In a small roadside diner, Al Roberts (Tom Neal) sits at the counter drinking his coffee. His dishevelled state tells us he’s in no hurry to leave the place but the kind of guy who also doesn’t want to sit around for a chat. A fellow customer at the diner puts a dime into the jukebox, playing some worthy jazz which makes Al snap. “That tune!” His face suddenly wore a look from bad to worse, as it reminds him of something he’d rather forget. Following him around, beating him up inside, we take a hitchhiking trip down memory lane through the eyes of Al.
In a smoke screen clouded room of entertainment, the people gather to watch Sue Harvey (Claudia Drake) and Al Roberts play their musical number –I can’t believe that you’re in love with me. It was a sure kickstarter by popular demand, and Sue was always selling it too. Granted, there was only so much joy a guy could muster up on stage, when deep down they hated the working hours of playing the same old tunes in a cheap night club, though Al figured having Sue around made working there a little like Heaven.
Things were sombre and after working hours, the pair without much appetite, take a stroll down home where Sue informs Al that “I wanna try my luck in Hollywood”, and so with a quick peck goodbye, it came to be that the music had died that night in Al’s heart. His fingers continued to play the miserable hours of the honky- tonk tunes without his sweetheart, as his face played a tune of a different kind. It earned him ten bucks which didn’t excite him all that much, “a piece of paper crawling with germs”. He decided he was going to change his course and with a phonecall to Sue, he was ready to take a plane, bus, train..heck a magic carpet ride! you name it, if it meant he could get out of border and marry his gal.
Desperate times called for desperate measures for a man who had very little to lose, but ends up with his life at stake when he decides to give nod to a hitch out of Arizona. An incident occurs which puts him at haste to leave a crime scene, at the very hands of a detour to Calfornia. A little nap time later, it turns out to be more of a bumpy ride when Al picks up the mysterious hitchhiker- Vera (Anne savage). A young woman who has the sharpest tongue that could cut a man’s dignity in half. There’s alot Vera knew and alot she could do, as her blackmailing abuse set ablaze Al’s sanity of being a ‘cheap crook’ and she often reminded him that any funny buisness meant ” you’ll pop into jail so fast, it’ll give you the bends”.
It’s hard to believe that Edgar G.Ulmer had directed this movie within a very short space of time ; an interview stating he had shot it in six days with quite a low budget. The cast was unfamiliar though remarkably well portrayed, and flaws could be later analysed with technicalities, but it proved to become something special. With a sharp, bold dialogue, the script took hold of power to become worthy of more than just a B movie to date.
It’s narrated in the way I like to read my hardboiled noir, well paced and well versed, emboding the thriller and mystery, wrapped up in a well executed murder. It lives on to see a broken man walk a hot mile without much money. “It’s the stuff you never have enough of..little green things with George Washington’s picture that men slave for..commit crimes for..die for”, not knowing what the squeal of a brake could have in store for him.
Directed by : Edgar G. Ulmer
Screenplay Written by : Martin Goldsmith – Adapted from his novel Detour: An Extraordinary Tale (1939)
Starring : Tom Neal, Ann Savage, Claudia Drake, Edmund MacDonald
Music composed by : Leo Erdody