The Hitch-Hiker (1953)

February 16, 2009 § Leave a comment

Director Ida Lupino — an early woman filmmaker who got into directing because a director fell ill and she was on the set as an actor — crafts an impressive story here based on a real-life 1950 story.  Billy Cook murdered six people before taking two men as kidnap victims on a ride to Mexico, where he hoped to escape but was captured. The psychopathic hitchhiker in this film is named Emmett Myers, and portrayed by William Talman. His performance is the best thing about the film — he seems like resentment personified as he prods the two men along, and terrifically creepy as he sleeps with one damaged eye literally open and directed at the two men.

A lot of the shock value has been lost in more than fifty years, and the violence is too clean to be terribly believable, a bit like the violence in old Westerns where people can shoot guns out of each other’s hands.  I do wonder if it was considered a little tastless to produce the film three years after six people were killed, even with all the names changed. Thankfully, Lupino takes the time to make all the characters seem human, even Emmett Myers, though he’s clearly damaged beyond hope of repair.  There’s also an impressive scene where the car was apparently filmed by another one ahead of it with a camera on a trailer, so we’re able to follow it over bumps and down small hills. It’s enough to make you wish for more innovative moments, but Lupino has done extremely well, encouraging strong performances in an engaging film. The only disappointment is the somewhat abrupt ending.  Just how deep do the phychological scars go after spending days captured by Myers? We’re not quite sure, the men get a couple of lines and limp away into the tall shadows so often found in film noir.

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