To kick off the female filmmakers series I am doing this February, we have The Hitch-Hiker. Be sure to tune into more female directed movies this month and see if any catch your interest.
- William Talman as Emmett Myers
- Frank Lovejoy as Gilbert Bowen
- Edmond O’Brien as Roy Collins
A taut and very tense noirish thriller from Ida Lupino, The Hitch-Hiker, thanks to her sure hand keeps events ticking over with a real sense of suspense and possible terror. Taking basis from a real-life serial killer and his reign of terror, The Hitch-Hiker keeps you constantly invested and intrigued as events go on.
Friends Gilbert Bowen and Roy Collins are on their way to a fishing trip in Mexico with nothing in the way of eventfulness planned. Little do they realise that their planned fishing trip is about to take a possibly deadly detour. For they come across one Emmett Myers, who they think has just broken down and needs a ride. Offering him a lift, they soon discover he is a wanted criminal who has murdered a number of people who he has hitched a ride off. At gunpoint, Myers forces Gilbert and Roy to take him into Mexico and into the desert filled areas. He is attempting to evade the authorities and wishes to get to the town of Santa Rosalia in hopes of escape. Myers constantly toys with both men, tormenting them with his disregard and hatred for humanity. Both men try to think of ways to escape from the clutches of Myers, but it proves difficult. Chief among the struggle is the fact that Myers has one eye that never closes, making it incredibly hard for Roy and Gilbert to flee. Can both men manage to not be worn down and discover a way to survive what promises to be deadly if they don’t cooperate?
Ida Lupino, who was at the time of the film’s making one of the only female directors in the business, acquits herself well with this unnerving thriller by taking a simple premise and making it gritty and appropriately grim. She taps into the shared fear of strangers and what they could possibly hide or bring to you in unexpected circumstances. As well as this, we get the uneasiness of how events that take place in The Hitch-Hiker could very well happen in real life. Being stopped by someone you don’t know in a place you are unfamiliar with is a very real terror that I’m certain everyone has thought of in their lifetime, enabling The Hitch-Hiker to be all that more successful at the taut vision it is going for. And speaking of real life, The Hitch-Hiker takes influence from a case of murders committed by Billy Cook. He was the man behind a 22 day spree of murder before he was captured and sent to the gas chamber. Knowing that this has influenced the movie itself, we watch as Lupino fashions a claustrophobic noir that instead of featuring a big city, uses the vast deserts of Mexico for its setting. Taking place in the mountainous regions and for the most part in the car that is hijacked, we feel like we’re in just as much of a jam as Gilbert and Roy find themselves in. And even though noir was often seen as a masculine genre, Ida Lupino shows herself to be just as good as her male counterparts in directing. It’s truly great to see a pioneering lady in action behind the camera. And the pace of the film, which clocks in at just 71 minutes, is economical and straight to the point of things in terms of the suspense. The climax may lack that bit of oomph, but everything else is right on the money and very taut. On the visual front, the looming surroundings and the tightness of the car provide ample opportunities for style in the noir fashion. A suitably tense score highlights the uneasiness of both men as they are nearly broke down by Myers and his evil.
Sweaty, sleazy and nasty evil is exuded by William Talman as the eponymous killer. Talman just has something sinister about him right from the first moment we clap eyes on him. This pays dividends as his performance is extremely mercurial and sly; watching him attempt to break the friendship between is genuinely creepy viewing. Frank Lovejoy and Edmond O’Brien underplay things nicely, with a realistic terror and sense of hopelessness, tinged with the possibility for both to save the day if they can. Both actors are stalwart performers who you really believe as regular Joe’s caught in a most alarming and dark situation.
A grim, dark and well-paced movie, The Hitch-Hiker displays the talents of Ida Lupino as a director to be reckoned with.