30 Days of Noir #12: The Hitch-Hiker (dir by Ida Lupino)


The intense 1953 film noir, The Hitch-Hiker, begins with news of a murderer at large.

His name is Emmett Myers (William Talman).  He’s the rough-looking man who you might occasionally see standing by the side of the road, asking for a ride with his thumb outstretched.  For me, it only takes one look at Myers’s unfriendly face and his shifty eyes to know that I would never slow down to give him a ride.  However, The Hitch-Hiker takes place in a more innocent era, at a time when everyone wanted to be of help.  Anyone who gives Emmett a ride ends up dead.  He steals their cars and then drives across country, abandoning the car only when he learns that his previous murder has been discovered.  Emmett has hitchhiked from Illinois to Southern California and he’s left a trail of dead bodies behind him.

Roy Collins (Edmond O’Brien) and Gilbert Bowen (Frank Lovejoy) don’t know who Emmett is.  They’ve missed all of the reports about Emmett’s killing spree.  They haven’t read the newspapers, all of which feature a picture of Emmett on the front page and a warning to never pick him up.  Roy and Gilbert have been too busy getting ready for a long-planned fishing trip in Baja California.  When they see Emmett hitchhiking in Mexico, they pull over and offer him a ride.

Unlike other movie hitchhikers, Emmett doesn’t waste any time before revealing who he is.  As soon as he gets in the car, he pulls a gun and tells the two men that they’re going to drive him deeper into Baja California.  He’s got a boat to catch and he says that all the two men have to do is follow orders.  Of course, both Roy and Gilbert know better.  They know that Emmett’s planning on killing them as soon as they arrive at their destination.  In fact, if Emmett learns that the police are looking for the two men, he’ll kill them sooner.  Roy and Gilbert not only have to keep Emmett from flying off the handle but they also have to keep him from discovering that both of them have been reported as being missing.

As the three men drive across California, Emmett continues to taunt his prisoners.  Repeatedly, he points out that the only reason they’re in this situation is because of their loyalty to each other.  As Emmett explains it, if the two men tried to run in opposite directions, Emmett would probably only be able to kill one of them.  If the two men both attacked him, Emmett would again probably only have time to kill one before the survivor subdued him.  Will Roy and Gilbert remains loyal to each other or will they finally embrace Emmett’s philosophy of every man for himself?

Oh, how you’ll hate Emmett Myers!  As played by William Talman, Emmett is not just a criminal but a bully as well.  The enjoyment that he gets out of taunting Roy and Gilbert will make your skin crawl.  Emmett is hardly the type of witty or charming master criminal who often shows up in movies today.  Instead, The Hitch-Hiker emphasizes that Emmett’s an idiot but, because he has the gun, he has the power.  Edmond O’Brien and Frank Lovejoy are also well-cast as the two friends who are forced to choose between survival and loyalty.

The Hitch-Hiker was one of the few films to be directed by a woman in the 1950s.  (It’s generally considered to be the only film noir to have been directed by a woman.)  Ida Lupino was not only an actress but also the only female director in the old Hollywood system and she made several hard-hitting films, the majority of which dealt with the type of issues that mainstream Hollywood was still too scared to handle.  With The Hitch-Hiker, Lupino emphasizes not only Emmett’s cruelty but also the bonds of friendship between Emmett’s two hostages.  Visually, she makes the wide open desert appears as menacing and as dangerous as any shadowy city street.  If urban noirs often suggested that threats could be hiding anywhere, The Hitch-Hiker takes the opposite approach.  The threat is in the back seat of the car and there’s literally no place to hide.

The Hitch-Hiker is an intense film that holds up well today.  Watch it below and never again make the mistake of helping out a stranger.

Cleaning Out the DVR #17: Film Noir Festival 3


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To take my mind off the sciatic nerve pain I was suffering last week, I immersed myself on the dark world of film noir. The following quartet of films represent some of the genre’s best, filled with murder, femme fatales, psychopaths, and sleazy living. Good times!!

I’ll begin chronologically with BOOMERANG (20th Century-Fox 1947), director Elia Kazan’s true-life tale of a drifter (an excellent Arthur Kennedy ) falsely accused of murdering a priest in cold blood, and the doubting DA (Dana Andrews ) who fights an uphill battle against political corruption to exonerate him. Filmed on location in Stamford, CT and using many local residents as extras and bit parts, the literate script by Richard Murphy (CRY OF THE CITY, PANIC IN THE STREETS, COMPULSION) takes a realistic look behind the scenes at an American mid-sized city, shedding light into it’s darker corners.

Andrews is solid as the honest…

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Horror on TV: Thriller 2.1 “What Beckoning Ghost” (dir by Ida Lupino)


For today’s adventure into the world of televised horror, we have another episode of the Boris Karloff-hosted anthology series, Thriller!

In this episode, a concert pianist (Judith Evelyn) is haunted by visions of mysterious piano and the sound of someone playing.  Is she losing her mind, is she being set up, or is her house truly haunted?  This enjoyable episode was directed by actress Ida Lupino.

A Movie A Day #155: Out of the Fog (1941, directed by Anatole Litvak)


When two aging fishermen (Thomas Mitchell and John Qualen) attempt to buy a new boat, they run into a problem with local mobster, Harold Goff (John Garfield).  As Goff explains, if they do not pay him $5.00 a week, something bad could happen to their boat.  When one of the fisherman’s daughter (Ida Lupino) falls in love with Goff, she makes the mistake of letting him know that her father is planning on giving her $190 so that she can take a trip to Cuba.  When Goff demands the money for himself, the fishermen attempt to go to the police, just to be told that there is nothing that the authorities can do.  Goff tricked them into signing an “insurance” contract that allows him to demand whatever he wants.  The two fishermen are forced to consider taking drastic measures on their own.  Out of the Fog is an effective, early film noir, distinguished mostly be John Garfield’s sinister performance as Harold Goff.

Out of the Fog is also memorable as an example of how Hollywood dealt with adapting work with political content during the production code era.  Out of the Fog was based on The Gentle People, a play by Irwin Shaw.  In the play, which was staged by The Group Theater in 1939, Harold Goff was obviously meant to be a symbol of both European fascism and American capitalism.  In the play, the two fisherman had Jewish names and were meant to symbolize those being persecuted by the Third Reich and its allies.  In the transition for stage to film, Jonah Goodman became Jonah Goodwin and he was played by the very talented but definitely not Jewish Thomas Mitchell.   The play ended with Harold triumphant and apparently unstoppable.  Under the production code, all criminals had to be punished, which meant the ending had to be changed.  Out of the Fog is an effective 1940s crime thriller but, without any political subtext, it lacks the play’s bight.

One final note: while Out of the Fog had a good cast, with up and comer John Garfield squaring against old vets Thomas Mitchell and John Qualen, the original Broadway play’s cast was also distinguished.  Along with contemporary film stars Sylvia Sidney and Franchot Tone, the play’s cast was a who’s who of actors and directors who would go on to be prominent in the 1950 and 60s: Lee J. Cobb, Sam Jaffe, Karl Malden, Martin Ritt, and Elia Kazan all had roles.

 

Cleaning Out the DVR Pt 11: Five from the Fifties


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The 1950’s were a time of change in movies. Television was providing stiff competition, and studios were willing to do anything to fend it off. The bigger budgeted movies tried 3D, Cinerama, wide-screen, and other optical tricks, while smaller films chose to cover unusual subject matter. The following five films represent a cross-section of nifty 50’s cinema:

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BORDERLINE (Universal-International 1950; D: William A. Seiter)

BORDERLINE is a strange film, straddling the borderline (sorry) between romantic comedy and crime drama, resulting in a rather mediocre movie. Claire Trevor plays an LAPD cop assigned to Customs who’s sent to Mexico to get the goods on drug smuggler Pete Ritchey (Raymond Burr , being his usual malevolent self). She’s tripped up by Ritchey’s rival Johnny Macklin (Fred MacMurray , channeling his inner Walter Neff), and taken along as he tries to get the dope over the border. What she doesn’t know is he’s also…

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Horror on TV: Thriller 2.17 “La Strega” (dir by Ida Lupino)


For tonight’s excursion into televised horror, we have an episode of Thriller!

This episode is called T and it deals with an artist (Alejandro Rey) who saves a young woman (Ursula Andress) from drowning.  It turns out that the local villagers believe that the woman is a witch.  The artist has no time for superstition and takes the woman back to his home.  She starts as his model and then becomes his lover.  She may not be a witch but her mother (Jeanette Nolan) definitely is…

And, of course, this episode is introduced by the one and only Boris Karloff!

The episode premiered on January 15th, 1962.

Cleaning Out the DVR Pt 9: Film Noir Festival Redux


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Welcome back to the decadently dark world of film noir, where crime, corruption, lust, and murder await. Let’s step out of the light and deep into the shadows with these five fateful tales:

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PITFALL (United Artists 1948, D: Andre DeToth) Dick Powell is an insurance man who feels he’s stuck in a rut, living in safe suburbia with his wife and kid (Jane Wyatt, Jimmy Hunt). Then he meets hot model Lizabeth Scott on a case and falls into a web of lies, deceit, and ultimately murder. Raymond Burr  costars as a creepy PI who has designs on Scott himself. A good cast in a good (not great) drama with a disappointing ending. Fun Fact: The part of Scott’s embezzler boyfriend is played by one Byron Barr, who is not the Byron Barr that later changed his name to Gig Young.  

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THE BRIBE (MGM 1949, D:Robert Z. Leonard) Despite an…

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