hitchhikerposterLast Heartthrob Chapter Seven:

I Shouldn't Have Called

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Movie: The Hitch-Hiker (1953)

In this episode Philip Sternwood and Laurel Gray meet to discuss her "budding film career." In the previous episode, he specifically told Laurel to look at Ida Lupino's The Hitch-Hiker. Her response: "Is it okay if we talk about Ida Lupino? The Hitch-Hiker blew me away!"

Ida Lupino recognized that women directors weren't getting a fair shake in Hollywood and decided to show the guys what film noir looked like when a doll was in charge.

"Well before Kathryn Bigelow made Point Break (1991) let alone becoming the first woman to win the Academy Award for directing with The Hurt Locker (2008), there was Ida Lupino. Ida was a well regarded actress appearing in High Sierra and They Drive by Night both in 1940 with Humphrey Bogart among many others. She had plenty of sex appeal like the other ladies on the silver screen but she also appeared to be something of a tough broad. She always retained an alluring femininity but looked like she could take it and dish it out, too. That was no mere screen persona as the actress constantly fought for roles that had more meaning balking at parts that just exploited her. During one of those career hiatus points she and her husband formed a production company. They set out to make films with a social consciousness and were attracted to the pressing issues of the day. Ida Lupino fell very naturally into directing. She stepped in for a director on one of their pictures who had taken ill. Soon after she directed Outrage (1950), a controversial film that dealt realistically with the impact of rape." – Steven Ruskin, AVManiacs.com.

hitchhikeropenDiscussion:

Ida Lupino literally didn't waste a second in grabbing the audience by the throat. "This is the true story of a man and a gun and a car. The gun belonged to the man. The car might have been yours–or that young couple across the aisle. What you will see in the next seventy minutes could have happened to you. For the facts are actual."

According to Murderpedia, "In 1950, a short time after being released from prison, [William "Cock-Eyed" Cook] flagged down a car and forced a family of five to drive aimlessly through four states. After seventy-two hours of driving he shot all five family members and their dog. When he got to California he commandeered another car and shot the driver in Yuma, Arizona. He was finally arrested by Mexican police six hundred miles south of Tijuana."

In addition to directing, Ida Lupino had say in the movie poster's design and tag line. Who'll be his next victim...YOU?" How successful was she at drawing you into the film with this quasi-documentary, true story technique? How would you compare this approach to Humphrey Bogart hostage noirs like The Desperate Hours, The Petrified Forest, or other hostage films that come to mind?

idalupino1Lupino referred to herself as Mother on set and had a director's chair with "Mother of Us All" embroidered on the back. She made The Hitch-Hiker at a time of male uncertainty. Women had joined the workforce in droves to manufacture the weaponry of World War II. It was the men returning from World War II who faced challenges.

"The American cinema of the late 1940s was booming with directors like Samuel Fuller and Nicholas Ray, who were attracted to stories about thorny social issues and ordinary folk. These narratives fascinated Lupino, who later made half a dozen films focusing on topics once considered taboo for the commercial film industry–unwanted pregnancy, polio, bigamy, and women competing in a world of men." MoMA notes to Ida Lupino: Mother Directs

Can you site some examples of how Lupino's social consciousness and maternal instincts play out in the course of this taut little noir?

tallman"I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture --a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees --very gradually --I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever." Edgar Allan Poe, "The Tell-Tale Heart"

We know that the real-life killer on whom William Tallman's character Emmett Myers was based was "Cock-Eyed," so it wasn't necessarily a directorial or acting choice to give him an unusual eye, but it has an effect.

In his Twenty Four Frames review, John Greco writes "William Talman’s performance as the psychotic killer with a paralyzed right eye that remains open making it difficult for his prisoners to know when he was sleeping, is outstanding. It’s an unforgettable creepy performance packed with rage and terror. There is nothing good about this man."

In a LOL moment from Out of the Past: Investigating Film Noir "Episode 7: The Hitch-Hiker," Richard Edwards agrees with Poe. "You want to murder him because this guy freaks you out."

Well, does he freak you out? How would you rank William Tallman's performance within the pantheon of creepy villians?


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