|A low budget, classic film noir.|
Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer
Produced by Leon Fromkess
Written by Martin Goldsmith
Starring Tom Neal, Anne Savage, Claudia Drake, and Edmund MacDonald
Widely named as one of the quintessential film noirs, this brisk film sees one hitchhiker fall into a world of trouble, only to fall deeper, in just 67 minutes. Tom Neal stars as Al Roberts, a piano player who leaves New York for Los Angeles to join his girl Sue (Drake). On the journey, he manages to hitch a ride with pill-popping, L.A.-bound Charles Haskell Jr. (MacDonald), and Al even drives for the man while he sleeps that night. Then it starts to rain. When Al gets out to put up the convertible's roof, he opens the passenger door, and Haskell falls out, his head striking a rock. Al figures the police will not believe this story, so he hides the body and heads for L.A. with Haskell's papers, clothes, and, of course, his car. Later, at a gas station, Al picks up Vera (Savage), who just happens to be the girl Haskell ditched before his death. She blackmails Al, stringing him along in a plan to sell the car, until she sees that Haskell's sick (and wealthy) father is searching for his estranged son. Al refuses to go along with her scheme for him to impersonate the deceased Haskell to get the inheritance money. If he goes through with it, he will surely be found out, but if not, he still has Vera latched onto him. He must get out, one way or another.
Now, without its genre to define it, the film is not one of significant merit. In the context of film noir history, it succeeds very well in utilizing the genre's most notorious elements. The film has a relatively innocent protagonist whose unfortunate circumstances get him involved with a venomous femme fatale. It also has smoking, drinking, sweat, tears, blackmail, and murder. One of the film's best qualities is another distinct characteristic of the noir genre, which is its low-key cinematography. Despite its paper-thin budget and only two-week shooting schedule, the film is beautifully shot, incorporating the usual dark shadows that give the film its wonderful atmosphere. The film is also narrated by the protagonist, and Neal gives just the right performance for this material. Savage is also very good as a burned woman who forces her agenda on the floundering protagonist. Another element that really sticks out is the dialogue, which drips of classic noir with lines like "I was tussling with the most dangerous animal in the world, a woman" and "That's life. Whichever way you turn, Fate sticks out a foot to trip you". It meets the criteria for a great noir - and it is; but the film does have a certain cheesiness that mars the overall quality of it.
Oscar Tally: None
Watch/download this film (legally) for free at Internet Archive.