You should see this film! You really, really should. I mean, most films by female directors should be watched more, but this one- I feel like it’s very important from a modern perspective, as well as for its time. It was made in 1949, directed by Ida Lupino and is about an unmarried mother and her SINFULNESS and it’s all about SIN and EVIL and WOMEN BEING TERRIBLE BEINGS (except, well, it’s not…)
Is it a feminist film? Well, I think so, yes. I mean, ostensibly, Sally’s story is written in such a way that it seems to emphasise the inherit sinfulness of everything she does (the film’s original tagline, which ran “UNWED MOTHER: HER STORY… THE NATION’S PROBLEM!” gives you a teensy clue as to what the original message of the film was supposed to be), but is that really the idea behind the film? I would say that, after watching it and also learning that it was directed by a woman (albeit an uncredited woman, no big surprises there), you get a very different view. Yes, it’s a deeply melodramatic melodrama- and not the most beautiful film you will ever see. It certainly feels like a film that is desperate to be out-and-out feminist- but can’t get past the censors. And so- in the manner of Emilia Bassano*- tiny snippets of feminism were hidden in the screenplay- so tiny that they’re difficult to point out, but give you an overwhelming sense at the end of the film that it is genuinely pretty cool about women’s place in society. There are other things that I liked, too- such as Sally shouting melodramatically at her parents. Women don’t often get to be angry and shouty on screen or in real life- because it takes up too much space. So seeing that is really valuable**. Also, when the piano guy is playing and she watches him with that really gooey look on her face. And when she stops to admire her reflection in the mirror. I think we easily forget how many emotional reactions women just don’t get to do on screen. Albeit the ending is rubbish- no spoilers though!- but the cinematography is really good, or rather the sort of story premise, because it starts with her taking a baby from a pram and then getting arrested and asking “How did I get here?”… and then it shows the whole story. A recommendation ensues for how interesting the portrayal of women- and, in fact, teenagers- in that era is in this film. And to answer the question of what the title refers to… I don’t think it’s the pregnancy or the baby. I think it’s Sally herself, who- in not being the “right kind” of woman, is not wanted by the society she lives in.
Is it disturbing? Not really, kind of emotional (and somewhat over-emotional) though.
And… does it pass the Bechdel test? Yes it definitely does! Pretty rare even today, let alone seventy years ago. (Or maybe it was actually BETTER seventy years ago… doesn’t seem like it could be a lot worse anyhow.) Sally has interesting conversations with lots of different women she meets. That makes it worth watching all on its own, really.
In conclusion! Never be put off a film just because it’s ancient and melodramatic, or, heaven forfend… because it’s black and white. (Only terrible people are put off films just because they’re black and white.) Seriously, this film has merit. Lots of merit. It should be watched a lot as an early feminist screenplay, an early example of a female director making something that’s actually good***, and just as a really interesting film about women in the forties.
*Hands up who went to see Emilia at the Globe this year! Join the fanclub! Wasn’t it awesome? Made me cry… The audience was literally screaming for all the awesome feminism and stuff in it, and then at the end with the last line (which I can’t quote because my mum might read this, but I know you remember it) I was literally crying and I felt so embarrassed but then I turned around and saw that all these other women were crying too. And the woman next to me said, “I’ve never been so moved!” It was like an awesome surge of awesomeness. Let’s hope they reprise it!
**Another wonderful instance of this appears in Pretty in Pink, where Andie screams in rage at Blane for deciding not to go to the prom with her after all. I actually loved that, one of the best bits- if not the best bit- of the film. YES ANDIE YOU CAN TAKE UP AS MUCH SPACE AS YOU WANT.
***May we all turn into iguanadons before that happens. Nothing could be worse. Women aren’t funny (hahaha, we all know this!) and they have no emotions so how could a woman co-write and direct a good film?