As an actress, Ida Lupino appeared in over 50 films, including films like “High Sierra” and “The Hard Way.” But in the late 40’s, she and her husband began a production company which turned out a variety of low-budget dramas. On her first production, “Not Wanted,” she took the reigns from director Elmer Clifton when he suffered a heart attack part way through filming. She would end up directing her company’s other six films, including today’s movie…1951’s “Hard, Fast and Beautiful.”
The film focuses on up-and-coming tennis player Florence Farley (Sally Forrest). She spends much of her time practicing by hitting a tennis ball into numbered squares on her parents’ garage. One day while practicing, Florence meets Gordon McKay (Robert Clarke), a studly young man who works at the local country club. With his position, he is able to get Florence into the club to play tennis. Her skills quickly gain the attention of several of the well-to-do folks at the club who are anxious to sponsor her in tournaments.
This all thrills Florence’s overbearing mother, Millie (Claire Trevor). She has sworn that she is going to make sure her daughter has the life she never had and constantly reminds her poor husband (Kenneth Patterson) about his lack of drive. But now, with things going her way, dear old Mom begins to manipulate Florence’s career. This includes allowing a smarmy tennis promoter, Fletcher Locke (Carleton G. Young) to help steer Florence’s future.
But, now there’s a problem…just when Florence’s star is on the rise, she and Gordon are itchin’ to get married. Mommie dearest isn’t so thrilled about this. Florence is about to embark on a European tennis tour and mother has grown less thrilled with Gordon after learning that he is not from a wealthy family. By the way, poor old dad has been left at home all this time while Mom lives it up on the tennis tour and acts flirty with Fletcher. So, Mom tells Florence that she and Gordon can get married in Europe, and that Gordon can accompany the tour doing menial jobs. She knows that Gordon’s pride will not go along with this plan…and he ends up breaking off the engagement.
Now, Florence begins a downward spiral into depression and alcoholism. She becomes the bad girl of the tennis world. But Gordon hasn’t completely given up on her and there is hope that true love will win the match.
The title sure makes this movie sound more scandalous than it actually is. Though not anything extraordinary, it does have some good drama and a few standout performances. Sally Forrest is well cast as the naive Florence, but Claire Trevor as the demon mother is definitely the highlight. She’s sneaky and conniving, but not just outright evil. She has the best of intentions, but doesn’t realize her own selfish motives. She makes an effective villain.
My main problems with the film come from it not going far enough. This is a B-drama from 1951, so there are limits to what they could do. And at a compact 76 minutes in length, there’s not much time. But the film could’ve been a lot more effective had certain elements of the story been allowed to go a bit further. For example, there are hints that Florence’s mom may be having an affair with Fletcher Locke. After all, she’s staying in fancy hotels halfway around the globe, while her husband becomes sickly back home. Had this element of the story been played up more, it may have made Florence’s breakdown later on more powerful. While we’re on that subject, I wish the filmmakers had done more with Florence’s deteriorating mental state as well. As it is, it comes on very abruptly and is resolved a bit too quickly as well. It’s a missed opportunity that could’ve paid off in big ways.
Still, the film is enjoyable enough, helped by a solid villain. Who knew amateur tennis had such a seedy underbelly?