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WiHM: Ida Lupino's The Hitch-Hiker





1953 gave us The Hitch-Hiker, the first noir thriller directed by a woman. It tells of two men out for a fishing trip, accosted by a murderous psychopath on the run from the law. In 1998 it was selected for United States National Film Registry.

It was brought to us by Ida Lupino.




Lupino had over one hundred acting credits to her name, and begun directing in 1949. Her earlier works touched on noir, but were mostly dramas, and it wasn't until The Hitch-Hiker did she reach into the heart of the noir movie. The Hitch-Hiker is both stylish, and terrifying. The film's plot follows two men departing for the weekend to go on a fishing trip. Shortly they encounter a hitch hiker, who upon getting in the car draws a gun. He's on the run from the law and needs a ride. He's killed before. He demands the two men drive him to Mexico and there, he will kill them.

The story itself is quite simple. Lupino herself was the co-writer as well as director, but while the film follows a simple pattern, the screenplay is far more sinister. While villain Emmett Myers (William Talman) is both well acted and extremely frightening, the heart of the film comes from the relationship between would be fisherman, Roy Collins and Gilbert Bowen (Edmond O'Brien and Frank Lovejoy). The two men's relationship struggles forth from happy go lucky through to sheer torment and to the point of choosing lives over safety.

(A small spoiler) In one scene Myers forces Bowen to shoot a tin can from Collins' hand. With a rifle. Lupino drags tension out in the scene. In this day, I would put hard cash on them being fine. No one kills a main character in the middle of the second act. In this film, I wouldn't have taken that bet. Lupino makes each and every scene taut with tension.




As the two friends become distraught at the situation, Lupino pulls a rough emotion from the two lead actors. Their friendship is pulled to the very limits, and what she does in the director's chair is not only draw out the best possible performance, but as a writer, tear the relationship apart. From act one to three, the two friends are pulled through the ringer.

And it is a stylish ringer.

Lupino manages to make the villain scary, even now, 65 years later. The claustrophobic time in the car - which makes up two thirds of the film. It's a great watch - it drips noir. It oozes appeal. Without the touch of Ida Lupino, it certainly wouldn't be the classic can be regarded as today.

It's a stellar watch, gripping from beginning to end - highly recommended to both horror aficionado's, and those looking to explore the genre. 

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