This is my entry for my Ida Lupino Centenary Blogathon being held on the 12th of May. There is still time to join if you haven’t already. Click here to sign up and see who is writing about what.
I’m writing about The Hitch-Hiker. This is a film which I consider to be one of Ida Lupino’s finest directorial efforts. I will even go so far as to say I think it may well be the best film that she ever directed.
Ida Lupino was one of the finest actresses of the 1940’s. Ida excelled at playing tough and sexy dames on screen, and she was always a perfect fit in Noir films and thrillers. By the end of that decade she also proved that she had a great amount of talent behind the camera as well. She branched out and became a producer and a writer.
In 1949 she sat in the directors chair for the first time, after she stepped in to replace the director Elmer Clifton on the film Not Wanted. Clifton had become ill and couldn’t continue working on the film. Ida finished off the film for him, but out of respect to him she didn’t take a directors screen credit. Her first official film as a director was Never Fear(1950). Between 1950 and 1953, Ida directed three films including Outrage; this is a very powerful drama about a woman dealing with the aftermath of being raped.
In 1953, Ida turned her attention to true crime and made The Hitch-Hiker. The film is actually classed as a Noir, but I personally don’t consider it to be a Noir film. I’d class it instead as a crime thriller. I always end up on the edge of my seat whenever I watch this film. Ida made sure that this film was crammed with plenty of tension and suspense. It’s a gritty and suspenseful film featuring memorable performances from three of the finest American character actors of this era.
The film also has quite a timeless look about it. The film is mainly shot in a car, and is also shot on location out in the middle of nowhere. I think this helps to give the audience a sense that this event we’re witnessing could happen anywhere, at any time, and in any era. Show this film at the cinema today, and I am sure it would still work for younger viewers and deliver suspense and thrills. The film also serves as a warning to be very wary of who you pick up on the road. I also like how the film denotes the passing of the days by having the men grow stubble and look sweaty and weary.
The film is based upon the real life hitchhiker kill spree of Billy Cook(named Myers in the film). Between 1950 and 1951, Billy Cook murdered six people(including an entire family) between Missouri and California. He was eventually caught and received the death penalty for his crimes. The film was produced through Ida’s production company Filmmakers Inc, which she had set up with her ex-husband, the producer and writer, Collier Young. As well as directing this film, Ida also co-wrote the screenplay along with Collier Young and Robert L. Joseph.
Emmett Myers (William Talman)is a sadistic and dangerous man. He has been going around the country hitching rides and then killing the people who pick him up. He then steals their cars and possessions and heads across country. The film begins with us seeing him murder a young couple in their car. We only see his legs and the murders are not depicted graphically, and yet they come across as real and disturbing. We then see him hitch a lift with a lone man. Next we see that man’s dead body dragged to a roadside.
We then meet the heroes and victims of the film. Friends, Gilbert Bowman(Frank Lovejoy)and Roy Collins(Edmond O’Brien, a regular face in Ida’s films)are heading to Mexico for a fishing trip, and maybe a little fun time with ladies of the night. Picking up Myers after he pretends his car had broken down, the pair soon realise that they should have drove straight past him. Once he’s in the car, he pulls a gun on the pair and controls their every move from then on.
The rest of the film focuses on Gilbert and Roy’s attempts to get away from Myers or try and overpower him and escape. The Police are on the look out for Myers and unbeknown to the three men in the car, the Police are succeeding in getting close to tracking them down.
The story is a cracking one, but it is the performances from the three leads that linger most in the memory when the film is over.
Talman is so frightening as the psychotic Myers. He has a deranged and dead look in his eyes and makes you believe he is a seasoned killer with no remorse for the horrific crimes he commits.
There is a scene where he talks about what led him to be the way he is, and this scene shows us that people are not usually born this way; they become evil and hardhearted due to abuse and mistreatment in their childhood. Myers got a rough hand dealt to him growing up and he snapped and became the way we see him.
Lovejoy is excellent as Gilbert. Watch his face because you can see he is conveying his character trying to think up ways to overpower Myers.
I love his reaction when he nearly gets shot in the head but is spared because the gun misfired; the mixed look of fear, relief and disbelief he shows on his face makes for a powerful moment.
O’Brien is equally good as Roy, and I like that he is a bit more openly afraid of what is going on than Gilbert (who it is mentioned had come out of the army, so perhaps his military experience allows him a better control of his fear) is at times. I love the scene where he is told to stand with the can while Myers shoots at him.
There is some interesting photography in this film too. Nicholas Musuraca was the man behind the camera, he did wonders with shadows and lighting in films including The Spiral Staircase and Cat People. Most of the scenes in The Hitch-Hiker take place in the car, with the three men shot in a mid shot (either seen from the front or from behind) throughout, this style of shooting makes these scenes come across as being very claustrophobic. In the scene where Myers forces Gilbert to shoot at Roy, there is also a terrific point of view shot looking down the barrel of a gun that I think looks awesome.
My favourite scenes are the following. Myers explaining about his eye which never shuts(seriously creepy). The can shooting scene. The opening murders. The scene in the store between Gilbert and the little girl. Myers taking Gilbert and Roy hostage. Roy and Gilbert making a run for it at night.
The film received somewhat mixed reviews upon its release. Now it is rightly regarded as an effective thriller, and is recognised as being a real highpoint in Ida Lupino’s career. Despite all that though I don’t think it has still achieved the praise and fame it actually deserves.
Ida would continue on as a director throughout the next three decades. She would mainly work in TV (and she became the only woman to direct an episode of The Twilight Zone, an episode called The Masks). She was a woman well ahead of her time and her hard work helped pave the way for future women directors. Such a shame that she didn’t get to direct more films in her career.
Sadly as of 2018, there are still too few women sitting in the director’s chair on film sets. I can also think of none off the top of my head who multitask in the industry and work as actresses, writers, directors and producers like Ida did. She was a very multi-talented woman, and she proved that she could more than hold her own in a very male dominated industry. The Hitch-Hiker stands as a reminder of her varied skills behind the camera.
What are your thoughts on this film?