Roy Collins (Edmond O’Brien) and Gilbert Bowen (Frank Lovejoy) are on the road in Arizona ready to enjoy a leisurely fishing trip when they happen upon a stranger on the side of the road. Being the nice guys that they are they pick up Emmett Myers (William Talman) offering him a lift to the nearest gas station. Unfortunately Myers wants more than that and forces the pair to drive him to Mexico or else!
Collins and Bowen lives are at the mercy of this dangerous hitch-hiker who has already killed before and is willing to do anything to avoid capture by the dragnet closing in around him. Escape seems impossible for everyone in this car. Will our fishing buddy heroes manage to outsmart their armed adversary or end up on his list of victims?
Clocking in at 71 minutes, The Hitch-Hiker is a quintessential example of a quality B picture. It’s definitely on the higher end of the low-budget second features that were attached to the more popular main features back in the day.
I occasionally get jealous thinking about all the offerings movie audiences used to get with one movie ticket. That ticket bought them newsreels, cartoons, a main feature, a B-feature, it was a whole afternoon or evening of entertainment! I’d take all that over any overpriced 3D movie any day!
The story was loosely based on real events and it does feel somewhat formulaic after years of similar films using this plot. At the time it must of packed more of a punch than today enlightening audiences with the idea of ‘you never know who you might run into’. But that’s not to say it’s still not an effective well-made little thriller.
O’Brien and Lovejoy are both good as the pair of average guys who suddenly find themselves at the other side of this killers gun. You like the pair and want to see them make it out of this alive.
It’s Talman who’s the real star as the creepy and arrogant Myers. He’s a despicable character who start to enjoy provoking his two new traveling companions and mocking them the entire drive.
One amusing anecdote and proof of how convincing Talman was in the role was an encounter had shortly after The Hitch-Hiker came out. He was driving his convertible in Los Angeles, was stopped at a red light when another car pulled up along side him. The other driver looked over at him, stared momentarily and then asked him, “You’re the hitchhiker right?”. Tasman nodded. The other driver got out of his car, went over to Talman and slapped him across the face.
Recalling the story, Talman said, “You know, I never won an Academy Award, but I guess that was about as close as I ever will come to one.”
It’s a tightly made film that never lets up on the tension. Rather than the dark city streets, this noir uses bright desert landscapes to isolate the characters and it doesn’t look like hope will come from anywhere to save them. Every opportunity the pair have to escape or get the upper hand is undone by the always watchful Myers.
There are few moments that fall somewhat flat. One of the gimmicks is that Myers has an eye injury and sleeps with his eye open, thus Collins and Bowen literally always have Myers watching them.
It’s a neat idea and again keeps that tension up and cuts off another chance of escape from him. But it doesn’t really play out in any unique or special ways. Also the ending I thought was rushed and wasn’t as satisfying as I had hoped after the long suspenseful drive.
The Hitch-Hiker was directed by Ida Lupino, an actress who gradually ventured into directing. The movie has the honor of being the first American mainstream film noir directed by a woman. Had I not read that I would never have known it.
From watching this I would have thought the movie would have been seen as a real example of her directing talents and led to more and bigger directing jobs, but that doesn’t seem to be what happened. Other than directing a few more projects – mostly television episodes, Lupino appeared to get back to acting for the rest of her career.
I can’t say I proclaim it as a classic or that it’s one of my favorite low-budget noirs (I hesitate using the term noir for The Hitch-Hiker, I feel it’s more like a suspenser). I enjoy Detour, The Narrow Margin and Gun Crazy much more, but for what it was I thought it was a nice surprise. It’s an effective thriller for most of its running time with a very nasty bad guy at the center of it.
Curious? Forget just watching the trailer – why not watch the whole movie!