The Hitch-Hiker (1953)

2013 #57
Ida Lupino | 71 mins | TV | 4:3 | USA / English & Spanish | 12

The Hitch-HikerBased on a true story, this film noir sees two chums on the way home from a fishing trip pick up a hitchhiker. As you can tell from the title, he turns out to be rather significant: he’s a murderer on the run, and pulls a gun on the men so they’ll do his bidding, which is take him to Mexico so he can escape justice. Oh dear.

What follows is, at barely more than an hour, a lean thriller. Is the killer a man of his word who’ll let the friends go when they reach his destination? Can the two unfortunates escape his grasp before they have to find out? The aim of the game is tension and suspense, unencumbered with little else besides glimpses of the faltering manhunt for the kidnapping hitchhiker. Excellent use is made of a barren landscape to heighten the sense of hopelessness — there’s few signs of other living souls; though even if there were, surely the hitchhiker wouldn’t hesitate to kill ’em all.

Of particular note is that The Hitch-Hiker is directed by a woman, the first noir to be so. We live in an age where a woman has only recently managed to win the Best Director Oscar, and female directors are still a rare beast in Hollywood, so I can only assume they were even fewer and farther between back in the ’50s. Katherine Bigelow received additional praise in some quarters for taking said award while playing in the “men’s world” of the action/war movie (thereby negating any potential sense of “well done little woman, you made a nice little Women’s Movie”), but that’s also what Lupino did here.

The female perspective is from the passenger seat, am I right?But does her gender add any different perspective? I think perhaps it does. If you read the review at Films on the Box (which you should, it’s a fantastic overview and analysis), Mike notes that “the two fishermen take on the film’s ‘female’ roles, out of both control and their depth and steered by the stronger man.” While I’m sure a male director could tell this story, perhaps it’s that little bit more effective when helmed from a female perspective, especially in an era when they were even more socially and professionally confined than today.

The Hitch-Hiker may support an even deeper reading along those lines; but if you have no desire to engage in that kind of thing, it remains an effectively tight and tense experience. A lesser-known noir, I think, but one not to be forgotten.

4 out of 5

This review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2013. Read more here.

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