Ladies in Retirement (1941)

Article #661 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-5-2003
Posting Date: 6-4-2003

A servant with two dotty sisters murders her employer when she threatens to throw them out of the house.

With a title like LADIES IN RETIREMENT, I wouldn’t be surprised at anyone passing the movie by under the belief that it was some sort of woman’s comedy. It is actually a gothic thriller; it’s not a horror movie, though it does have a certain touch of horror in the plot (involving a “ghost” at one point in the proceedings), but gothic thrillers do have certain similarities with horror movies; in fact, the opening scene of the decrepit house surrounded by ground fog would be perfectly in place in a horror film. In some ways this movie reminds me of NIGHT MUST FALL, with many similar characters and situations and based on a stage play as that one was. However, I find this one less self-consciously poetic; in fact, I was enthralled by it. The key is in the characters; they are an interesting and at times an unpredictable bunch. Ida Lupino is great in the lead role, but her two sisters (one dotty, the other hostile played by Edith Barrett and Elsa Lanchester respectively) steal the movie; they are definitely loose cannons, and when Lupino gets them to swear on a bible (a great scene), you know for sure that any secret they’ve promised to keep will come out before the movie is over. Yes, it is a bit stagey and talky, but the acting and the characters make it work, and I found myself really caught up in the whole thing. Chalk this one up as another find.


  1. Thanks for the review. My husband and I saw this movie last night and loved it. He found it because it was referenced in a review of another movie we’d seen, 1969’s The Mad Room — apparently both films are based on the same source material. This was the better of the two films, although Shelley Winters gives a nice performance in The Mad Room as the wealthy homeowner.

    It is often difficult to find reviews of older movies. So I am appreciative that you took the time with this one.

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