When picking movies for people to see I always try to go with something fast paced, with lots of good lines that people can remember afterwards, and at least one gasp worthy moment. Detour, directed by Edgar G. Ulmer in 1945 hits the mark every time. This film has floated around in the public domain for years. You can see it for free on YouTube, pick it up at the local dollar store, or stumble across a dusty VHS at any garage sale. It’s one of those movies that once you’ve seen it you’ll never forget it.
It’s the quintessential Film Noir, with economical cinematography, dark shadows, impressionistic set pieces, and a story of a man caught up in situations that drive him deeper and deeper into a web of lies that he can never get out. As he says: Yes. Fate, or some mysterious force, can put the finger on you or me for no good
reason at all.
Tom Neal plays Al, the down on his luck piano player who tries to hitchhike across the country to see his girl. Ann Savage, plays the pick-up whose seen it all and who is looking for the quick way out of her terrible life. “Life’s like a ball game. You gotta take a swing at whatever comes along before you find it’s the ninth inning.”
Detour is one of the quickest 68 minutes that I’ve ever seen. Like its name it starts out on the straight and narrow like a B-movie romance and quickly turns off into a dangerous side road filled with twists, turns and a lot of bumps. Add to the film’s history that Tom Neal ended up shooting his own wife in the head, and his son played the same role in a 1992 remake, and you have a true Noir classic that defines the genre.
“What’d you do, kiss him with a wrench?”
In addition, the extreme close-ups, and odd angles of the film look fantastic when projected. Just try to find a good copy. I recommend the Alpha Video version. It seems to be the most complete.
You can watch the full movie here on YouTube.