Ellen Creed is a housekeeper who looks after Leonora Fiske, a retired actress living in the English countryside. When Ellen's eccentric sisters visit their sibling at Leonora's home, tensions soon lead to murder.
As queer as mice in a cage. Ladies in Retirement is directed by Charles Vidor and adapted to screenplay by Garrett Ford from the Reginald Denham and Edward Percy play of the same name. It stars Ida Lupino, Louis Hayward, Evelyn Keyes, Elsa Lanchester, Edith Barrett and Isobel Elsom. Music is by Ernst Toch and cinematography by George Barnes. A housekeeper takes drastic action when the head of the household insists that her two batty sisters be evicted the next day… Willow, Tit Willow, Tit Willow. Hee, the title conjures up images of some batty biddy comedy set in a retirement home, but the truth is that Vidor's movie is far from it, even if does have a purposely quaint whiff of eccentric based comedy at times. Based on a true story from the 1880's and made into a popular play in 1940; with Flora Robson in the lead role, it's a story that features insanity, murder and blackmail, all deftly performed within an isolated house out in the misty marsh lands. With George Barne's black and white photography suitably cold and Vidor leaving some indelible images, it's a tip-top production without fuss and filler. Cast perform well, especially Lupino and Lanchester, and although it's inevitably stage bound and features long passages of dialogue, the eerie mood and potent thematics don't suffer or get lost in the mix. It was remade as The Mad Room in 1968 with Stella Stevens slotting into the lead shoes. The hook here is that sane people can do insane things if pushed into a corner, and this notion holds the film upright. Yes it could have been more sinister and daring, but there's ample here for the Gothic/thriller crowd to gorge on. 7.5/10
"Leonora Fiske" (Isobel Elsom) is a retired actress, a kindly soul, who lives in a remote cottage with her companion "Ellen" (Ida Lupino) and her maid. When "Ellen" asks if she might bring her sisters down to stay for a few days, they cause chaos to the old lady's normally ordered life and she asks them all to leave. Lupino has other ideas and is soon running the house as "Fiske" has "gone away". Unbeknown to her, though, her rather roguish distant nephew "Albert" (Louis Hayward) had previously stopped by to visit them whilst she was away, and when he returns to discover the old lady gone and his aunt running the place, he - and the servant "Lucy" (Evelyn Keyes) begin to get suspicious. It's a well directed, well paced crime noir with a strong supporting cast - Elsa Lanchester and Edith Barrett play well as the bonkers sisters; and though the ending is a bit of a let-down, it is still one of those films that has fallen down behind the cushion on the sofa - and is a delight to find again.