Detour (1945)
Detour (1945)

Genre: Film Noir Running Time: 1 hr. 7 min.

Release Date: November 30th, 1945 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Edgar G. Ulmer Actors: Tom Neal, Ann Savage, Claudia Drake, Edmund MacDonald

 


 

A

hitchhiker walks along a dark road, making his way to Reno, Nevada. At a diner, he meets up with a driver who offers a ride up North, but the loner, Al Roberts (Tom Neal), isn’t in the sociable mood. He even throws a fit when a particular tune is played on the jukebox. Reverting to a flashback narrated by Al, the setting shifts to the Break O’ Dawn Club in New York. Al is a pianist, working the late shift until about 4:00 AM, with sultry blonde singer Sue Harvey (Claudia Drake) frequently keeping him company. Despite his admittance that she makes his life pretty perfect, he still has a bitter attitude toward his career and future.

Though their game plan is to get married in a week, Sue suddenly decides she wants to wait until her singing act can make her wealthy, insisting that moving to California is the only way to achieve that dream. Stuck in New York alone, Al eventually calls up Sue in Los Angeles, where she was only able to pick up work as a hash-slinger. Desperate to reunite with his fiancée, Al hocks everything he owns and starts hitching his way across the country. But during a drive through Arizona, Al is given a ride by an incredibly unnerving chiseler, Charles Haskell Jr. (Edmund MacDonald), who proceeds to tell wild tales of dueling with swords, fighting kids in his youth, fending off dames, and doing dangerous business as a bookie.

“I was tussling with the most dangerous animal in the world … a woman.” The dialogue is clever and the suspense is sensational. The film noir styling conforms to the standard genre aspects with genuineness and above-average intrigue. Haskell is full of surprises and ominous conversations, while the story creates tense situations that deteriorate from bad to worse. Al is trapped in a scenario of death, deception, and secret identities, where the truth just isn’t helpful; fabricated explanations are far more suitable than the freakish actuality. The film even makes use of a dream sequence within the flashback, and a flashback within a flashback, which are certainly not common asides for a film from 1945.

Halfway through the swift picture (a refreshing 67-minute runtime), “Detour” introduces the lead female role of Vera (Ann Savage) – another hitchhiker, full of ever greater shocks. She presents a rare feminist character who takes control of her fate, pushes around the men in her life, and thinks two steps ahead of the law. In many ways, she’s reminiscent of the strong, calculating presence of Barbara Stanwyck’s Phyllis Dietrichson from “Double Indemnity” a year earlier. She’s a femme fatale and a venomous seductress, dragging her accomplice deeper into a murky moral morass of greed and corruption.

“I don’t wanna see anybody die,” insists Roberts. “Not even me?” retorts Vera. Table-turning, bluffing, hilarious verbal observations, and vitriolic insults compound with laugh-out-loud coincidences for a truly unique thriller. There’s even a touch of discordant romance. Though Neal only possesses a single expression in his acting repertoire – a forlorn scowl – he’s perfectly cut out for film noir. And Savage makes no missteps with her deviousness. With its biting script, unforgettably tricky circumstances, and a superbly ambiguous finale that doubles as an allegory for a permanently guilty conscience, “Detour” is one of the very best obscure B-movies from the ‘40s.

– Mike Massie

  • 9/10