Hitch-Hiker, The (1953)

“You guys are going to die, that’s all — it’s just a question of when.”

HitchHiker Poster

Synopsis:
Two pals (Edmond O’Brien and Frank Lovejoy) on a fishing vacation in Mexico make the mistake of picking up a homicidal hitch-hiker (William Talman).

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Review:
Helmed by one of the few female directors of her era (Ida Lupino), this no-holds-barred thriller begins on a tense note and maintains a high level of suspense throughout its 71-minute running time. After watching cleverly shot and edited opening sequences of a faceless hitch-hiker murdering two sets of victims (Talman gives an eerily effective performance as “Emmett Myers”, based on real-life Billy Cook), we’re introduced to O’Brien and Lovejoy, who casually pick up Talman without a second thought. Talman is hidden in shadows in the back seat until we’re finally given a glimpse of his face — which would be somewhat menacing under any circumstances, but is especially so given his paralyzed right eye. Because Talman is indubitably a cold-blooded psychopath with no scruples whatsoever, we’re kept in as much terror and suspense as the two luckless fishing buddies. O’Brien and Lovejoy’s performances are spot-on as well: we can see the wheels turning in their heads as they debate on a moment-to-moment basis what risks they can take (or not) in their perilous situation, as their masculinity and sense of agency are repeatedly debased. The screenplay — co-written by Lupino and her producer-husband Collier Young, and based on a story by blacklisted author Daniel Mainwaring, who wrote Out of the Past (1948) — is peppered with multiple tension-filled moments for possible violence, as well as various refreshing encounters with respectfully-presented Mexican citizens. Nick Musuraca’s atmospheric cinematography is a definite highlight as well.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Strong performances by all leads
    Hitch-Hiker Actors
    Hitch-Hiker Talman
  • Nick Musuraca’s cinematography
    Hitch-Hiker Cinematography2
  • A consistently tense, finely directed script: “My folks were tough. When I was born, they took one look at this puss of mine and told me to get lost.”

Must See?
Yes, as a nifty little thriller. Be sure to catch this one!

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One Response to “Hitch-Hiker, The (1953)”

  1. A once-must, as a unique and unlikely film by a female director (especially of the period).

    Overall, this isn’t a particular favorite of mine – BUT it is nevertheless quite interesting thanks to Lupino’s direction and the performances.

    I’m a little stumped as to why the innocent men here are held captive for so long, or even why at all. In the first murders we see, the killer gets what he wants out of the situation quickly and leaves the bodies. But then, with his new captives, he decides to slowly terrorize them. Why the different approach? Wouldn’t it be easier for his purposes to just kill them and take their car? It seems that he doesn’t do that just so there will be a story.

    I particularly like the sequences in which the Spanish language comes into play. What’s unique there is that – in most films – either the non-English language would be subtitled or everyone in the cast would just speak English, whether that’s believable or not. Here there are occasional scenes largely in Spanish and we’re left with a natural sense of that’s what it would be like when a situation takes a sudden turn and not everyone in it understands English.

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