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USA 1953
Directed by
Ida Lupino
71 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

The Hitch-Hiker

Ida Lupino is credited with being Hollywood’s first female director and particularly in the case of The Hitch-Hiker, the first to tackle the film noir, a genre with which she was very familiar having worked as an actress (often as a tough broad) in some of its best examples such as Raoul Walsh’s They Drive by Night (1940) and High Sierra (1941). It was produced by Lupino and her then-husband, Collier Young, for their company The Filmakers Inc with the intention of making documentary-style realist films with Lupino directing.

Two ex-army buddies, played here by Edmond O'Brien and Frank Lovejoy, on a fishing trip pick up a hitch-hiker (William Talman) on a deserted road who forces them at gunpoint to drive him to Mexico. The script was adapted from a story by Robert Joseph which was in turn based on the latter part of the 1946 novel ‘Build My Gallows High’ by Daniel Mainwaring (under the pseudonym Geoffrey Homes) which had been adapted by Jacques Tourneur in 1947 as the noir classic Out of the Past

In line with their social realist agenda Lupino and Young hybridized the fictional story with the real-life “spree killing” rampage by 22-year-old sociopathic killer William Edward Cook Jr. who murdered six people in the south and south-western regions of the United States including an entire vacationing family in Oklahoma and kidnapped three others in a two-week period between 1950 - 1951. Despite Lupino and Young’s fictionalization distributors, RKO, insisted on the opening titles claiming it to be factual : “This is the true story of a man and a gun and a car….”

Whilst the narrative premise is thriftily lean with extensive location shooting around Lone Pine, California (the same location surrounds used for High Sierra) Lupino doesn’t generate much in the way of tension and the film’s resolution (which,ironically Lupino justified on the basis of realism as it was more or less the way Cook was captured) is a considerable let-down.

The best move Lupino and Young made however was the casting of Talman as the twitchy, wall-eyed killer (Jack Elam would have made a good alternative). O'Brien on the other hand is sorely out of place, not being an actor who can take many close-ups, something  which cinematographer, Nicholas Musuraca, a veteran of Out of the Past as well as noir films such as The Locket (1946) and Clash by Night  (1952)  make much use

FYI:  After her next feature, The Bigamist (1953), Lupino moved to television in which she would have a substantial career.




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