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Four Men, Forty Years: Deliverance

On the Road with The Hitch-Hiker

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I'm on a road trip to LA and spent my birthday in Fargo, North Dakota. Turned on the motel TV upon waking and saw *these* fantastic mugs: O'Brien, Lovejoy and Talman in Ida Lupino's 'The Hitch-Hiker.' Now *that* was a present. And perfect for the long drive ahead. Well, maybe not. I won't be picking up any Talmans along the way...

Here's a bit, briefly (I'll write more about Lupino later. I'm on the road!) on Lupino's terrific, terrifying 1953 noir:

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In the 1930s and '40s, the great Ida Lupino earned deserved esteem as an actress with her tough, sensitive performances in movies like High SierraThey Drive by Night, Moontide and one of my favorites (among so many more) Road House, and would continue her talents into the 1950s with The Big KnifeWhile the City Sleeps and the searing yet roughly romantic Nicholas Ray masterpiece On Dangerous Ground.

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But the intelligent, unique and creative actress spent time studying the mechanics behind the camera, resulting in forming (with her then husband Collier Young) the independent company The Filmakers, where Lupino would eventually work as producer, director and screenwriter on many fascinating pictures. Lupino's  first directing job came with the 1949 picture Not Wanted (for her company The Filmmakers), taking over for director Elmer Clifton after his heart attack. In 1950 she made Outrage, a thoughtful, emotional B-thriller that took on the controversial subject of rape -- and not so easily. She made you think when audiences could have simply gotten an exploitative kick from the then saucy subject matter. Throughout her career as a director, Lupino would continue to approach taboo subjects with sensitivity and grit (The Bigamist is another interesting standout I love and have written about a few times), but, for me, her greatest film is the intriguing psychodrama The Hitch-Hiker, starring Edmond O'Brien, Frank Lovejoy and a bug-eyed, wonderfully insane William Talman.

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Chronicling a horrifying road trip in which two fishermen (O'Brien and Lovejoy -- both such underrated, interesting actors with such well upholstered faces) pick up a deranged hitchhiker (Talman, another force), Lupino directs with shadowy menace and intense nervousness (mirroring postwar anxiety) in this tight character study/thriller. Thanks to Lupino at the helm, that back-seat driver of a panic attack Talman pointing that gun and the artistry of cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca, this movie is truly scary. And man, these are some faces she's directing -- you can barely stand watching poor Lovejoy and O'Brien endure this nightmare and yet, I feel like I could look at their mugs for hours.  

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Yes indeed, before Kathryn Bigelow, women could direct hard boiled so called "men's pictures" that were uncompromising and frightening. And she well understood women too -- Lupino understood people, and people in dire straights. And yet she remained humble about her status and talents. She called herself the "Poor man's Don Siegel," and was dubbed the "Queen of the B's" and enjoyed a solid career (especially for a female director), making a string of fiercely independent, entertaining, thought-provoking pictures that stand the test of time. Thankfully many have now sung her praises (including Martin Scorsese) and books have been published about her, citing her influence, distinct style and cinematic bravery. She's more than a B, but she's certainly a Queen -- a tough queen of her own kind. And a female director every woman (and man) working in the business should study and revere. 

And here are the pictures from my road trip. Seven states in three days:

Comments

Erich Kuersten

I remember being scared shitless hearing this story on 'Suspense' in my old radio phase... I've been avoiding the movie ever since, but now, dear Kim, what choice do I have?

KJ Smith

Thanks for discussing Hitch Hiker and talking about Ida. She is one of the most fascinating individuals from the Hollywood and post-Hollywood time. As an actress in the Hard Way, Drive by Night, and Road House. And her directing of course which is sorely under appreciated.

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