Ida Lupino’s film noir debut, available free thanks to the Open Culture site. If you don’t know about them — well, there goes your productivity for the day. Books, audio and films galore. The RADA-trained English daughter of a stage comedian became best known for her increasingly dark films, no less than when she turned her own hand to directing. In a genre (still!) typically stereotyped as masculine, Lupino made her own assured way.
The Hitch-Hiker reflects this norm: it’s tightly focused on the three male characters. As the Wikipedia page tells us,
The movie was written by Robert L. Joseph, Lupino, and her husband Collier Young, based on a story by Out of the Past screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring, who was blacklisted at the time and did not receive screen credit. The film is based on the true story of Billy Cook, a psychopathic murderer.
The plot is simple: two pals Roy Collins and Gilbert Bowen (Edmond O’Brien and Frank Lovejoy) go off on a fishing trip and out of the affable goodness in their hearts, pick up a hitchhiker named Emmett Myers (William Talman), who turns out to be a psychopath who has committed multiple murders, which the audience has seen unfurl at the start of the film. The rest is a taut game of cat and mouse between the two men and the sneering killer.
This is your classic MWW (Movie Without Women). There are a few in the background and in conversation: Bowen has left his wife and children behind, but they provide an anchor to his character. He wistfully lays his hand on a small girl in a shop, obviously worried he won’t be able to see his own again. It shapes the overall tension in a way that many might see as influenced by the choices of the female director (i.e. emotions = girly) but what Lupino brings out is an essential human desire for connection.
It’s a great metaphor for the current political polarity in the States: Myers has nothing but scorn for Collins and Bowen, both their desire not to hurt other people and their friendship for each other, which he sees as a weakness. As far as he’s concerned it’s every man for himself (remind you of Republican rhetoric?). His contempt when Bowen stops to help the injured Collins can hardly be contained. Collins rightly snaps back at him that the only security he has is the gun and when he doesn’t have that, he won’t have anything at all. He’s all alone.
For a film noir, there’s an awful lot of sunlight in this picture. Much of the fugitives’ time is spent on blindingly bright deserts. The visual juxtapositions show Lupino’s fascination with the power of the image frame to frame. Good stuff. Well worth your time.
See the roundup of gems over at Todd’s blog.
RIP, the legendary comedy goddess Phyllis Diller