The Magic Lantern

Hosted ByEricca Long and Cole Roulain

Exploring the films we love and the things we love about them.

The Magic Lantern: Episode 103 – The Hitch-Hiker

The Hitch-Hiker (Lupino, 1953) is not officially the first noir directed by a woman, but there is no doubt that director, producer, and screenwriter Ida Lupino was a pioneer. In adapting the true crime story of murderer Billy Cook, Lupino took the opportunity to get inside the mind of a killer to craft an unforgettable character. William Talman then brought the nasty, unpredictable, and savage Emmett Myers to life. Lupino also accomplished something no less innovative in deconstructing the macho tropes surrounding our two trapped average joes. She created a character study that is unlike most portrayals of victims or male friendships of the time. Noir favorites like Edmond O’Brien and Frank Lovejoy are more than up to the task of bringing life and pathos to the characters. But it’s Talman who truly runs away with the film.

The Hitch-Hiker is a taut 71 minutes, though it never feels rushed or truncated. You might also notice that every single shot, many taking place within the confines of the car, is unique. There is no angle that seems to be repeated. Lupino and company made the most of the claustrophobia in that car, along with the desert, stretching out to nothingness in all directions. You may be more familiar with Ida Lupino as an actress, including some of her indelible noir performances, but you will be no less astonished by her creation here as director and writer. What a way to kick off May, our month for film noir!

What you’ll find in this episode: details of the real-life underpinnings of this story, an examination of the portrayal of the police, and how the desert is the perfect noir landscape.

– Ericca

Links and Recommendations:
Check out The Hitch-Hiker on IMDB.
Ericca’s further viewing pick of Out of the Past.
Cole’s further viewing pick of The Devil Thumbs a Ride.
The life and times of spree killer Billy Cook.
An overview of Ida Lupino’s trailblazing directorial career.

2 comments on The Magic Lantern: Episode 103 – The Hitch-Hiker

  1. FictionIsntReal says:

    It’s not that odd that a mid-century movie would have a heroic Mexican police officer. Charlton Heston played another one in Touch of Evil. Zorro wasn’t a police officer, but he had a popular show in the 50s. Back then Mexico was seen as a somewhat exotic but fun place to visit (as it was for the characters in The Last Picture Show). It came to be regarded as riddled with drug cartels who corrupt the police later.

  2. Cole Roulain says:

    Just the fact that it’s Charlton Heston, rather than an actual Mexican actor, still speaks volumes about where we were in that regard, though. Guy Williams too, as I don’t recall Zorro being of Sicilian lineage. It’s a considerably mixed bag, to be sure.

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