The Hitch-Hiker is regarded as the first American mainstream film noir directed by a woman and was selected in 1998 for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”
The film is in the public domain.
Two men (Edmond O’Brien and Frank Lovejoy) from El Centro, California are driving toward a planned fishing trip at the Mexican town of San Felipe on the Gulf of California. Just south of Mexicali, they pick up a hitchhiker named Emmett Myers (William Talman), whose stolen car has apparently run out of gas. Myers turns out to be a psychopath who has committed multiple murders while hitch-hiking between Illinois and Southern California, and has managed to slip into Mexico at Mexicali. To evade the pursuing authorities, Myers forces the two men at gunpoint to journey deep into the heart of the Baja California Peninsula, toward the town of Santa Rosalía, where he plans to take a ferry across the Gulf of California.
Meanwhile, the men try to plot their escape from the violent, paranoid Myers. They try tactics such as sabotaging their car and leaving clues (like an engraved wedding ring) at various points on their journey. One man badly twists his ankle during an escape attempt. The sadistic Myers physically and mentally torments the men, forcing them to continue on foot and mocking their loyalty to each other by claiming that they could have escaped separately if they embraced Myers’ each-man-for-himself ethos.
Arriving at Santa Rosalía, Myers tries to conceal his identity by forcing one of the men to wear his clothes. Myers, upon discovering that the regular ferry to Guaymas has burned down, hires a fishing boat. However, while he is awaiting the fisherman, locals discover his status as a wanted murderer and contact authorities. Police surround the pier and, after some confusion over Myers’ identity, take him into custody following a brief scuffle in which the boastful Myers is revealed to be a coward.
The film ends with the weary friends agreeing to give statements to police.
While most films noir were filmed in claustrophobic cities, The Hitch-Hiker was filmed in the desert southwestern United States (territory similar to that of Baja California, where most of the story takes place), mostly in wilderness and small villages. Critics Bob Porfiero and Alain Silver, in a review and analysis of the film, praised Lupino’s use of shooting locations. They wrote, “The Hitch-Hiker’s desert locale, although not so graphically dark as a cityscape at night, isolates the protagonists in a milieu as uninviting and potentially deadly as any in film noir.”
By Ida Lupino (YouTube : kMWOKlRsDr4) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons