Seventy years ago today, the film The Hitch-Hiker premiered. A classic well-received noir film directed and written by Ida Lupino. The full video is available on YouTube. You should watch this movie.
Title: The Hitch-Hiker
Directed by: Ida Lupino
Produced by: Collier Young
Screenplay by: Ida Lupino, Collier Young
Starring: Edmond O’Brien, Frank Lovejoy, William Talman
Music by: Leith Stevens
Cinematography: Nicholas Musuraca
Edited by: Douglas Stewart
Production Companies: The Filmakers Inc., RKO Radio Pictures
Distributed by: RKO Radio Pictures
Release date: March 21, 1953
Running time: 71 minutes
Country: United States
A man hitchhikes on the side of a highway and is picked up by a passing car. His face is not shown and we see the car abandoned with two bodies being robbed by the hitchhiker. The man, his face still not shown, repeats the pattern and kills and robs again. Newspapers announce a “Hitch-Hike Killer” and publish a photo of the main suspect – Emmett Myers. On the last killing Emmett also steals the car.
Two men, Roy Collins and Gilbert Bowen (Edmond O’Brien and Frank Lovejoy) from El Centro, California, are driving in their new Plymouth Cranbrook Belvedere toward a planned fishing trip at the Mexican town of San Felipe on the Gulf of California. Just south of Mexicali, they pick up the hitchhiker, who announces himself as Emmett Myers (William Talman), and draws a gun on them. The car he stole has run out of gas. Myers is the psychopath who has committed multiple murders while hitch-hiking between Illinois and Southern California, and has managed to slip into Mexico at Mexicali. To evade the pursuing authorities, Myers forces the two men at gunpoint to journey deep into the heart of the Baja California Peninsula, toward the town of Santa Rosalía, where he plans to take a ferry across the Gulf of California to Guaymas.
In one very dramatic scene, for Emmett’s amusement, he forces the two men to enact a William Tell style trick shot: one friend holding a beer can in his hand and the other shooting it out of his hand with a rifle, while Emmett holds a pistol to his head.
Justifiably in fear of losing their lives, the men try to plot their escape from the violent and psychopathic Myers. They try tactics such as sabotaging their car and leaving clues (like an engraved wedding ring) at various points on their journey. One man badly twists his ankle during an escape attempt. The sadistic Myers physically and mentally torments the men, forcing them to continue on foot and mocking their loyalty to each other by claiming that they could have escaped separately if they embraced Myers’ each-man-for-himself ethos.
Law enforcement’s tracking of Myers is covered extensively on the radio and the criminal is intent on listening. In an attempt to protect the two innocent men, the police purposely alter information to suggest they think Myers is still in the United States.
Arriving at Santa Rosalía, Myers tries to conceal his identity by forcing one of the men to wear his clothes. Myers, upon discovering that the regular ferry to Guaymas has burned, hires a fishing boat. However, while he is awaiting the fisherman, locals discover his status as a wanted murderer and contact authorities. Police surround the pier and take him into custody after some initial confusion over Myers’ identity, and a brief scuffle during which he is revealed to be a coward.
The film ends with the weary friends agreeing to give statements to police.
Ida Lupino was the first woman to have a director’s contract with a major studio. She proved her talent and versatility by directing a movie whose very theme was the exact opposite of what a “female” would have been expected to direct. She did a brilliant job.
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