Hitch-Hiker Headline

 

The cool thing about doing a series like this is the way it’s so subjective. Sure one could use various pieces of criteria to settle on selections – winners of various awards, or slots from a notorious list – but at the end of the day, what we “should have seen by now” remains open to interpretation. In some instances, a “blindspot” might actually seem like something inconsequential. Perhaps it’s a film that is very recent, or a lesser-known entry from the late 20th century.

At the end of it all, it’s just about using something predetermined to remedy ignorance. Say, for instance, being ignorant about just what a woman could do with  camera in her hand back in the early 1950’s.

THE HITCH-HIKER is a seemingly simple story. Two men named Roy and Gilbert are headed into along the Mexican coast for a fishing trip when they decide to offer help to a stranded hitch-hiker. Not long after the man hops into their back seat, he reveals his true colours. Turns out the stranger – named Myers – is actually a wanted criminal. He has already killed multiple drivers who have been unlucky enough to invite him into their cars, and now he has Roy and Gilbert seemingly poised to be the next two notches in his gun holster.

Fears begin to mount over just how unstable the violent Myers is, and whether the man can come across some sort of help before the reach an unfortunate demise in the middle of nowhere.

 

Edmond O'Brin in THE HITCH-HIKER

 

What’s amazing about Ida Lupino’s direction is the way she makes the film feel so expansive and so claustrophobic at the same time. She captures the Mexican landscape in such a way that shows how isolated one is when they get out on the open road. Sure, they could run…but where would they go? It evokes pure fear; the sort of fear that arrives when one realizes there is no escape.

But then there’s that car – the car that is something between a set and a character. It can betray its owners, it can abet the criminal in the backseat. It holds the potential to be our heroes’ salvation, and yet it also seems to hold them captive. One of the best moments of tension I’ve ever seen is a scene where our heroes can’t get the car to stop making noise. It’s like they are being betrayed by their own steed whinnying with bandits afoot. Lupino uses the claustrophobic car interior to its fullest cinematic potential. Are you paying attention Mister Tarantino?

Through it all, there is an inescapable feeling of dread. A notion that at any given moment, Myers may get bored of his hostages, or succumb to his homicidal instincts. It’s a blade that dangles over us every minute of this film’s runtime, and we swear we can hear thread after thread in the rope giving way as the story goes on.

How long before the blade finally falls?

 

Roy & Gilbert in THE HITCH HIKER

 

One of the key lines in THE HITCH-HIKER is when Myers is accused of being little more than a coward with a trigger under his finger. He’s told that he hasn’t got a thing except the gun he’s holding, and to this he has no response. It’s the core accusation facing any monster, any criminal, any bully. Take away the stick they use to beat what they want out of people, and what’s left? It leaves you to wonder if any tough person in the world would be as tough if they were unarmed?

Thing is, in film the way of the gun feels even more ruthless. It’s senseless…it’s random. It becomes the longest, most ominous threat any one person could make. Like the bomb under Hitchcock’s table, we just dread it finally going off. It will cause a freakish amount of violence, rip whole lives into pieces, and only empower the coward who holds it. And yet, often its that gun-wielder that is glorified, is remembered, is feared. It’s enough to make one believe that if they were behind the trigger , that they could get what they want.

That’s not to suggest that any child is going to see Myers in this movie and wish to grow up to be him…but it’s quite possible that they might have seen just what he was able to get people to do by pointing the barrel of that revolver at them and got ideas.

 

HH2

 

I would wager good money that you wouldn’t likely find THE HITCH-HIKER on many lists of “essential films”. It’s not going to rank high on all-time bests or inspire long think pieces by scores of great critics. And yet, I feel like I have added some clarity to my film comprehension thanks to the simmering threat it embodies. It feeds on a very real danger from its era and uses fear and violence to become a cinematic boogeyman under the bed. This is the sort of story that requires a deft hand, lest it get lost to the ages as mere pulp fiction. Instead of that, THE HITCH-HIKER stands as a marvel of hard-boiled filmmaking by Lupino from its sensational opening to its ominous conclusion.

This movie wants us to tremble at the seediness that waits in the shadows…that lurks by the side of the road at night…but really it wants women to do the trembling. Movie after movie arrives every year that sensationalize the woman found in the gutter or the woman assaulted crossing the darkened parking lot.

THE HITCH-HIKER is here to ask us guys – as a wise pop star once did – “do you know what it feels like for a girl?”. There’s no comparison, of course…not even in the slightest can a man get intolerant mindset of dread. It’s just the slightest taste; a bitter one…a taste that stays with the audience long after the car finally vanishes in the horizon.
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I usually post Blind Spot entries on the final Tuesday of every month. If you are participating, drop me an email (ryanatthematineedotca) when your post is up and I’ll make sure to link to your entry.

 

Here’s the round-up for April so far…

 

Rebecca watched AGUIRRE, WRATH OF GOD

Courtney watched WITHNAIL & I

Coog wathced SUNSET BOULEVARD

Jordan watched THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH

Donald watched JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBERG

Dell watched PHILADELPHIA

Joshua watched THE THIN BLUE LINE

Ruth watched A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE

Kristina watched THE EARRINGS OF MADAME DE…

Natasha watched LOVE, ACTUALLY

Jay Cluitt watched THE ELEPHANT MAN

Chris watched 9 1/2 WEEKS

Brittani watched AU REVOIR, LES ENFANTS

Sean Kelly watched FRANKENSTEIN