#94) The Hitch-Hiker (1953)

the-hitch-hiker-1953

#94) The Hitch-Hiker (1953)

OR “Gas, Grass, or Harass”

Directed by Ida Lupino

Written by Lupino and Collier Young. Adaptation by Robert L. Joseph.

Class of 1998

Defunct Film Company plus Defunct Distribution Studio equals Public Domain Theater!

The Plot: Two buddies from El Centro, California (Edmond O’Brien & Frank Lovejoy) drive to Mexico for a fishing trip in San Felipe. While stopping through Mexicali, they pick up a hitchhiker (William Talman), who turns out to be wanted murderer Emmett Myers. Holding the two men at gunpoint, Myers forces the men to follow his orders and drive to Santa Rosalia, where a ferry (and escape) awaits. Police on both sides of the border try to track Emmett and the men, but will they get to Emmett before he gets to Santa Rosalia?

Why It Matters: Both the NFR write-up and the essay by Film Studies Professor Wheeler Winston Dixon discuss the importance of this being the only film noir directed by a woman.

But Does It Really?: I will say I enjoyed this film quite a bit. “The Hitch-Hiker” is a wonderful example of how you can create a very suspenseful film on a shoe-string budget. The script is very tight, and answers all logical questions that may come up in an exciting and interesting way. The three leads are all well cast, and Ida Lupino proves that good directing is about talent and preparation, and not about gender. It’s not the first on anyone’s top film noir list, but “The Hitch-Hiker” can still more than hold its own over 60 years later.

Everybody Gets One: While making a name for herself as an actor in various studio films of the ‘40s, Ida Lupino paid close attention to the work being done behind the camera, and caught the directing bug. She and then-husband (and “Hitch-Hiker” screenwriter) Collier Young created independent film company The Filmmakers to create more opportunities for Ida when she was between acting gigs. After ghost-directing “Not Wanted” in 1951, “The Hitch-Hiker” was Ida’s first credited film as a director. She helmed a few more films before The Filmmakers ceased production in 1956, but continued to direct (and act) for television well into the early 1970s.

Wow, That’s Dated: Radio as the main news source of the day, “puss” as an alternative to the word “face”. But perhaps most dated is the film’s incredibly lax border patrol.

Seriously, Oscars?: No nominations for “The Hitch-Hiker” at the Oscars or any other awards organization. Not even a Safe Driver Award from the National Safety Council. You try driving that safely while at gunpoint!

Other notes

  • This film is loosely based on the real-life killing spree of Billy Cook. He was in prison when the film was in production, and was executed just three months before “The Hitch-Hiker” was released. Part of this film’s appeal at the time was its “Ripped-from-the-headlines” story that no major studio would dare touch.
  • Surprisingly for one of the few studio films directed by a woman, there are no credited female actors in “The Hitch-Hiker”, and only a few brief uncredited ones that add nothing to the actual story.
  • Ida Lupino and her husband Collier Young divorced just months before production began. Yikes.
  • It took me almost 100 films, but I finally got one of my favorite film tropes; spinning newspaper headlines!
  • William Talman kinda looks like a cross between William Holden and Van Heflin.
  • Of course every time they turn on the radio in this movie it’s a news bulletin about Emmett. Also, that first radio announcer really sounds like Corey Burton.
  • EMMETT IS 28!? Jesus that is a hard 28. For the record, William Talman was 37 during filming.
  • Lifted directly from the real-life Billy Cook, Emmett sleeps with his deformed eye open and it leads to some really suspenseful moments when they camp for the night.
  • How much dramatic tension could have been cut from this film if they had used Google Maps or Siri to give directions?
  • I had never heard of the Chocolate Mountains before this film, but they’re real, and they’re spectacular.
  • This film very briefly features actual Fake News.
  • Jeez, Edmond O’Brien gets knocked out with the slightest tap. I keep expecting a moth to take him down next.
  • A lot of suspense throughout this film, but the climax falls apart just a bit. It doesn’t quite release all of this tension in the right way.
  • While this film doesn’t have a “feminist agenda”, the moral is very clearly “Don’t Lie To Your Wife”.

Legacy

  • As previously mentioned, Ida Lupino continued directing primarily in television. Among her credits are episodes of “The Twilight Zone”, “The Fugitive” and “Gilligan’s Island”.
  • The hitchhiker himself, William Talman found success on the small screen as D.A. Hamilton Burger on “Perry Mason”. After CBS fired him from the show due to his arrest at a party, a surge of fan-mail protest led to him being rehired.
  • I’m going to assume hitchhiking went way down in America after this film came out.

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