The Hitch-Hiker (1953)

“You’ve always had it good, so you’re soft.”

The Hitch-Hiker directed by actress Ida Lupino is labeled film noir, and it’s included in many compendium DVD sets. But even so, after finally watching the film, I think it’s a stretch to call it ‘noir’–for one thing this film suffers from the lack of one of those really evil film noir female characters. And at least for this film noir fan, those evil women are one of the greatest aspects of film noir. Not that the absence of a femme fatale means a film can’t be noir, but I think the Hitch-Hiker is more a crime film than anything else.

The plot of The Hitch-Hikeris simple–two married men escape from their wives for a fishing trip. On their way to Mexico, they stop and pick up a hitch-hiker. As luck would have it, the hitch-hiker, Emmett Meyers (William Talman) is an escaped killer who’s hitched and killed his way south of the border. Meyers plays twisted cat-and-mouse games with the two men–even using them for target practice at one point. Meyers is a sinister figure whose paralyzed eyelid translates into an inability to close that lid when sleeping, so that his captives can’t tell if he’s asleep or staring right at them.

One of the more interesting aspects of the film is the resentment Meyers has towards the two men–mechanic Roy Collins (Edmond O’Brien) and draughtsman Gilbert Bowen (Frank Lovejoy). Meyers identifies with his two victims in a sense–they’re about the same age, etc. But Bowen and Collins are decent fellows who are fiercely loyal to each other. Meyers–a career criminal–is a loner, an outsider who despises Collins and Bowen for their respectable lives.

The film’s first few scenes are tense, but that sense of tension is lost as the film wears on. There are attempts to create tension as Meyers herds his captives through certain encounters (in the small Mexican market, for example), but the level of tension is merely lukewarm. The film remains a fairly mediocre crime drama focusing on the dilemma of the hostages weighing a decision to cooperate and perhaps live–or escape–even if it means dying in the attempt.

I’d read many positive reviews of the film, but to me it’s a mediocre film. I have the Alpha DVD. The print is decent–a couple of white splotches appear on a few occasions, and there are no extras.

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Filed under Film Noir

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