Detour

July 29, 2015 at 1:10 am (10 Heads, Detour) (, , , , , , , )

Detour – 1945 – United States

A piano player named Al hitchhikes from New York to L.A. to visit his girlfriend in Hollywood. He catches a ride with a loud-mouthed pill-popping bookie, who keels over dead suddenly and mysteriously. Suffering from a paranoid delusion, Al convinces himself that he will be accused of the crime. In a panic, he takes the bookie’s car, money, and identity and flees to L.A.

On the way, Al picks up a hitchhiker named Vera. Vera is a manipulative psychopath with a cruel sense of humor. Coincidentally, she rode with the same bookie as Al, and realizes Al is impersonating him. Believing that Al is a murderer, she blackmails him into helping with her criminal schemes.

Eventually, Vera drunkenly calls the police to report Al. He struggles to wrest the phone away and accidentally strangles her with the phone cord. In a daze of guilt and sorrow, Al hitchhikes out of L.A. but is caught by the cops. As he is pushed into the patrol car, he narrates, “Fate, or some mysterious force, can put the finger on you or me for no good reason at all.”

Detour is relentlessly paranoid, nihilistic, and engrossing. Al and Vera are convincingly deranged, and actors Tom Neal and Ann Savage both deliver Detour’s tough, poetic (and sometimes absurd) dialogue with compelling verve. As Al endures the hardships of hitchhiking, he narrates a monologue about money: “It’s the stuff that has caused all the problems in the world—more than anything we’ve ever invented—simply because there is too little of it.” Later, after a bitter argument, Vera makes a pass at Al and justifies it with: “Life is like a ball game. You’ve got to take a swing at whatever comes along before you wake up and it’s the ninth inning.”

Director Edgar G. Ulmer was known for his thrifty but evocative films. His work is often stylistically inventive and thematically eccentric. Detour is his most recognized effort, and for good reason. It is an extreme example of film noir’s paranoia and hopelessness.

Rating: 10/10 Shrunken Heads. If actor Tom Neal does not play piano, he is a savant at faking it.

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