AFI Fest 2016 Review: The Hitch-Hiker (1953)

My favorite aspect of AFI Fest is that along with the new films competing for awards and those by up-and-comers they present older films under the banner of Cinema’s Legacy. One of the nine this year is director Ida Lupino’s The Hitch-Hiker, frequently referred to as a film noir but I would classify it more as crime thriller.

The film opens saying “This is a true story of a man and a gun and a car,” immediately adding intrigue before the credits roll. The titular character appears, though his face is not shown, and murders a couple who had given him a ride. Two Californians, Roy Collins (Edmond O’Brien) and Gilbert Bowen (Frank Lovejoy), head to San Felipe, Mexico for a fishing trip. They stop to give a lift to Emmett Myers (William Talman), only to discover after he kidnaps them that he is a murderer who has left a trail of bodies on his way to Mexico.

Emmett is a sadistic nut and torments the men with taunts and gunfire. He has an irregular right eyelid that makes it look as if that eye is always open. Gilbert is the more practical of the two victims not wanting to upset Emmett while Roy looks for moments to either escape or attack. They plot ways to slow down their journey south and leave clues behind, but will they be found before Emmett no longer has a use for them?

At 71 minutes, Lupino has crafted a lean, mean thriller. The plot moves along without feeling rushed nor a scene feeling wasted. Even as the net closes in, the outcome for the three main characters isn’t obvious. Talman plays Emmett ruthless but doesn’t go over the top as the villain. O’Brien and Lovejoy are wonderful as two regular guys reacting to their situations in different ways.

In film noir, I think of most of the main characters defined by a degree of corruption in their lives, but Roy and Gilbert don’t have that in their backgrounds, so that’s my quibble, but regardless of its designation, The Hitch-Hiker is a compelling film. Thanks to AFI Fest, I was able to appreciate it on the big screen.

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Gordon S. Miller

Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of this site. "I'm making this up as I go" - Indiana Jones

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