AND WE’RE BACK!
“Who will be his next victim you?” warns the lobby poster for Ida Lupino’s The Hitch-Hiker (1953). A killer is hitchhiking his way across the Southwest and leaving a trail of bodies. Two friends Ray Collins and Gil Bowen are traveling to a Mexican border town when they pick up a strange hitchhiker. Unfortunately, it turns out to be Everett Myers the psychotic killer of sympathetic drivers. Psychological gamesmanship ensues between Myers and his two captives.
This low-budget noir tortures Collins and Bowen for the entirety of the streamlined 70 minute film. The Hitch-Hiker’s triumphs are in several terrifying moments and not in the overall plot, which promises more than it delivers. Certain moments are set-up perfectly such as Myers’ paralyzed right eye that never fully closes. Creating a cyclops that is always watching Collins and Bowen even when Myers seems to be asleep.
Collins played by Edmond O’ Brien (D.O.A) suffers the brunt of Myers mind games. In one of the films best scenes, Collins is forced to hold a tin can near his head as Myers threatens Bowen at gun point to use a rifle and shoot the can. Director Ida Lupino is savvy enough to not let the tension dull and keeps it sharp with the American and Mexican federal police on Myers’ heels.
If you haven’t noticed it by now the movie is notable and perhaps exceptionable for someone involved in the creation of the film; Ida Lupino: the director. The first female director of a film-noir. The actress turned director and independent producer is a triumphant story in a business dominated by men. Along with her then husband Collier Young, Lupino set up a company named The Filmakers [sic] and directed six of the fourteen films under The Filmakers banner. Many of the films dealt with contemporary issues. The precedent Outrage (1950) looked at the rape culture in America and the feminist Never Fear (1949). Lupino never achieved the acclaim that was bestowed on her male counterparts during her directorial tenure and returned to acting in the sixties while finding a new outlet for her directing talent on television.
Lupino’s acuteness for the visual language of film-noir is in full display in The Hitch-Hiker. Everett Myers facial features are obscured by a shadow when he first enters Collins and Bowen’s car or later in the film how the blinding headlights speed toward the camera and our heroes as they try to escape. The Hitch-Hiker is an above average noir that serves as a gateway to discover the works of an underappreciated and under acknowledged director.