1953's The Hitch-Hiker has the distinction of being the only classic film noir entry to have been directed by a woman. Directed by Ida Lupino (who was and probably remains better known for her work as an actress than a director, despite a pretty lengthy resume that shows remarkable talent both in front of and behind the camera), the movie focuses on realism as much as it does on shadowy cinematography and it makes excellent use of some rough and tumble location photography which makes the picture a fairly unique entry in the pantheon of classic noir.
The film follows two friends, Roy Collins (Edmond O'Brien) and Gilbert Bowen (Frank Lovejoy), who decide to get a little break from family life by driving into Mexico for a fishing trip. The trip starts out well enough but of course, all of this is about to change once they pick up a hitchhiker along the way named Emmett Myers (William Talman). See, Roy and Gilbert somehow missed out on those radio news spots alerting everyone in the area to the fact that a convict has escaped and that he is considered quite dangerous. Emmett has been working his way further up the coast and has kept going by murdering anyone kind enough to stop and offer him a lift, and our unwitting heroes just might be next.
Once Emmett has been picked up and made his motivations clear, he forces the guys to drive him straight on across the border. The cops are onto all of this and are giving chase as best they can, while Roy and Gilbert, now well aware of the fact that Emmett is going to kill them once he's done, do everything in their power to find a way out of the situation alive.
At just a hair over seventy-minutes in length, The Hitch-Hiker moves at a good pace. It starts off with just enough set up to get things moving before becoming instantly tense with the scene where Emmett takes over the direction that this trip is going to take. Edmond O'Brien is his typically reliable self in his role. He's a bit more hotheaded than Lovejoy as Bowen and this can sometimes put the duo in more danger than the might be otherwise, but he plays the part well. Bowen is the brainier of the two, the type who will think his way out rather than try to shoot his way out. Both men deliver fine work here but when it all comes down to it, this really is William Talman's show all the way. He steals the entire movie a delivers a chillingly effective portrayal of a man on the run with nothing to lose. His character is desperate and dangerous and will put a bullet in anyone who attempts to get in his way or slow him down without so much as a second thought. He's the type who (literally, due to a bad eye) sleeps with one eye open and Talman does a fantastic job bringing this character to life.
Shot with a fairly realistic look in mind, this one was lensed out on location in the desert. This makes for a sweaty, arid sort of tone for much of the picture, giving it almost a post-apocalyptic feel in spots that had to have been intentional given when and where it was made. These men are more or less in the middle of nowhere and unfortunately for the two captives, the desert is in many ways just as dangerous as the criminal in their car. The mountainous terrain is unforgiving and the heat just as able to put you down for the count as a shot from their captor's gun. The movie makes some interesting jabs and typical male violence and the tendency to solve problems with fists and guns, but more than anything else it just works really well as an excellent suspense picture. Once Talman's character is introduced to our two travelers, which happens pretty early in the movie, the movie keeps us on the edge of our seat right to the finish.
The Hitch-Hiker debuts on Blu-ray from Kino in a 1.33.1 full frame transfer taken from 35mm archival elements and presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. There are some scratches here and there and some minor print damage is present in spots but for the most part, this is quite a nice transfer that offers good depth and detail. Contrast looks fine, the black levels are nice and deep and there's no blooming of the hotter whites. There are no problems at all with any edge enhancement or noise reduction and a noticeable but welcome amount of film grain is present throughout, though never to the point where it's particularly distracting. Texture is nice and the disc is free of any compression artifacts or crush in the darker scenes. Generally this looks very nice indeed.
The English language LPCM Mono track on the Blu-ray from Kino is fine considering the film's age and obscurity. Not surprisingly, the track is a bit flat in spots and limited by the original source materials used, but overall there is good clarity here and a reasonable amount of depth to the dialogue. Levels are properly balanced and there aren't any issues with any serious hiss or distortion outside of a few minor bits here and there. For the most part, the mix is clean and crisp and offers pretty good range for an older single channel track. There are no alternate language options or subtitles of any kind provided.
Extras are slim, limited to a sized still gallery as well as some classy static menus, trailers for a few unrelated Kino properties and chapter selection.
Kino's Blu-ray release of The Hitch-Hiker might be devoid of any substantial extra features but that's really the only strike against it. The transfer is a very strong one and the audio is quite good too, which makes for a generally impressive presentation of a genuine film noir classic. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.