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The Hitch-Hiker (1953 film)

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Title: The Hitch-Hiker (1953 film)  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Film noir, Hitchhiking, B movie, 1953 in film, Edmond O'Brien, Frank Lovejoy, Nicholas Musuraca, Collier Young, Semidocumentary, Daniel Mainwaring
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

The Hitch-Hiker (1953 film)

For other uses, see Hitchhiking (disambiguation).
The Hitch-Hiker
File:Hitch-Hiker poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Ida Lupino
Produced by Collier Young
Screenplay by Ida Lupino
Collier Young
Starring Edmond O'Brien
Frank Lovejoy
William Talman
Music by Leith Stevens
Cinematography Nicholas Musuraca
Editing by Douglas Stewart
Distributed by RKO Pictures
Release date(s)
Running time 71 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Hitch-Hiker is a 1953 film noir directed by Ida Lupino about two fishing buddies who pick up a mysterious hitchhiker during a trip to Mexico.

The movie was written by Robert L. Joseph, Lupino, and her husband Collier Young, based on a story by blacklisted Out of the Past screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring (who did not receive screen credit). The film is based on the true story of psychopathic murderer Billy Cook.

It is regarded as the first American mainstream film noir directed by a woman. The director of photography was RKO Pictures regular Nicholas Musuraca.[1]

In 1998, The Hitch-Hiker was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant."


Two men (Edmond O'Brien and Frank Lovejoy) on a fishing trip pick up a hitchhiker named Emmett Myers (William Talman), who turns out to be a psychopath who has committed multiple murders. Police believe Myers is traveling alone, so he holds the two men hostage to avoid detection as he flees towards the Mexican border. Meanwhile, the men try to plot their escape from the violent, paranoid Myers.


Cast notes:

  • Collier Young, husband of director Ida Lupino and the co-writer of the screenplay, makes an uncredited appearance in the film as a Mexican peasant.


In California in 1950, Billy Cook murdered a family of five and a traveling salesman, then kidnapped Deputy Sheriff Homer Waldrip from Blythe, California and ordered him to drive into the desert where he tied Deputy Waldrip up with blanket strips and took his police cruiser, leaving Waldrip to die.

Waldrip got loose, however, walked to the main road and was picked up and taken back to Blythe. Cook was tried, convicted and sentenced to the gas chamber. On December 12, 1952, Cook was executed in the gas chamber at San Quentin Prison in California.[2]


The Hitch-Hiker went into production on 24 June 1952 and wrapped in late July.[3] Location shooting took place in the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine[4] and Big Pine, California.[5] Working titles for the film were "The Difference" and "The Persuader".[3]

Director Ida Lupino was a noted actress[6] who began directing when Elmer Clifton got sick and couldn't finish the film he was directing for Filmakers Inc., the company started by Lupino and her husband Collier Young to make low-budget issue-oriented movies. Lupino stepped in to finish the film, and went on to direct her own projects. The Hitch-Hiker was her first hard-paced fast-moving picture after four "woman's" films about social issues.

Lupino interviewed the two prospectors that Billy Cook had held hostage, and got releases from them and from Cook as well, so that she could integrate parts of Cook's life into the script. To appease the censors at the Hays Office, however, she reduced the number of deaths to three.[2]

The Hitch-Hiker premiered in Boston on 20 March 1953 and immediately went into general release.[3] It was marketed with the tagline: When was the last time you invited death into your car?


Critical response

A.H. Weiler, the film critic for the New York Times, gave The Hitch-Hiker a mixed review on its initial release. The acting, direction, and use of locations were praised, but the plot was deemed to be predictable.[7]

Film critic Dennis Schwartz wrote of the film, "It's a pleasure to watch the action unfold without resorting to clichés. Talman's performance as a sadistic sleaze was powerful. His random crime spree strikes at the heart of middle-class America's insecurity about there being no place free of crime."[8]

Critic John Krewson lauded the work of Ida Lupino, and wrote, "As a screenwriter and director, Lupino had an eye for the emotional truth hidden within the taboo or mundane, making a series of B-styled pictures which featured sympathetic, honest portrayals of such controversial subjects as unmarried mothers, bigamy, and The Hitch-Hiker, arguably Lupino's best film and the only true noir directed by a woman, two utterly average middle-class American men are held at gunpoint and slowly psychologically broken by a serial killer. In addition to her critical but compassionate sensibility, Lupino had a great filmmaker's eye, using the starkly beautiful street scenes in Not Wanted and the gorgeous, ever-present loneliness of empty highways in The Hitch-Hiker to set her characters apart.[9]

Time Out Film Guide wrote of the film, "Absolutely assured in her creation of the bleak, noir atmosphere – whether in the claustrophobic confines of the car, or lost in the arid expanses of the desert – Lupino never relaxes the tension for one moment. Yet her emotional sensitivity is also upfront: charting the changes in the menaced men's relationship as they bicker about how to deal with their captor, stressing that only through friendship can they survive. Taut, tough, and entirely without macho-glorification, it's a gem, with first-class performances from its three protagonists, deftly characterised without resort to cliché."[10]

Noir analysis

While most films noir were filmed in claustrophobic cities, The Hitch-Hiker was filmed on location in the desert southwestern United States, mostly in wilderness and small villages. Critics Bob Porfiero and Alain Silver, in a review and analysis of the film, praised Lupino's use of shooting locations. They wrote, "The Hitch-Hiker's desert locale, although not so graphically dark as a cityscape at night, isolates the protagonists in a milieu as uninviting and potentially deadly as any in film noir."[11]

See also


External links

  • Internet Movie Database
  • TCM Movie Database
  • ]
  • information site and DVD/Blue-ray review at DVD Beaver (includes images)
  • at Prairie Ghosts (Billy Cook information)
  • YouTube
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