Also known as: The Difference, The Persuader (both working titles)
Release Date: March 23rd, 1953 (Boston premiere)
Directed by: Ida Lupino
Written by: Ida Lupino, Collier Young
Music by: Leith Stevens
Cast: Edmond O’Brien, Frank Lovejoy, William Talman
The Filmakers Inc., RKO Radio Pictures, 71 Minutes
“You stink, Myers! You smell! Just like your clothes! Sure, you’ll make it to Guaymas, but they’ll catch up with you and put you out of your misery. You haven’t got a chance. You haven’t got a thing except that gun! You’d better hang onto it because without it, you’re finished! ” – Roy Collins
The Hitch-Hiker has the distinction of being the only classic film-noir directed by a woman. That woman was Ida Lupino, who went from being a very good actress to a pretty great director in a time when women weren’t often found behind the camera.
The movie is based on the crime spree of murderer Billy Cook, a psychotic who murdered six people on a 22 day rampage between Missouri and California that started the day before New Year’s Eve in 1950.
The character based off of Cook is renamed Emmett Myers and is played by William Talman in what is his most iconic role other than his 212 episode stint on Perry Mason as District Attorney Hamilton Burger. He is a sadistic killer and like a cat, likes to play with his victims before putting them down. In this film, we see him breakdown his captives over time.
In the story, two nice fishermen pickup a hitchhiker, Myers, and the rest is history. Myers bosses them around, plays games with them that force them into mortal danger and really doesn’t have much use for them other than his own amusement over their emasculation. This is a pretty deep movie for its time and it does things that weren’t common in motion pictures in the early 1950s. Being that this was directed by a woman is more intriguing. But it certainly wasn’t a statement about breaking men down in general, as the two who were victimized were nice, innocent people and it was the evil psychotic that pushed them to the limit. This was actually a film that tried to show what it was like to be held against your will by a psycho nut with a gun.
The acting and chemistry between the three leads was stellar and Lupino pulled great performances out of Talman, Edmond O’Brien and Frank Lovejoy. There were a few other characters in the movie but these three were the focal point and had to put this production on their backs.
The Hitch-Hiker is a darker and much better film than I expected it to be. It shows how well versed and comfortable Lupino was as a director in a male dominated industry. She lead her male cast towards creating something that was much better than a run of the mill film-noir.