Talking about The Hitch-Hiker (1953) available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber, Ida Lupino joked, “Directing is much easier than acting… The director has his problems, but they’re all normal. He doesn’t have to smile into a camera while suffering through an early morning grouch.” Her taut thriller, certainly makes it look easy. The barebones story has a killer (the very sinister William Talman) thumbing, and rampaging, his way across America. Two unsuspecting buddies on a fishing trip, played by the U.S.S. Edmond O’Brien and the very venerable Frank Lovejoy, give him a lift, and are forced to aid in his escape to Mexico.
Director: Ida Lupino
Producers: Christian Nyby, Collier Young
Writers: Collier Young, Ida Lupino, Robert Joseph, Daniel Mainwaring
Cinematographer: Nicholas Musuraca
Editors: Douglas Stewart
Music: Leith Stevens
Cast: Edmond O'Brien, Frank Lovejoy, William Talman, José Torvay, Sam Hayes
US Theatrical Release: March 30, 1953
US Distributor: Kino Lorber
One thing that makes the Hitch-Hiker so much fun, is its simple formula. From the moment the killer enters the car, he trains a pistol on the two friends, and this device doesn’t let up until the pow bang finish. Lupino’s unquestionable noir pedigree adds a delicious layer to the plot, (she starred in films like They Drive By Night (1940), High Sierra (1941), On Dangerous Ground (1951), and The Big Knife (1955)); this background in complex moody noirs hints that things might not wrap up too happily for the trio. Lupino embodied the complexity and estrangement of high noir. Her take in Roadhouse (1950) remains one of the greatest in cinema history.
Given the chauvinism of the studio system, it’s incredible the Hitch-Hiker was ever made. Lupino’s longtime partner Collier Young wrote and produced the film, but even the pared down 71-minute RKO release has a real edge to it. Like Hitchcock’s best works, the film can be seen as a sort of manual in suspense; and filmmakers continue to revisit its technical elegance. Lupino is long celebrated as one of the most enduring stars of noir’s golden era, and this film reflects that legacy.