Two good pals, Roy (Edmond O'Brien) and Gilbert (Frank Lovejoy) driving around without a care in the world. But fate takes a hand when they stop to offer a lift to hitch-hiker Emmett Myers (William Talman) only to find that he isn't the type of travelling companion they thought he'd be. They grow even more alarmed when they see he sleeps with one eye open! But there are more surprises in store for the young men as the mood of their passenger turns darker with the passing of every mile. They decide they have to off-load this psychotic odd-ball but how...how can they make a move on him when even as he sleeps he seems to be staring right into their eyes!
Three's a crowd...
- The Hitch-Hiker review by Count Otto Black
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You rated this film: 4
Once again, the synopsis writer for this site hasn't actually seen the film, makes a wild guess as to what it might be about, and totally misleads potential renters! This is in fact one of the tautest and most unusual examples of the film noir genre, with nary a joke in sight. Given the tiny ratio of female to male directors even today, it beggars belief that Hollywood glamorpuss Ida Lupino got to direct a gritty thriller about two men stuck in a car with a psychopath in 1953, but somehow she did, and she makes a pretty good job of it.
Undoubtedly because the director is a woman, the degree of political correctness is very surprising for the time. But what's even more surprising is how intelligently this is done, especially in comparison with today's clunking efforts in that direction, which often give a distinct sense of ticking the boxes. Rather than taking the easy option of giving us unbelievably strong women, Lupino leaves women out of the film almost entirely, and instead gives us believably weak men, cleverly allowing a heterosexual buddy relationship with one much stronger partner to stand in for the usual guy and his gal. Which, when you think about it, is pretty damn subversive for 1953.
And although the ethnic minority characters are very secondary, they're all decent people who are just as good at their jobs as whites. One very minor non-white character in particular is initially presented as thoroughly disreputable and willing to do anything for money, yet unhesitatingly changes his mind the second he catches onto what he's really agreed to. At the same time, the two heroes are shown from the very start to be not altogether saintly, in ways that are actually quite sleazy.
Where Lupino falls down a little is in taking her good intentions too far. Although Edmond O'Brien's title character is memorably vile in every respect, he's so one-dimensionally evil that, despite a performance that can't really be faulted, he's too flat, especially compared with his not completely perfect antagonists. Which also makes his decision not to kill them very early on a bit hard to swallow. Also, the totally believable unwillingness of two ordinary men to take on an armed psychopath ironically makes the movie a bit light on action.
However, it's still a very interesting and tense thriller. One thing which today's directors might do well to take note of is the way that Spanish-speaking characters are never given subtitles, even when conveying vital plot-points, because Lupino's direction makes it clear what they're saying even if you don't speak the language. That's using a visual medium properly while simultaneously refusing to dumb down. I think we could do with seeing more of it.