episode perks up the picture toward the end, the story's resolution is a bit too pat. The hopeful message is welcome, but despite the fact that Ann has come a long way in her recovery, she still has a long way to go, and this largely perceptive film seems to ignore that fact. Maybe I'm asking too much of a movie that tries its best to deal frankly with a controversial subject in 1950, but when a film like Outrage makes so many marvelous strides, you want it to scale all the hurdles.
The largely unknown cast, which includes Lupino's younger sister Rita in a small role, adds authenticity to the tale. All the performances are stellar, but the standout is Powers, who makes her film debut and files a natural, moving portrayal. Without histrionics, the 18-year-old actress, who resembles a young Mercedes McCambridge, expresses the myriad crippling emotions that inhibit and paralyze victims. Her next role would be Roxanne opposite Jose Ferrer's Cyrano (which earned him a Best Actor Oscar) in Cyrano de Bergerac, but an illness she contracted while touring with the USO in Korea shortly afterward stalled her burgeoning career. Though Powers worked steadily throughout the 1950s and '60s, she never was able to realize her potential or get parts as juicy as Ann in Outrage.
Powers impresses, but it's Lupino who deserves the lion's share of praise. Her talent behind the camera is undeniable. Creative shot compositions abound and her striking use of audio to heighten suspense and emphasize Ann's fragile emotional state adds punch and panache to the film. Like Dorothy Arzner before her and Barbra Streisand and Kathryn Bigelow after her, Lupino had to beat down the door of Hollywood's most exclusive boys club and fight to gain - and keep - her seat at the table. Her small films may not possess the same cachet as those of her more esteemed and honored cohorts, but they're just as important, and Outrage is one of the best examples of her work.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The KLSC edition of Outrage arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard case. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu with music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.
Remastered in HD by Paramount Pictures from a 4K scan of the 35mm fine grain, Outrage boasts a vibrant, clear image that faithfully honors the cinematography of Archie Stout, who would win an Oscar two years later for The Quiet Man. (Imprint Films released Outrage on Blu-ray in early 2022 using a 2K scan on the original negative.) Rich blacks, bright, stable whites, and nicely varied grays combine with excellent contrast to produce a pleasing picture that maximizes details and features a fair amount of depth. The natural grain structure remains intact and replicates the feel of film, while superior shadow delineation raises the tension level during the pivotal attack scene. Sharp close-ups highlight the dirt smudges on Ann's face and deep, glistening scar on her rapist's neck, and though some scenes appear softer than others, the presentation remains remarkably consistent throughout.
Sadly, the remastering process did not include clean-up. Plenty of marks, a few scratches, and some print damage mar the source and distract a bit at times, but despite the occasional roughness, Outrage looks quite good and most likely better than it ever has on home video.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track supplies robust sound that really immerses us in the tense drama. Sonic accents are pumped up to alarming degrees, so we jump when Ann knocks over a metal trash can or leans on the horn of a pickup truck. Another effective sequence amplifies the common sounds in an office - stamping forms, rustling papers, tapping fingers - to transmit Ann's growing sense of unease and panic. Subtleties like footsteps crunching against concrete, distant street noise, and chirping birds and crickets are also incredibly crisp and all the dialogue is easy to comprehend. Excellent fidelity lends an expansive feel to the music score and no age-related hiss, pops, or crackle intrude. Lupino's clever use of audio greatly enhances Outrage and this track renders her bold choices well.
Aside from several trailers for other KLSC releases, the only extra is an audio commentary by film historian Imogen Sara Smith. Smith's commentaries are always intelligent, insightful, and well-spoken and this one is no exception. Smith covers a variety of topics in this packed 75-minute track, including Lupino's rebellion against Hollywood norms, the controversial topics and themes that drew her attention, the signature aspects of her directorial style, and the strategies she used so she wouldn't seem threatening as a woman in charge. She also discusses the constraints the Production Code put on the film, shares some interesting trivia, notes previous films that dealt with rape, talks about the social culture of the times, analyzes the plot (and criticizes certain aspects of it), and examines the rise of independent filmmaking in post-World War II Hollywood. Smith calls Lupino "at least a quintuple threat: she was an actor, director, writer, producer, and composer" and reveals she was only the second woman to join the Director's Guild of America after Dorothy Arzner. This is an essential commentary that sheds an enormous amount of light on this minor but important film.
Outrage may be constrained by the rules of the stringent Production Code, but it remains a powerful portrait of a young woman whose carefree life is forever changed by a vicious, violent sexual assault. Ida Lupino proves she's a directorial force to be reckoned with by infusing artistry into a groundbreaking narrative and drawing affecting performances from a largely unknown cast. Kino's remastered transfer struck from a 4K of the 35mm fine grain and potent audio thrust us into this intimate, underrated film, while an excellent commentary track supplies essential context and perspective. Recommended.