Ida Lupino’s The Hitch-Hiker at Mother’s Velvet Lounge
On Wednesday March 6th, Movies at Mothers continues The Women Directors Series with Ida Lupino’s 1953 Film Noir classic, The Hitch-Hiker starring Edmond O’Brien, Frank Lovejoy and William Talman.
Last Month we saw one of the seminal films of Dorothy Arzner, the first woman ever admitted into the Director’s Guild of America. This month we present a film from Ida Lupino the only female Hollywood director of the 1950s and the second woman admitted into the DGA.
Roy Collins (Edmond O’Brien) and Gilbert Bowen (Frank Lovejoy) are old Army buddies who haven’t seen much of each other since they both married and started families. To remedy the situation they are getting away for a few days together on a fishing trip. Little do they know that a series of killings have taken place on the highway at the hands of Emmett Myers (William Tallman) who is attempting to flee to Mexico. Within minutes of kindly offering a ride to the hitchhiker, the two friends find themselves captives to the sadistic whims of a brutal psychopath, and what follows is a white knuckle journey into the dark psychology of post war America.
While the British born Ida Lupino was best known as a leading lady in B-movies and film noir, she was a true Hollywood trailblazer, the like of whom the industry would not see again for decades. Of the five feature films she directed (this doesn’t include uncredited work she performed taking the reins of Not Wanted (1949) and On Dangerous Ground  when their respective directors Elmer Clifton and Nicholas Ray fell ill, or the countless TV productions to her credit), The Hitch-Hiker stands as her strongest work. Interestingly enough it is also the one that that has virtually no female characters apart from those who occupy off-screen consideration within the dialogue. Working a script she wrote with Robert Joseph and her screenwriting partner/ex-husband Collier Young, from a story by a blacklisted, hence uncredited Daniel Mainwaring, Lupino fashions this story of highway terror into something much more than a mere thriller. The three men can be taken to represent the different states of mind of the post-war American male and in many ways it serves as a kind of precursor to John Boorman’s Deliverance (1972) in it’s dissection of masculine codes.
Gilbert stands as the solid, moral center of the story who seems to have returned from the war sobered, but relatively unscathed. Roy on the other hand rushed into marriage following the war so quickly that he feels he somehow missed out on the revelry of young adulthood. We don’t know for certain if Emmett ever served, but if he did the experience only compounded the psychosis of a man whose past has been filled with violence, including almost certain abuse as a child. William Talman (he will always be best remembered as the District Attorney, Hamilton Berger who was perpetually trounced in court by TV’s Perry Mason) offers up Emmett as a singularly nasty piece of work, whose one perpetually open eye will haunt you long after the Baja California dust has settled.
Lupino and her cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca (Cat People -1942, Out of the Past -1947) make great use of their desert locations shot around Lone Pine, standing in for Baja. The sense of desolation and loneliness, along with the recognition that there is no place to run add to the tension. The Hitch-Hiker is an assured work from a director whose films feel at times like an American answer to Italian Neo-Realism. She deliberately sought to cast gifted actors who didn’t feel like movie stars. Their lack of familiarity to the audience and the absence of type-casting baggage engenders an unpredictable tone to the proceedings, and they are able to fully inhabit their characters.
The excitement begins at 6:30 when you will enjoy one of the best dinners in town, followed by the screening at 7:00. Looking forward to seeing you there!
Mother’s Velvet Lounge is located at 212 SW Harvey Milk Street.