“Just remember one of these days it’s all going to catch up with you.”
Stories of actors and actresses being pushed by their stage mothers is a story as old as Hollywood has been around. Stage mothers, to me, are probably one of the worst people ever because they just push their children to be older and more mature than they and push them into something they probably did not really want or are not ready for. In the 1943 The Hard Way it is a sister who pushes her younger sister into stardom and drives her to the breaking point.
The film starts off with a woman named Helen Chernen (Ida Lupino) jumping off a pier. She survived the fall into the water and at the hospital the police try to question her about her identity and why she jumped. She gives where she is from as Greenville. In a voiceover Helen says the reason why she did what she did is hard to explain it is not a quick answer. She flashes back to why she ended up jumping off the pier.
It all started when Helen was living in a small steel town called Greenville. She was stuck in the town in a loveless marriage and her younger sister Katie (Joan Leslie). Helen always knew there was more to Greenville she wanted a better life for herself and her sister. For graduation Katie wanted a nice white dress but it cost too much money at eight dollars. Helen said she would talk to her husband. When she did her husband said he cannot spend that much money on a dress that is only going to be worn for one day. At graduation Katie is the only one not wearing the same white dress as the other girls.
One night Katie’s boyfriend takes her out to a vaudeville show. Katie is enamored with the show she especially likes the act of Collins and Runkel. She keeps pushing her boyfriend away to pay attention to the show. After the show they go out with their friends to a dinner. Paul Collins (Dennis Morgan) and Albert Runkel (Jack Carson) come into the dinner. They see Katie singing and dancing around the dinner. Albert likes her but Paul thinks Albert is just putting on an act just to get with her but Albert really sees potential in Katie and likes her. Meanwhile, at home, Helen is worried sick that Katie has not come home. Katie comes back with Albert and Helen thinks Albert picked her and wants his way with her. Katie really likes Albert and all he promises her and tells her sister that. Helen sees this as her and her sister’s way out.
Helen goes to Albert the following day and tells him that Katie cried over him she really likes him. Albert does not want to hurt Katie he really likes her as well. The train is about the leave to go to the next town and Paul is getting worried since Albert is not at the station. Albert, Katie and Helen make it to the station just in time. Albert married Katie and is taking her with him… along with Helen.
Katie becomes part of the act but that does not satisfy Helen she wants Katie to have a bigger part in the show not just be eye candy. She goes to Paul to help her get Katie more of a part in the act. Paul makes as if he is going to kiss Helen and tells her that he will not do what she wants it would be stabbing Albert in the back. Helen gets Albert sore with Paul to get him out of the show.
When they arrive in New York City Helen goes from agency to agency looking to get them a place to play. In one of the agencies she sees Paul. They still do not like each other. The agent manages to get Katie and Albert a night club gig for one night. There is a theater producer at the club. The agent drops them after their performance. The producer only wants Katie. Katie does not want to take it if Albert cannot be a part of what she is doing but he talks her into going. Paul was there. He tells Helen that he sees through her. She breaks down a little and lets him kiss her. Then he says to write him while he is away, a line he used on many girls throughout his travels when they did not mean anything to him, and she slaps him.
At rehearsals for the show she in, Katie and Helen watch an old actress named Lily Emery try to sing. The actress is not happy with rehearsing and breaks down. Helen tells Katie she could do the number better. Helen stays at rehearsals while Katie goes to dinner. After Lily’s breakdown Helen takes her out to a bar where Lily drinks way too much. Back the rehearsal Lily explodes and leaves the show. Helen immediately runs up to the stage with a reluctant Katie telling the producer that Katie can do the number. Katie’s part in the play is a hit. Albert calls her to tell her he is not far away and wants to come and see her that night but she tells him it is too busy for him to come. When he gets off the phone he tells a woman that his wife is in the show. The woman tells him that Katie is using her maiden name Blain. Paul tells his friend to go get away from Helen she is no good. In response Albert punches Paul.
The next time Katie and Albert see each other they have a fight and he leaves her. In his dressing room Albert puts on a record of one of Katie’s songs and kills himself.
Katie becomes a successful stage actress but she is not happy. She goes out for the night and does not come back until the next afternoon. She does not want to meet with her long time stage producer and writer. Helen has a fit with her sister. To make the meeting up with the writer she drags Katie out with the writer to a hotel to have lunch. There they run into Paul. Katie goes out with Paul and it is the first time in a long time she has had a good time. He tells her he is going up to Saratoga Springs for the summer with his orchestra. One night during one of his performances at the hotel he sees Katie come in. She winds up spending a few weeks with him. He asks her to marry him and she wants to. Helen eventually comes looking for Katie. She had no idea her sister was with Paul. Helen is upset with her sister for being with Paul because she loves him. She gets her way though and has Katie come back to New York City to do a play.
The play means nothing to Katie. She cannot get herself together opening night she misses Paul so much. He was there to see her but Helen sends him away. Katie is so distraught that during the play she forgets her lines and eventually things become too much for her and she collapses on stage. Helen and Katie go out for a walk. Katie has had enough of Helen and tells he sister she never wants to see her again. Katie runs to Paul.
When the flashback ends Helen still cannot speak. She says one more thing and then she dies. The police cannot understand why a well dressed woman who obviously has money would want to kill herself.
The cast was very good. Ida Lupino I adore she was such a versatile actress. I did not like the fact that her character was so unlikable but I think that proves Lupino was a great actress if she could make you hate her character so much. Jack Carson to me always plays the losing guy and he is always loud and a bit obnoxious and bumbling. I think he is a good actor but after a while he gets to be too much. Dennis Morgan is fantastic. I liked how his character was the only one who could get under Helen’s skin and saw through her BS. Joan Leslie was alright. She definitely did not have the singing chops to really pull off the musical numbers. I did not mind her acting.
The Hard Way is a good film. It gets under your skin and stays there for a while but in a good way because the cast and the characters were so good. You are left feeling terrible for all the characters. The Hard Way is worth taking the time to watch especially for a diabolical and ambitious Ida Lupino.