Aug 2, 2011

The Ida Lupino Blogathon: Search for Beauty (1934)

This post is my entry in the Ida Lupino Blogathon. Check out the other entries here at Ida Lupino

Search for Beauty (1934) was Ida Lupino’s first Hollywood movie, but it wasn’t meant to be. Paramount had planned to give Lupino a big build up in the title role of its all-star production of Alice in Wonderland. When the young starlet arrived from the United Kingdom, the studio realized she was much too sophisticated for the part of young Alice.

The movie she did make could hardly have been more different. Its plot fits well into the pre-code era. Search for Beauty is about a trio of con artists who convince a pair of Olympic athletes to edit their health and exercise magazine, which is actually a front for a racier mag with juicy stories and photos. Lupino is one of the athletes, and it isn’t a great role. She’s there to be cute and earnest, and she is.

Lupino’s look in this flick is a starlet version of Jean Harlow. You almost can’t recognize her under the platinum curls and the plucked, eternally astonished eyebrows. She still speaks with a British accent on screen which makes her foreign in more ways than one. When I first saw her in the role I thought "Who is this?"

Though Lupino had enough spunk for the pre-code age, it didn’t give her the means to demonstrate what made her special. She came upon that in the forties, when her voice began to get smoky, and she restored her naturally dark hair color. Her wistful, but steely persona fit the somber mood of the film noirs that sprouted during the era.

Fortunately, Ida knew how to take care of herself. For a while she was homesick, and despaired of ever finding a decent part, but by the end of the decade, she had established herself as a powerful leading lady.

In 1939, she was something more than the damsel in distress in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Then she stole a script for The Light That Failed and insisted upon an audition, which won her the juicy part of Bessie, a streetwalker. Finally she blew everyone away with an intense, crazed performance in They Drive by Night (1940).

I’ve often wondered what would have happened to Lupino if her role in Search for Beauty had been a blueprint for her career, rather than a starting point. Would she have been that charming, but dull starlet until she faded away? I tend to think she would have. Ida Lupino was a smart gal, and she became the artist we love today because she was determined to make her own opportunities. That makes me love her even more.

Here are a couple more of my posts about Lupino:

Guest post about Ida on Silents and Talkies

A Tribute in Song: Ida Lupino by Carla Bley

Image Source: Classic Film Scans


  1. Ida as Alice in Wonderland. I'd definitely like to see that.

    Haven't seen this one but I'll keep an eye out for it because a lot of Ida's early roles aren't all that accessible (the earliest one I've seen is Peter Ibbetson, and that was when AMC still showed movies in black-and-whte). Ida's one of the reasons why The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is my favorite entry in the Rathbone-Bruce series.

  2. This isn't the best of all Ida's movies and I don't it was a very good debut for her. Paramount could have come up with something better, but they didn't. I don't think they knew what to do with her at the studio. She was too mature for the kids roles, yet not quite old enough for the full-on adult roles.

    I really enjoyed your review! Thank you for participating in the blogathon!

  3. Ivan--Universal has a great (and decently-priced) pre-code box set that has Search for Beauty. That's actually the weakest flick in the pack, the rest of the movies are much more interesting. I'm the same way about that particular Holmes. She made it more human that the other movies in the series.

    Missidalupino--I didn't find this one very good either. It surprises me that it gets so much praise. That's why I admire Lupino so much though. This must have been a discouraging start after being enticed to Hollywood with big promises. She could have easily just gone home, but she made the situation work.

    Thanks for putting this on. I enjoyed writing the post. Now I need to go read the other posts!

  4. KC, excellent coverage of a movie I can't stand. Probably my least favorite pre-code I've seen, and I've seen some bad ones. This one combines bad with annoying. I'm thinking of needles in my eyes. I love how you used it as an opportunity to move into the beginning of Ida's peak. It really is amazing what five years can do, huh?

  5. Cliff--Thanks! I actually went into this thinking I would comment on what I liked about the movie, but then I realized I thought it was total crap. I don't know why I forgot that. Then I realized how much I admired Lupino for pulling herself out of that kind of role. I didn't think I could love the woman more, but I do!