The Noirvember Files: Detour
This B-movie classic from director Edgar G. Ulmer makes for a surreal tale of ill-fated coincidences and bad luck, shot on a shoestring budget and running just over an hour.
Based on the 1939 novel by Martin Goldsmith, the story follows sordid musician Al Roberts (Tom Neal), hitchhiking his way cross-country in order to meet up with an old flame who set off to California to be a star. Al never achieved his own dreams of stardom, but is stubborn and decides to reconnect after much time away. A driver picks him up and promises he will take him to Los Angeles, but unexpectedly dies before the duo can arrive at their destination.
Fearing implication and imprisonment, Al gets rid of the body and assumes the driver’s identity, which leads a larger problem after he picks up a woman with a connection to the deceased man. The woman, Vera (Ann Savage) is your classic femme fatale; beautiful on the outside but carrying sinister and devious motives underneath. While I won’t spoil the climax and denouement between these two characters, it does manage to conclude with deadly consequences that fit squarely with the film’s overarching themes of tragedy and misfortune.
Detour was shot in only six days and its cheap quality really shows, with the overall style coming across as a hardboiled affair with a despairing, hellish outlook on the fates which conceal us. Ulmer truly crafts a masterpiece of the noir genre here, a rare feat given the massive constraints working against the production. Today, it is one of the celebrated films preserved in the National Film Registry, and has also fallen into the public domain. If you’d like to check out Detour, do so at the link below: