Director: officially Elmer Clifton, actually Ida Lupino
Writer: Paul Jarrico, Ida Lupino
Cast: Sally Forrest, Keefe Brasselle, Leo Penn, Dorothy Adams, Wheaton Chambers, Rita Lupino, Ruth Clifford
Part of: Viennale
Seen on: 1.11.2015
Sally (Sally Forest) works as a waitress, the only place where she can get out from under the wings of her protective family. When she meets pianist Steve (Leo Penn) while out with her friends, she falls in love. Steve seems to like her, too, but a short while later he announces that he has to move to the city. Before he does, the two sleep together. After he moved, Sally doesn’t hear from him anymore, but she does realize that she is pregnant. She runs away to the city, half hoping that Steve will change his mind, half trying to escape her now tainted reputation.
Not Wanted is a film that is packed to the brim with social critique, sensitivity and political thinking, but also wonderful characters that you just feel for, perfectly straddling the line between particularities necessary for a story and the universalism that is expressed through that particular story.
Let me first say a bit about the history of the film which I found personally really interesting. From what I gather, Clifton was set to direct but around the time filming started, he had a heart attack and asked Lupino to take over for him, which she did, although still consulting with him a lot. He died shortly after the release of the film and since Lupino collaborated as closely with him as circumstances allowed, they decided to keep him as the directore at least in name, although the film was effectively Lupino’s directorial debut.
Due to its topic, the film almost disappeared, but a slightly recut version of the film survived as part of the stock of a traveling cinema. It was altered insofar as the opening credits were cut and actual medical teaching footage of a Cesarian section (in color) was inserted into the film at an opportune moment. Nothing else was changed, but this is the version we got to see, Cesarian section and all (we got a fascinating introduction into the technical voyage of the film that ended with a highly flammable nitro copy – which was announced to be a 35mm copy – being sent to Austria which was digitized here).
So much for the introductory words, now to the film itself: it is frankly astounding that this film is the work of a first time director, even when in collaboration with a more seasoned one like Clifton. It’s not only that the film feels perfectly developed, it’s especially amazing when it comes to the characters: I could just feel with all of them and the way the film puts you in Sally’s perspective seems so incredibly effortless and unforced, you barely realize that’s what happens. Apart from my general sympathy for Sally and my heart breaking over and over again for her, I noticed in particular when I thought that I wouldn’t mind fucking Steve and then again when my heart started to flutter for stupid model train nerd Drew (Keefe Brasselle).
Of course, unwed mothers nowadays are not that much of an issue anymore. But there is still a lot of unnecessary restraints women (in particular) are under that can make their lives so incredibly miserable. It’s not hard to imagine the pain Sally goes through and that seems so avoidable from today’s perspective transplanted into current settings when you see what women have to go through if they want to get an abortion. This keeps Not Wanted still very much relevant today, even when it’s core problem isn’t that much of a problem anymore. Let’s hope that it won’t take much longer until putting women through hell for an abortion seems equally horrible as putting them through hell for getting pregnant out of wedlock.