The Hitch-Hiker (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
October 15, 2013 by Dennis Amith
Ida Lupino’s “The Hitch-Hiker” is a significant film in America cinema and for film noir fans, it is the only classic film noir to be directed by a woman. The film was quite unsettling for its time and now “The Hitch-Hiker” receives its HD treatment on Blu-ray! If you enjoy classic film noir, “The Hitch-Hiker” is recommended!
TITLE: The Hitch-Hiker
FILM RELEASE: 1953
DURATION: 71 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:33:1, DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Monaural, B&W
COMPANY: Kino Classics/Kino Lorber
Release Date: October 15, 2013
Directed by Ida Lupino
Screenplay by Collier Young, Ida Lupino
Adaptation by Robert L. Joseph
Produced by Collier Young
Associate Producer: Christian Nyby
Music by Leith Stevens
Director of Photography – Nicholas Musuraca
Edmond O’Brien as Roy Collins
Frank Lovejoy as Gilbert Bowen
William Talman as Emmet Myers
Jose Torvay as Captain Alvarado
Sam Hayes as Radio Broadcaster
Wendell Niles as Wendell niles
Jean Del Val as Inspector General
Clark Howat as Government Agent
Natividad Vacio as Jose
The only true film noir ever directed by a woman, this tour-de-force thriller (considered by many, including Lupino herself, to be her best film) is a classic, tension-packed, three-way dance of death about two middle-class American homebodies (Edmond O’Brien and Frank Lovejoy) on vacation in Mexico on a long-awaited fishing trip. Suddenly their car and their very lives are commandeered by psychopathic serial killer Emmett Myers (William Talman).
In 1950-1951, America didn’t feel safe as news reports on the radio were of people found murdered between Missouri and California, the work of an American spree killer named Billy Cook.
A troubled individual who would hitchhike, steal his victim’s belongings and murder them.
The most shocking murder came when a farmer named Carl Mosser, along with his wife, three children and family dog picked up Mosser and was held at gunpoint and driving aimlessly for 72 hours. He killed the family and the dog and dumped their bodies in mine shaft in Missouri.
While Cook was eventually captured after kidnapping two men who were on a hunting trip, he was executed for in the gas chamber at San Quentin Prison in California.
For actress turned director, Ida Lupino (“High Sierra”, “The Bigamist”, “On Dangerous Ground”) was among the few women in Hollywood who was directing and in 1949, she made her directorial debut with “Never Fear”.
Two years later, Lupino became the first woman to direct the first American mainstream film noir titled “The Hitch-Hiker” based on the latter events of Billy Cook’s life after kidnapping the two men who were on a hunting trip.
For research for the film, Lupino had interviewed the two men who were kidnapped and were able to get releases from them, along with Billy Cook before he was executed. And to appease the censors, she reduced the number of victims down to three.
The film would be loosely based on the actual experiences of what transpired during the kidnapping and thus the names were changed.
In 1998, “The Hitch-Hiker” was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”
And now the film will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Kino Lorber in Oct. 2013.
“The Hitch-Hiker” begins with a couple picking up a hitchhiker, not long after we hear a scream and the hitchhiker takes the money from the woman’s purse and two dead bodies are seen in the driver and passenger seat. News starts to be reported on the radio of a killer on the loose, a person who has killed before and is on a killing spree.
The film then shifts to two men driving on the road and are out to go hunting. Roy Collins (portrayed by Edmond O’Brien, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”, “The Wild Bunch”, “White Heat”) and Gilbert Bowen (portrayed by Frank Lovejoy, “In a Lovely Place”, “House of Wax”) pick up a hitchhiker named Emmet Meyers (portrayed by William Talman, “Armored Car Robbery”, “The Racket”).
Not long after, Meyers pulls out a gun and orders the men to drive wherever he tells them.
He orders Roy to drive them out into the middle of the desert and tells them that he intends to kill them, but he’s not going to tell them when or how. Knowing that they are hunters, he starts to have his fun with the two men by having Roy hold a can and putting it on a rock and showing how good of a marksman he is. He challenges Gilbert to shoot the can and show him his marksman skills, which Gilbert proves to shoot a rifle very well.
He then has Roy holding a can next to his head and forcing Gilbert to shoot the can. Scared that he may shoot his friend dead, fortunately for Gilbert, he manages to shoot the can.
But as Meyers toys with the two, Roy and Gilbert need to find a way to escape. But Meyers warns them that because his right eye can not close, they better not pull anything on him or they are dead.
How will Roy and Gilbert escape from this psychopath or can they?
“The Hitch-Hiker” is presented in 1080p High Definition black and white (1:33:1 aspect ratio). The film has been mastered in HD from archival 35 mm elements preserved by the Library of Congress.
Kino Lorber is not a company that does any cleanup or color correction to their films, so there are a few white specks, areas with little flickering and some scenes that were a tad bit high in contrast (such as one scene where they are driving and Roy’s face was a wee bit too high in contrast). But with the films in HD, the majority of the film does showcasing whites and grays that are well contrast, much better detail when showcasing closeups or environments without blur or the film looking aged in any way.
The majority of the film looks good considering the film is 60-years-old.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“The Hitch-Hiker” is presented in LPCM 2.0. Dialogue is clear and understandable for the most part, as with Leith Stevens music. There are no major audio problems that I noticed during my viewing for the film but for the most part, this 60-year-old film doesn’t have any damaged audio.
There are no subtitles included with this film.
“The Hitch-Hiker” comes with a trailer and image gallery featuring posters used as promotion for the film.
I can imagine how it was in 1953 to see a film such as “The Hitch-Hiker”.
That year, the country was concerned of the U.S. constructing a hydrogen bomb, Dwight D. Eisenhower became the new President replacing Harry S. Truman, the Korean War was coming to a close and as population grew in America, there was also an unease of whether American is safe.
And it didn’t help with a string of serial killings that year by a few criminals and also one hitch-hiker who would go on an American killing spree, Billy Cook, no doubt put fear into the American public and the fact that people should not be picking up random hitchhikers off the road, no matter if you are doing it out of the kindness of your heart.
That fear would be carried over to the film “The Hitch-Hiker” directed by actress turned filmmaker, Ida Lupino.
The 1953 film would be significant in American history as the first film noir to be directed by a woman and take on a type of film that was too brutal for major studios to consider.
In fact, prior to directing her first film, Lupino should probably credit a suspension by the Warner Bros. for turning down a role. One must remember that in 1941, she received top billing alongside Humphrey Bogart in the film “High Sierra”, but she was often defiant against the studio for refusing roles that were beneath her dignity as an actress.
Often suspended by the studio, while serving her suspension, she would be on the set observing the filming and editing process and she would use the time to write and producer he own films with her husband, Collier Young and both created an independent film company, The Filmakers, which she served as a producer, director and screenwriter for low-budget films.
While she did not set out to become a director, when Elmer Clifton suffered a heart attack in the film “Not Wanted”, she would step in (considering she co-produced and co-wrote the film). And that was the beginning of films that featured the brutal repercussions of sexuality, independence and dependence.
And when she directed “The Hitch-Hiker”, critics who saw the film praised her work because she was able to take a recent and brutal incident and bring it to the big screen, but also showcase its male characters in a position being dominated by another man, as most Hollywood films would feature a woman quite often being dominated by a man.
As for the film, once again, place yourself in 1953, and imagine how scared people must have felt after watching a film about a hitchhiker who would murder people for his own enjoyment. The fear of two married men, knowing they can’t fight back as the hitch-hiker, psychopath, Meyers is sadistic and stringing them along, for the sake of seeing them quake in fear.
There is no doubt that a 2013 version of the film would become much more brutal, with films such as Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games” or Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “Salo” showcasing a family or people being tortured and killed and many films now going that direction of showing no happy ending and the victims tortured.
Personally, I don’t mind unsettling films. But I do love the films with a happy ending or at least a film in which the victim or victim’s family has a chance to fight back, such as Ingmar Bergman’s “The Virgin Spring” or even Wes Craven’s “The Last House on the Left”.
But this is classic film noir ala Hollywood. Two men who are forced to do whatever their captor tells them to do and that is drive wherever, drive to Mexico and await for the moment they are to be killed. Not knowing how they can escape! There is no running for help as no one can understand English and the areas they go to are desolate or have children, that the two men wouldn’t want anyone else hurt.
So, its riveting storyline to see if these men will succeed in escaping from their captor.
In a long list of film noir, “The Hitch-Hiker” by no means is among the best but it is significant for it being the only classic film noir directed by a woman. And so, for fans of film noir, the fact that the film has been mastered in HD from the archived 35 mm elements preserved by the Library of Congress and now released as a Blu-ray by Kino Lorber is awesome.
The Blu-ray does has its share of white specks, a bit of flicker and high-contrast scenes but for the most part, the majority of the film looks great on Blu-ray and the LPCM 2.0 soundtrack is clear.
Overall, Ida Lupino’s “The Hitch-Hiker” is a significant film in America cinema and for film noir fans, it is the only classic film noir to be directed by a woman. The film was quite unsettling for its time and now “The Hitch-Hiker” receives its HD treatment on Blu-ray! If you enjoy classic film noir, “The Hitch-Hiker” is recommended!
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