Friday, July 8, 2011

180. DETOUR (1945)

Running Time: 67 minutes
Directed By: Edgar G. Ulmer
Written By: Martin Goldsmith, from his novel
Main Cast: Tom Neal, Ann Savage, Claudia Drake, Edmund MacDonald


I've been eyeballing "Detour" for quite sometime now, mainly due to it's short running time and my knowing that it would be an easy one to knock out and get one step closer to my next TOP 20. Today, I finally got around to taking a look at "Detour", which is currently streaming on Netflix, and it was actually quite good.

Al Roberts (Neal) is a pianist in a little, New York City joint and his main squeeze Sue Harvey (Drake) is a singer there. Al isn't so happy with his life, but Sue makes him happy and makes him even more happy to know that they will soon be married. Well, that is until Sue calls it off, citing that she wants to head out West to see if she can make it big. Al pleads with her and tells her it's a rotten idea, but she wants to give it a shot, so she goes. Al continues to play the piano in the joint, but soon decides to go out West so that he can be with Sue and so that they may get married. She welcomes the idea, but Al doesn't have a nickel to his name, so takes to the road with his thumb in the air, trying his best to hitchhike to California. He gets about as far as Oklahoma when a well dressed man in a nice car gives him a lift and greets him with the good news that he's going all the way to Los Angeles and he'd be happy to bring Al along. Al is grateful to the man, named Charles Haskell Jr. (MacDonald), and when night falls, he offers to drive so that Haskell can sleep. About halfway through the night, it begins to rain and Al tries to wake Charles to see if he should put the convertible top up. He can't get him awake and when he opens the passenger side door, where Haskell is sleeping, Charles falls out and knocks his head on a rock. He's dead. Maybe he was already dead or maybe the rock killed him, but one things for sure - It's not going to look good when a rich man turns up dead and he just happened to be giving a drifter a lift.

In case you're unaware, this is a film noir and it's a very good one at that. I often wonder why I don't see more noir flicks, because they're always so seedy and I almost always end up loving the ones I do see. While I wouldn't go so far as to say I LOVED "Detour", I did enjoy it quite a bit. It was a film that ran just a smidgen over an hour and for the short time, it was time well spent establishing characters and plot ideas and sucking you in, in record time. Al Roberts is your run of the mill noir character - He's down on his luck, he's a musician and he's in trouble. On top of that he has a couple of dames breathing down his neck, one of which loves him and the other that might be dangerous. There's been murder and some debauchery and it all adds up to a very good noir film. Tom Neal was really good and while doing a little research I learned that Neal actually killed his third wife by shooting her in the back of the head with a .45-caliber gun. Prosecutors sought the death penalty, but Tom got off with ten years in prison.

I think the real gem of "Detour" was Ann Savage as Vera. She was so nasty that she was borderline hilarious. Take a look at this line...

Roberts: "Where'd you hide the butts?"
Vera: They're on the table, sucka!"

She had a tone in her voice that would become very high when she delivered certain dialogue and almost comparable to that of a high pitched whistle, like when she called Al a "chicken!". She was a really good find here and fit perfectly into the seedy world of this noir. In conclusion, good story, good actors and they both make for a perfect film in this noir world.

RATING: 7/10 I've still got plenty of film noir in the book to keep me busy and who knows, maybe someday we'll do a "Tribute to Noir".


July 8, 2011 2:48pm

1 comment:

  1. I'd forgotten that this film was in the 1001 list. It was for me one of those hidden gems you stumble across when you get it included in one of those cheap box sets of 'classic' noirs. OK, this sort of thing isthe sort of thing I like, so I guess I approached it with a bias, but I think it's great.
    I'd no idea about your background story about Tom Neal, so thanks for that.


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