Ladies in Retirement is a 1941 American film noir directed by Charles Vidor, and starring Ida Lupino and Louis Hayward. It is based on a 1940 Broadway play of the same title by Reginald Denham and Edward Percy which starred Flora Robson in the lead role.
Ellen Creed, a proud spinster fallen on hard times, has been housekeeper/companion to her old friend Miss Leonora Fiske, a wealthy retiree who in her youth had been a chorus girl “of easy virtue”, for about two years. Lucy is a maid who has also been there for some time. Ellen gets a letter one day about her two sisters, both of whom are a bit peculiar. The letter says that unless she can get them under control, the police will be called and they will be evicted from their flat for outlandish behavior. Ellen asks Miss Fiske if her sisters can visit and she says yes.
One day when Ellen’s away, a handsome young stranger called Albert Feather turns up, claiming to be Ellen’s nephew. He is in need of money so Miss Fiske goes to her hiding place and lends him some. He makes her promise not to tell Ellen that he borrowed money or that he was even there. She agrees.
Ellen returns with her sisters, who wear out their welcome quickly. They are a burden to Miss Fiske and Lucy. Miss Fiske eventually complains to Ellen, pointing out that two days have turned into six weeks. They are wrecking her things and her nerves. Finally, Miss Fiske orders them out, ignoring the pleas of Ellen, who dreads their being sent to an institution. Ellen snaps. She strangles Miss Fiske to death.
Ellen tells visitors and Lucy that Miss Fiske is traveling. She tells her sisters she bought the house and makes them swear on a bible that they will never talk about Miss Fiske or that she sold the house to anyone. Both sisters swear.
The neighbor nuns come in a terrible storm to borrow something. Ellen sends Lucy to the shed to get it. She is surprised there by Albert. She had a flirtation with Albert the first time he was at the Fiske home. He flirts with her again and asks her to promise not to tell Ellen he has been there before, asks her not to say anything about him being there in the shed. He says he wants to come to the front door and enter there. Lucy giddily agrees.
Albert tells Ellen he needs help and a place to stay because he is a thief wanted by the law. Ellen wants none of it. To avoid undue attention to the living situation at the Fiske home, she buys him a boat ticket out of the country and says she will give him some money to get started in the new country.
Albert and Lucy find evidence that Ellen is hiding something about Miss Fiske. They find Miss Fiske’s wig, wondering why she didn’t travel with it. Albert intercepts a letter from the bank, asking why Miss Fiske’s signature on a check is so much different than the one they have on file. He reads the blotter after Ellen writes back to them about a “sprained wrist”. Lucy isn’t quite smart enough to figure out what is going on. But Albert is definitely figuring it out.
Albert seduces Lucy. He tries to steal the hidden money, but fails to find it. He deduces what Ellen must have done. He gets Lucy to sit at the piano, playing Miss Fiske’s favorite song, wearing a wig with her back to Ellen, who screams at the sight of her and faints. The wagon arrives in the morning to take Albert to the boat. But he has decided to stay and try to blackmail his aunt so he can have an easy life in the country. He confronts Ellen and she confesses. He talks about his own crimes. Lucy overhears them and flees the house. The neighbor nuns come to the door and Albert hides. The nuns tell Ellen the police are looking for a man who fits Albert’s description and leave. Albert comes out of hiding and tells Ellen she had better make a run for it too. She demures. Albert takes the ticket and money from her and leaves. Ellen’s sisters return from their walk and tell Ellen they saw Albert playing tag with 2 men and they caught him. Ellen smiles and dons her coat and hat. Her sisters ask if she will be back soon and she smiles and says she doesn’t know. She is seen walking out on the road, into the fog.