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Mark Hellinger, associate producer at Warner Bros., was impressed by Lupino's performance in The Light That Failed, and hired her for the femme fatale role in the Raoul Walsh-directed They Drive by Night (1940), opposite stars George Raft, Ann Sheridan and Humphrey Bogart.
She wanted to be a writer, but in order to please her father Lupino enrolled in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts aged 13, and went on to excel in a number of "bad girl" film roles, often playing prostitutes.
After this performance, she began to be taken seriously as a dramatic actress.
As a result, her parts improved during the 1940s, and she jokingly referred to herself as "the poor man's Bette Davis", taking the roles that Davis refused.
Lupino made her first film appearance in The Love Race (1931) and the following year, aged 14, she worked under director Allan Dwan in Her First Affair, in a role for which her mother had previously tested.
She played leading roles in five British films in 1933 at Warner Bros.' Teddington studios and for Julius Hagen at Twickenham, including in The Ghost Camera with John Mills and I Lived with You with Ivor Novello.