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The Hitch-Hiker (1953)

First and foremost, this Ida Lupino directed feature is a must see for those who haven’t yet taken the time to make an effort to catch up with it. It’s a taut 71 minutes with a trio of actors up to the challenge including Noir poster boy, Edmond O’Brien. Along with Eddie is a well cast Frank Lovejoy and a deliciously, mean spirited performance by William Talman.

Hitch-Hiker begins with a twisted nightmare vision at a time when hikers were commonly on the road. A young couple make the mistake of picking up a killer and are murdered for their kindness. We don’t see the killer’s face but shortly thereafter he’ll leave another man dead along the roadside. It isn’t until a couple fishermen pick him up that we’ll see the face emerge from the shadows of their backseat. It’s a nasty looking Talman sitting behind O’Brien and Lovejoy with a gun in hand.

The pair of fisherman are about to embark on the road trip from hell.

The trio will drift across the border into Mexico with Talman monitoring radio reports along the way on the car radio. From the onset, Talman makes it clear that he’ll pull the trigger on either of them should they make a misstep but as the journey moves along, he’ll take sadistic pleasure in taunting them. Especially O’Brien who takes on a beaten look about him. His spirit is broken with the continual threats and close calls of Talman unleashing a hail of lead upon them.

“You’re beginning to get ideas and I don’t like that.”

With O’Brien convinced he’s a dead man and the car broken down in the Mexican countryside, the trio will begin a long walk that will take them to their destiny’s. The noose is tightening as the journey continues, but on who?

I really don’t want to play spoiler here so will instead focus on the performers and crew. Leading lady Ida Lupino had by this point in her career turned her skills to directing. She’d also score a screenplay credit on this one and would also direct O’Brien in another feature released in ’53, The Bigamist in which she also starred. I think we as fans lost out when realizing Ida never directed another feature film till the 1966 comedy The Trouble With Angels. She did however lend her talent to directing some fine episodes of TV shows like Have Gun Will Travel, Thriller and The Untouchables among many others.

The performances of the three leads are all solid with a psychotic Talman carrying much of the dialogue while Lovejoy and O’Brien are often acting through facial expressions as they attempt to communicate without Talman’s knowledge. I love the fact that as the film moves along the filmmakers were smart enough to let their beards grow out as opposed to the classic Hollywood glamour look. Talman is terrifying,

O’Brien withered and beaten, Lovejoy represents the firm, steady hand that O’Brien will lean on.

  

Truly a great example of independent film making at a time when the major studios were still controlling the bulk of the industry’s releases. The film was co-written by Ida’s husband at the time, Collier Young who curiously married Joan Fontaine after his marriage ended with Ida. The trio all worked on Ida’s The Bigamist that same year. Sounds like a Hollywood story in here somewhere. I also spotted the name Christian Nyby in the opening credits listed as an associate producer. A quick check on my suspicions and YES, he was the credited director on 1951’s The Thing From Another World even though most of us film buffs assume Howard Hawks was the real director on that classic piece of science fiction.

Hopefully my enthusiasm for this black and white thriller shines through and convinces you to seek out a copy via a TCM viewing or perhaps the Kino Lorber release on blu ray that I scored. It’s well worth the 71 minutes of your time and from there, multiple viewings are in order.

16 Comments »

  1. This is a superior film, with its fine acting and unobtrusive direction. Similar in theme are: ‘The Devil Thumbs A Ride’ (1947), (Lawrence Tierney), with its various character studies, and: ‘Jeopardy’ (1953), with Barbara Stanwyck and Ralph Meeker.

  2. Oh how much did I enjoy the Hitch-Hiker. Such a brilliant film isn’t it. He’s so mean and dastardly. The three of them are excellent and what a grand exciting job Ida directs.
    Incidentally I watch Ida in “On Dangerous Ground” with Robert Ryan a few nights back. Cracking film too 🙂

  3. I wanted to squeeze this one in when I was watching nothing but noir in November. I didn’t have time with everything else I was trying to feature that month. But it is still in my queue, as my appreciation for Lupino’s work behind the camera has been growing.

  4. Yes, this one was quite good…and Talman made for a frightening bad guy (especially when sleeping with his eyes open!). And I agree, ‘The Devil Thumbs a Ride’ is worth checking out; some good stuff for such a low-budget film.

  5. I just saw this one and was so impressed with it. It had my attention right from the start with the suspense it conjured up. Lupino’s direction is ace at propelling the story forward and keeping things tense throughout.

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