MUBI Mondays: The Hitch-Hiker (1953)
Trio of performances8
Josh Slater-Williams | On 16, Nov 2020
Director: Ida Lupino
Cast: Edmond O’Brien, Frank Lovejoy, William Talman
Watch The Hitch-Hiker online in the UK: MUBI UK / Amazon Prime / Prime Video (Buy/Rent)
On Mondays, two of our resident cinephiles highlight a film currently available on MUBI UK. We call it MUBI Mondays.
Released the same year as her film The Bigamist, 1953’s The Hitch-Hiker would be one of Ida Lupino’s final features in the directing chair, ahead of a prolific career working in television. When working in front of the camera, the actor-turned-director appeared in a number of notable noir thrillers, including the prior year’s On Dangerous Ground, which she also co-directed (uncredited) for a few days when Nicholas Ray fell ill. The Hitch-Hiker is widely regarded as the first American film noir to be directed by a woman.
The planned fishing trip of Californian friends Ray (Edmond O’Brien) and Gilbert (Frank Lovejoy) to the Mexican town of San Felipe by the Gulf of California is disrupted when they pick up a hitchhiker (William Talman), whose car has apparently run out of gas. The man turns out to be the notorious Emmett Myers, whose multiple homicide spree has been all over the news in various states; the car he previously had was stolen from his most recent victim. He’s on the run from the law and lets the two of them know that as soon as they’re no longer useful to him, they’ll be next on the list of the slain. Their planned escape over the ensuing days faces a difficult stumbling block: Myers has a unique physical condition that means one of his eyes never stays fully closed even when he’s asleep. The men can’t make a break for it at night as they can’t tell if their captor has actually let his guard down.
Lupino’s credited efforts as director up until her swerve into TV were all economically told features, and The Hitch-Hiker is her shortest, barely clocking in at 71 minutes. It is a stripped-down affair; its premise is simple, its cast small. It is a three-hander with a genuinely frightening antagonist. It is inspired by the real-life crime spree of Billy Cook, who murdered six people across a 22-day rampage between Missouri and California in 1950 to 1951. He was executed in prison only three full months before The Hitch-Hiker was released in the United States.
While vintage noir efforts largely tended to focus on claustrophobic urban environments, The Hitch-Hiker is mostly set across desert terrain in white-hot daylight. Despite the comparative lack of shadows when placed next to similar thrillers, there is by no means a reduction in the sense of dread.
The Hitch-Hiker is now available on MUBI UK, as part of a £9.99 monthly subscription. It is also available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.