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Ida Lupino's The Hitch-Hiker is a short, simple film noir, so this will be a short, simple review.
The story involves a violent killer named Emmett Myers (William Talman, Perry Mason) who's on the run from the police. He hitches a ride with two fishermen named Gilbert (Frank Lovejoy, In a Lonely Place) and Roy (Edmond O'Brien, The Wild Bunch), claiming that he'll kill both of them unless they help him escape from the law.
Over the course of 70 minutes, we observe as Gilbert and Roy do their best to stay alive and attempt to figure out whether there's any hope of escape. Meanwhile, Emmett taunts the two men by repeatedly reminding them of the control he has over them. That's more or less all there is to the movie, which never wastes any time manufacturing artificial drama. It's over an hour of pure noir tension—nothing more and nothing less.
You won't find much in the way of deep character development in The Hitch-Hiker. Roy and Gilbert seem like good guys who are doing the best they can, but that's as much as we ever know about them. Emmett seems like a pitiless creep, but he never reveals any other dimensions, either. Thin characterization is often a liability, but in this case it serves to accentuate the effective, unnerving straightforwardness of the tale: two good guys and one bad guy locked in a conflict without an easy resolution. If the characters weren't driving all over Mexico for a sizable portion of the film's running time, it could easily be a stage play.
The Hitch-Hiker remains most notable for being the only significant classic noir directed by a woman, and what's striking about it is just what a masculine film it is overall. Lupino's hard-boiled dialogue, no-nonsense direction and almost entirely male cast (actresses only appear in uncredited bit roles) gives the film a tough, gritty vibe. For Lupino's assured direction, for Talman's creepy performance and for the film's commitment to respecting its limitations and delivering maximum dramatic impact in a minimal amount of time, it's well worth revisiting every now and then.
The Hitch-Hiker (Blu-ray) has received a solid transfer from the good folks at Kino Lorber. Detail is strong throughout, though a handful of scratches and flecks can be seen here and there. There are also a few moments of softness, but there are largely built into the source material. The DTS HD 1.0 Master Audio track is solid, offering crisp, clean dialogue and sound design throughout. Supplements are limited to a photo gallery.
Good little flick. Check it out.
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