I have 498 movies in my Netflix Instant queue. I tend to watch one thing for every five that I add, but now my library is close to being full and I have to make room. So, every Monday I’m going to pick a random movie out of my queue and review the shit out of it. But (like Jesus), I’m also thinking of you and your unwieldy queue and all the movies in it you want to watch but no longer have the time to now that you’ve become so awesome and popular. Let me know what has been gathering digital dust in your Netflix Instant library and I’ll watch that, too. One Monday for you and the next for me and so on. Let’s get to it.
What’s the movie? Detour (1945)
What’s it rated? Unrated for mouthy dames, smooth chiselers and gullible pianists.
Did people make it? Written by Martin Goldsmith and Martin Mooney. Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer. Acted by Tom Neal, Ann Savage, Claudia Drake and Edmund MacDonald.
What’s it like in one sentence? A short little nasty noir piece.
Why did you watch it? Seti recommended it and he’s pretty good about those things.
What’s it about in one paragraph? Al is a lounge piano player in NYC whose special lady friend decided to head off to LA and try and make it as an actress. Al acts a fool and whinily tells her to go. A few weeks later, he realizes he’s made a mistake and decides to hitchhike across the country to be with her. When the man he’s catching a ride from drops dead, Al makes a few really stupid decisions and creates all of the problems he’ll have for the second half of the film.
Play or remove from my queue? Play it. Spoilers!!!! At a brisk 67 minutes, there’s really noting to lose. It’s a fun story and feels like a classic example of low budget 40’s noir, but a lot of it doesn’t really work, either. The biggest problem is the central character of Al Roberts. For the first ten minutes of the film, he has on one of the most ridiculous stink-faces I’ve ever seen. He’s whiney, mopey, pissy and a little bitch all at the same time. When his lady leaves him in NYC, you’re glad for her and excited she’s off to a better life. So, when he decides to chase after her after one nostalgic phone call, he hitches a ride with a rich guy who has some claw marks on his arms. The rich guy, Charles Haskell Jr., says he got the scratches from a lady that was hitchhiking with him earlier that turned out to be crazy, so he booted her out of the car. Anyway, Al takes a turn driving and Haskell drops dead in the passenger’s seat. Now here’s where it gets silly: Instead of calling the cops or driving him to a hospital, he thinks he’ll be blamed for the death (even though there’s no injuries), so he dumps the body, steals his wallet and takes his car, assuming his identity. What?
Maybe if the film had me in its thrall more, I would have gone with the story, but it’s all too random to be believable. So, he’s got the car, he’s pretending to be Haskell and he’s on his way to a city where nobody knows him. What does he do? He picks up a fucking hitchhiker. He’s scared, feeling very guilty and trying to keep a low profile, but he picks up a damn hitchhiker. And guess what? She turns out to be the crazy lady who clawed the real Haskell, so she knows Al is full of shit. Hello needle, meet haystack.
Luckily, the performance of Ann Savage as Vera, the problematic woman, is super fun. She’s not a femme fatale in the typical noirish fashion because the femme fatale has to be irresistible and appealing, while Vera is constantly awful and unpleasant. As soon as she enters the picture, you start rooting for Al because he’s a dreamboat compared to her. She’s a cruel drunk who instantly decides to blackmail Al and take him for every dime she can. Al’s an idiot, but Vera is evil. The way their relationship ends is telegraphed pretty early in the film, but it’s still a fun ride to get there.
I’m just now catching up with a lot of film noir titles I haven’t seen (which instant has a ton of, BTW), and I’d say Detour isn’t the best I’ve seen, but it isn’t the worst either. It’s got great music, fun, old-timey performances and a nasty streak a mile wide. On the other hand, the direction and editing is choppy, it’s a tad predictable and its lead character is as sharp as poo. Combined, the good outweighs the bad and the short running time keeps it brief enough to be breezy.
Do you have a favorite line? A patron looks at an older waitress and actually says ” Hey, Glamorous, give me change for a dime, will ya?” Ahhh, casual sexism.
Do you have an interesting fun-fact? This is the first noir film chosen by the Library of Congress to be in the National Film Registry. It’s also Errol Morris’ favorite film.
What does Netflix say I’d like if I like this? The Scar (old noir), Scarlet Street (more old noir), Ruthless (even more old noir), 99 River Street (I haven’t seen any of these) and Crime of Passion (I really need to see more of these).
What does Jared say I’d like if I like this? All the other noir ever.
What is Netflix’s best guess for Jared? 3.9
What is Jared’s best guess for Jared? 3.0
Can you link to the movie? Anything for you!
Any last thoughts? It is a lot of fun, no matter how nitpicky I got with it. There’s many worse things to do with your time.
Did you watch anything else this week? Moonrise Kingdom made me swoon.
Any spoilerish thoughts about last week’s film, The Rum Diary? You know, the big complaint everyone seems to have about this film is that it’s scattered, but that almost feels like the point. I really liked the episodic nature of the film, although I will say the land grab story had no conclusion, other than to create Thompson’s righteous indignation.
Next Week? Next week, CHUD’s own Michael Rabattino is guest writing the column, as I am going to be otherwise indisposed. He’s a kickass writer, so I think you guys will have a good time.