The Hitch-Hiker (1953)
I don’t know how many noir films were directed by women in the 50s, but I’d guess not many. Ida Lupino is in control here, both directing and co-screenwriting. A scream, a gunshot, spinning newspapers declaring a hitch-hiking murderer is on the loose, responsible for a string of bodies left in the shadowy roadside dirt. It’s a near flawless set up, cutting to the chase in a thrifty five minutes. Roy (Edmond O’Brien) and Gilbert (Frank Lovejoy) are off for a fishing trip. They’re heading quite a way and into the night. It’s not long before they pick up Emmett Myers (William Talman) and not long until he points a gun at them. The fishing trip is off and we’re headed to Mexico. It’s black and white of course, but you can sense the burnt orange dust. Emmett is intent on having some fun though. He’s headed for freedom, trying to outrun the cops. He fancies himself as a smart guy. The cops know who he is, but they can’t catch him and he’s got plenty of time to tease Roy and Gilbert. He’s going to kill them he says, but when he’s ready. They have to bide their time as the dramatic score builds the tension. It’s a great trio. Roy the slightly braver one, waiting for a chance. Gilbert much more sensitive, but smarter. Emmett, the angry loose cannon, complete with a lazy eye that’s used to make him appear more of an outsider. Not a very modern take, but I guess things were different in the 50s. I’m still a little intrigued as to why Roy and Gilbert were driving so far to go fishing. I have my own thoughts, but the closing scene does put this in a rather progressive light... again this being the 50s. Things are heating up though as the police (both American and Mexican working together) close in and Emmett’s cool begins to slip. He’s close, so close, but with cars breaking down and ferries catching fire. Will he make it and more importantly, will Roy and Gilbert. There’s no chafe, every shot is functional, no need for distractions or extraneous back story. It’s sleek and simple with some lovely cinematography. Ida went on to direct more in TV. On the strength of this though it’s a shame she didn’t get more opportunities in film.