Film Society Selection
Second of two showings this month
book a ticket for this and forthcoming BFS screenings please contact
the SHP Box Office on 01344 484123 or click the logo below to book via
the SHP website.
Tickets £8.60, SHP members £7.00.
BFS members (BFS shows only) £6.60. You may have to show a BFS membership card. Concessions £7.60. SHP make an additional £0.70 charge when paying by credit card. Reserving a ticket by phone, expect to pay by cash at the box office 30 minutes prior to show time.
Thursday 25th January 7.30 pm
National Film Preservation Board, USA 1998
National Film Registry
Director: Ida Lupino, US, 1953, 71 minutes
Cast: Edmond O'Brien, Frank Lovejoy, William Talman
On a fishing trip, two friends pick up a hitch-hiker, but quickly realise their mistake. A fascinating
study of gruesome masculinity, interpreted by a trailblazing independent female
director, this is a terrifyingly real ride into the heart of darkness.
Plus short film
Director: Steph Dalley, UK, 2015, 105 seconds
Hand drawn animation exploring the strange state between dreams and reality, which sleep paralysis causes.
Generally considered the first film noir directed by a woman, The Hitch-Hiker, a trim, nasty true-crime saga set mostly in dusty Mexico, doesnt reflect a feminine sensibility in any way. Ida Lupino had been a mildly successful actor for nearly two decadesher best-known films in that capacity are They Drive By Night, High Sierra, The Sea Wolf, and Out Of The Fog, all made ca. 1940-41when she stepped behind the camera, blithely unconcerned by the fact that female directors essentially didnt exist at that time. Her first four efforts centered on troubled women (and one of them, 1950s Outrage, dared to directly tackle rape as a subject), but theres no estrogen whatsoever in The Hitch-Hiker, as spare and muscular a picture as the 1950s ever produced. Because the film was inspired by actual events that were still fresh in the publics mind, and sticks doggedly to the cases rather mundane facts, it never fully ignites as drama, but Lupino could do tense atmosphere with the best of them.
In December 1950 and January 1951, an ex-con named Billy Cook went on a killing spree that took him halfway across the country, from Missouri to California, and eventually into Mexico. He murdered an entire family that stopped to pick him up, a crime so well-publicized that Jim Morrison referred to it 20 years later in Riders On The StormCook was the second verses killer on the road, [whose] brain is squirming like a toad. Released in March 1953, only three months after Cook was executed, The Hitch-Hiker fictionalizes his final run, when he bummed a ride from two men on a hunting trip and forced them to drive him across the border. Here, the sadistic killer is called Emmett Myers (William Talman, who went on to play Hamilton Burger, the prosecuting attorney Perry Mason defeated every week), and his largely helpless victims are Roy (Edmond OBrien) and Gil (Frank Lovejoy), best friends who were kind enough to help out a guy whose car appeared to have broken down.
So far as narrative is concerned, thats pretty much it. Roy and Gil attempt to escape at one point, to no avail, but the majority of the film, which runs a brisk 71 minutes, consists of Myers ordering them around at gunpoint, occasionally intercut with scenes of American and Mexican cops poking around on their trail. The film boasts little memorable incident or pungent dialogue, and while Talman, with his permanent sneer, makes a mesmerizingly reptilian villain, characterization is otherwise minimal. But the tension never lets up. For audiences of the day, The Hitch-Hiker represented a chilling encounter with pure evilWholl be his next victim You? asked the ad campaignand Lupino treats Myers like a bomb that could go off at any instant, letting Talmans twitchy performance set the tone. The films two best scenes take suspenseful advantage of Billy Cooks deformed right eyelid: When camped at night, Roy and Gil can never know whether Myers is asleep, as his right eye remains slightly open at all times.
Viewed today, when Cooks crime spree has largely been forgotten, The Hitch-Hiker seems oddly skimpy. Lupino and Collier Young (her husband from 1948 to 1951) chose not to embellish their screenplay with psychological nuance or clever plot twistsits just the story of two frightened men taken hostage for several days, wondering whether theyll survive. (The answer to that question has almost nothing to do with their own resourcefulness; the film is all but devoid of conventional drama.) Theres something to be said for pure mood, however, and Lupinos stripped-down approach makes for a compelling exercise in weatherbeaten existentialism. Her gender surely factored into the National Film Registrys selection of The Hitch-Hiker for preservation back in 1998 (culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant is its criterion; this falls mostly under historically), but the movies most notable quality is just how little she clearly cared about that herself.