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Detour (1945 film)

Detour (1945) is a film noir cult classic that stars Tom Neal, Ann Savage, Claudia Drake, and Edmund MacDonald. The movie was adapted by Martin Goldsmith and Martin Mooney (uncredited) from Goldsmith's novel, and was directed by Edgar G. Ulmer. The 68-minute film was released by the Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC), one of the so-called "poverty row" film studios.

Although made on a small budget and containing only rudimentary sets and camera work, the film has garnered substantial praise through the years and is held in high regard.

Plot

A piano player, Al (Tom Neal), sets off hitchhiking his way to California to be with his girl. Along the way, a stranger in a convertible gives him a ride. While driving, Al stops to put the top up during a rainstorm. He discovers that the owner of the car has died in his sleep. Al panics and dumps the body in a gully, takes the stranger's money and clothes then drives off in his expensive car. After spending the night in a motel he picks up another hitchhiker, Vera (Ann Savage) (a femme fatale), who threatens to turn him in for murdering the stranger unless he gives her all the money. In Hollywood, they rent an apartment and while trying to sell the car, learn from a newspaper that the stranger was about to collect a large inheritance. Vera demands that Al impersonate the stranger but Al balks at this notion. When the two get drunk in the apartment and begin arguing, a snubbed Vera takes Al up on his earlier dare to call the police, whereupon Al accidently strangles her with a telephone cord. The story is narrated by Al, who may be an unreliable narrator.

Production

Conceived as a B-movie, Detour was shot in six days with a budget of approximately $20,000.

Editing

With re-shoots out of the question for such a low budget movie, director Edgar G. Ulmer made the decision to place storytelling conventions above continuity. Detour's famous example of this is the reversal of the hitchhiking scenes. In order to parallel the westbound New York to Los Angeles travel of the character with right-to-left movement across the screen, many scenes had to be flipped. This caused the cars to appear to be driving on the wrong side of the road, and the hitchhiker to enter the car on the driver's side.

Censorship

Because the 1945 Production code mandated that "murderers... must be brought to justice," director Ulmer satisfied censors by ending the movie with Al being picked up after predicting his arrest earlier.

Cast

  • Tom Neal as Al Roberts
  • Ann Savage as Vera
  • Claudia Drake as Sue Harvey
  • Edmund MacDonald as Charles Haskell Jr
  • Tim Ryan as Nevada Diner Proprietor
  • Esther Howard as Holly, Diner Waitress
  • Pat Gleason as Joe, Trucker at Diner
  • Don Brodie as the Used Car Salesman

Reaction

In 1992, Detour was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". Critical response to the film today is almost universally positive. Most reviewers contrast the technical shoddiness of the film with its successful atmospherics. Film critic Roger Ebert wrote:
"This movie from Hollywood's poverty row, shot in six days, filled with technical errors and ham-handed narrative, starring a man who can only pout and a woman who can only sneer, should have faded from sight soon after it was released in 1945. And yet it lives on, haunting and creepy, an embodiment of the guilty soul of film noir. No one who has seen it has easily forgotten it."
He also included it in his list of great films.

Sight and Sound reviewer Phillip Kemp would later write:

"Using unknown actors and filming with no more than three minimal sets, a sole exterior (a used-car lot) to represent Los Angeles, a few stock shots, and some shaky back-projection, Ulmer conjures up a black, paranoid vision, totally untainted by glamour, of shabby characters trapped in a spiral of irrational guilt."

Novelists Edward Gorman and Dow Mossman wrote:

"...Detour remains a masterpiece of its kind. There have been hundreds of better movies, but none with the feel for doom portrayed by ... Ulmer. The random universe Stephen Crane warned us about—the berserk cosmic impulse that causes earthquakes and famine and AIDS—is nowhere better depicted than in the scene where Tom Neal stands by the roadside, soaking in the midnight rain, feeling for the first time the noose drawing tighter and tighter around his neck."

Quote

I know. Someday a car will stop to pick me up that I never thumbed. Yes, fate, or some mysterious force can put the finger on you or me for no good reason at all.

Cultural references

Filmmaker Richard Linklatter named his production company after this film.

Remake

A remake of Detour was produced in 1992 starring Tom Neal's son Tom Neal Jr. and Lea Lavish along with Susanna Foster's first acting appearance in 43 years and her final appearance on film. Produced, written and directed by Wade Williams and released by his distribution company, Englewood Entertainment, it has not been released on DVD, but a VHS release has been available.

See also

References

External links

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