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Ida Lupino almost didn’t get her chance to wow audiences with her courtroom antics in They Drive By Night. In fact, director Raoul Walsh was ready to sign the unknown Catherine Emery as the seductress.
But producer Mark Hellinger wanted Lupino after seeing her in The Light That Failed. However, she wasn't signed by Warner Brothers, which was a hurdle that would need to be addressed and fast.
So he went to the big man himself, studio head, Jack Warner, and showed him a screen test that he arranged. In it, Lupino got to showcase her talent alongside film noir star George Raft. She even appeared in a dress made by Milo Anderson, who dressed stars like Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Olivia de Havilland, and Lauren Bacall.
Warner saw Lupino's spark, and after commenting that she could be another Bette Davis, he offered her a seven year contract.
But Lupino was savvy. Davis had recently made headlines after she attempted to get out of her contract with Warner Brothers in order to have control over the roles that she played (read about that here). Not wanting to go through something similar, Ida relied on her agent, who not only got the contract reduced to a year but also granted her the ability to freelance with other studios.
The arrangement worked out for the best of both parties. They Drive By Night gave Lupino the perfect chance to showcase her talent, especially in the pivotal courtroom scene.
She said, “I wasn’t maniacal. I was quiet. I was simple. I was a child who was not a child. That’s madness.”
Critics and moviegoers alike raved about her performance. While her co-stars Humphrey Bogart and George Raft were good, in many people’s minds, Lupino stole the show.
Her memorable performance also helped her land another role which would continue her forward trajectory – High Sierra.