Combustible Celluloid
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With: Edmond O'Brien, Frank Lovejoy, William Talman, José Torvay, Wendell Niles, Jean Del Val, Clark Howat, Natividad Vacío, Rodney Bell, Nacho Galindo
Written by: Ida Lupino, Collier Young
Directed by: Ida Lupino
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 71
Date: 10/14/2013

The Hitch-Hiker (1953)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

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By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In the 1950s, Ida Lupino was a major pioneer for women directors, but she has rarely received her due, chiefly because of the types of films she was stuck with. She worked mostly in television and sometimes lucked her way into a screenwriting credit or taking over for other directors unable to finish the job. But she wound up directing seven feature films, usually lurid potboilers, many of which are AWOL on home video and others of which have fallen into public domain. But there's no denying she was tough, smart and economic.

Lupino's rock-hard, tense B-thriller The Hitch-Hiker is arguably her most accessible film, and a gripping example of film noir. It contains a startling, psychotic performance by William Talman as Emmett Myers, who hitches a ride with two ordinary-Joe fishermen Roy Collins (Edmond O'Brien) and Gilbert Bowen (Frank Lovejoy) and holds them at gunpoint as they make their way across the Mexican desert to a potential getaway.

Lupino makes the most of outdoor locations, baking sun, craggy rocks, and rural darkness. Often O'Brien and Lovejoy can't do more than exchange tense glances between one another, though they sometimes risk an angry outburst toward their captor ("You stink!"). Lupino inserts some striking moments, such as one in a Mexican general store, when Bowen snatches a young girl away from Myers, and then holds her tight. Most striking is the use of Myers' "bum eye," which remains open and staring, even when he's sleeping. (The captives never know when it's safe to strike or run.)

The movie has a palpable texture, as well. You can practically feel Collins' injured ankle, and practically smell the sweaty clothes when Myers forces Collins to swap outfits to confuse the cops. Lupino never lets the tension go for a solid 70 minutes, and it feels good when both men get a crack at Myers during the payoff. So many other movies from this period directed by men are much softer; it only goes to show that females are the deadlier of the species.

Kino Lorber has released this public domain movie in a high-def Blu-ray, mastered from "archival 35mm elements," rather than previously-used video materials. The result is most satisfying. Extras include trailers for this and other Kino releases, and an image gallery (including one of Lupino directing -- in pants!). Co-screenwriter and producer Collier Young had been briefly married to Lupino.

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