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.
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.