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Film / The Hard Way (1943)

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Helen's manipulations currently at work.

The Hard Way (1943) is a melodrama starring Ida Lupino, Joan Leslie, Dennis Morgan, and Jack Carson. The film was directed by Vincent Sherman.

Helen (Lupino) has raised her sister, Katie (Leslie), to want more out of life than the boring small-town dread of Greenhill. Their chance for escape comes when Katie falls for vaudevillian, Albert Funkel (Carson). Although not exactly where they’d like to end up, Helen knows that this is the break they’ve been looking for to finally have something in life.

Both sisters leave and Katie joins Funkel’s double act alongside his partner, Paul Collins (Morgan). Paul sees right through Helen’s machinations and detests her for them. She, however, is unbothered and continues to plot her sister’s stardom. Through Helen’s careful planning and cold manipulation, she convinces her sister to leave Funkel and chase Broadway.


Katie soon works her way up the ranks with her talents and her sister’s skill at creating opportunities. Unfortunately, several painful incidents occur to make this dazzling lifestyle less than perfect for Katie, and she begins to doubt Helen’s motivations for bringing her into this life.

Not to be confused with the 1990s film of the same name.

This film shows the following tropes:

  • Ambition Is Evil: The overall moral of the film.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Helen’s marriage was solely out of convenience to give her and Katie a roof over their heads.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Between Helen and Paul. She clearly has a thing for him, but he sees through all her ruses. He's impressed by her strategies but finds her too cold and calculating for his taste.
  • Big Brother Worship: Katie adores Helen and rarely sees any fault in her tactics.
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  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Although they’re sisters, Helen acts like Katie’s mother, and in the beginning of the film, Katie is disappointed that she has to wear a cheap rayon dress rather than the 8-dollar white dress she wanted for graduation.
  • The Caretaker: Being left orphans at a very young age, Helen becomes Katie’s mother figure and raises her.
  • Coattail-Riding Relative: Helen could be considered one. She does however show an extreme knack for business and strategizing her sister’s rise which takes hard work and ambition.
  • Double Act: Paul and Albert’s vaudeville act. It’s middling, but Katie is entranced when she sees them do their act.
  • Downer Ending: Helen succumbs to her injuries and dies.
  • Driven to Suicide: Two examples:
    • Albert kills himself when Katie tells him that he’s ruining her opportunity to become a star after he embarrasses her while she's networking with Hollywood bigwigs.
    • After Katie tells Helen that she never wants to see her again, Helen jumps into the ocean.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: After one night, Albert and Katie are married. However, it really seems like there was genuine affection between them.
  • Hard-Drinking Party Girl: After Albert’s suicide, Katie turns to drinking and parting to salve her pain.
  • How We Got Here: The film begins In Media Res as Helen jumps into the ocean, and the policemen that find her wonder why such a rich woman would try and kill herself. In the hospital, Helen flashbacks into why she attempted suicide.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Paul is a cad through and through, but he does genuinely fall in love with Katie and wants her to leave Helen for good.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Helen is this to a T. She causes rife between Paul and Albert by manipulating Albert into believing Paul thinks he’s better than him. Paul is too smart to be manipulated by her and sees through her machinations all the time. Albert, however, is not as smart and falls to them every time. Katie is a victim as well since Helen manipulates her into leaving Albert to finally become a star and also tries to spin his suicide as a sign of his weakness and how he was bringing her down.
  • Ms. Fanservice: When Katie is added to the act, she really doesn’t do much other than be the pretty face who dances with both men.
  • Pet the Dog: Even though she is ruthlessly ambitious, it’s clear that Helen is an extremely lonely and sad individual. She truly lives through her sister’s success and doesn’t seem to be quite happy with herself and all that they’ve achieved in such a short time. When Paul cruelly shows her feigned attention, she jumps for it, showing the depth of her loneliness.
  • Pretty in Mink: Helen is wearing a white sable coat when she attempts suicide, and the cops that find her ask why someone with money to spare would decide to kill themselves.
  • Promotion to Parent: When their parents die, Helen takes care of Katie.
  • Rags to Riches: From the gutters of Greenhill to stars on Broadway, the sisters really have a Cinderella story.
  • Stage Mom: Helen is this to Katie to a certain degree. It’s clear in the beginning that Katie wants everything that comes with fame and is determined to become a star. However, once she begins to have doubts, Helen has to push her and forces her into a dramatic role. This leads to disastrous results, and Katie ruins opening night effectively killing her career and Helen's.
  • Stage Name: Albert is hurt to find that Katie is working under her maiden name rather than her married name.
  • Vicariously Ambitious: Helen. She schemes and plans for Katie by finding her ways into the business, by choosing the best parts for her, and by motivating her to do everything she says to get on top. Helen has no interest in being a star herself nor considers herself to have any talent for acting.
  • White-Dwarf Starlet: Helen’s manipulates the former Broadway star into getting drunk, ruining her number while in front of the producer, and giving Katie her chance to star in her first musical. The former starlet complains about her dramatic fall from being leading actress to secondary character with a pitiful number.