Detour (1945)

Detour main title.

That’s life, whichever way you turn, fate sticks out a foot to trip you.

Detour, directed by some guy named Edgar Ulmer, is a low budget Film Noir full of sin and grit. It runs short, only an hour and seven minutes, but my god was I surprised at the meatiness of this. This is film noir to the maximum. Like Max Power maximum. Like Homer Simpson is Max Power maximum. At least that’s what a lot of other film critics say. So like a good lap dog I will believe them. Ah hell, I can see it for myself.

A virtuosic piano player named Al Roberts, played by good looking motherfucker Tom Neal, is mad pissed that his lady friend is running off to Hollywood to make it big in whatever she’s talented in. Porn, probably. He stays behind to earn his bank playing sleazy nightclubs. He decides that he wants to leave New York and hitchhike all the way to L.A. Hitchhiking is dangerous he says, you never know who you are going to meet. But it saves money on bus fare, and that is crucial.

He’s picked up by a shady fellow in baller clothes named Charles Haskell. Haskell has some wicked scars on his arms, and informs Al that they came from a woman who wouldn’t shut the fuck up, I think. More on that later. Haskell buys him dinner and then proceeds to die an hour later of what could only have been an epileptic aneurysm or something like that. This happens when Al offers to drive for him as Haskell sleeps. In classic noir poor decision making, he decides to dump the body, steal his clothes, his identity, and all his money, because the cops would have thought he murdered him anyway, because cops are not rational of course!

With this brilliant plan in action, he sets off on his wacky adventure, getting stopped by border patrol, and we feel the anxiety and tension every step of the way. My research tells me this film was made for a whopping $5000. Further testament to the fact that creativity and resourcefulness beat a big budget every day of the week.

Eventually, he meets the obligatory femme-fatal, Vera, played by even better looking mothatrucka Ann Savage at a gas station as he stops for water. Being the pimp that he is in his fantasies, he offers her a ride. He admires her beauty, not Hollywood beauty, but a more natural kind of beauty… the kind you get from scratching the fuck out of some shady road tripping gamblers. Plot twist time! This woman reveals herself to be the woman Haskell was engaging in Mortal Kombat with. She demands to know what he did with Haskell. Al defends himself to the best of his ability. Of course, he isn’t a murderer, we know that, he knows that. But she doesn’t believe a word he says.

 

detour screenshot

We can't stop here, this is bat country!

 

It’s okay though, because this bitch hated Haskell and agrees not to tell the police. For now. He wants to ditch the car in L.A., and Vera rightly informs him that it’s a stupid idea that will get him busted. She gets the better idea to sell the car in town and split the profits. Before Al can fuck himself over by not having car insurance, Vera pulls him away from the salesman and informs him of the fact that Haskell’s rich father is about to die and that he should assume his identity to go pick up millions of dollars in the will.

Al just wants to see his wifey in Hollywood and leave this nightmare behind. He’s convinced he won’t be able to get away with it. “Don’t you think a father would recognize his own son?”. The gold digger insists but Al won’t budge. He wants to fall back on the car selling idea but Vera continues to see dollar signs in her eyes. Over a game of cards, Vera gets pissed and threatens to call the police. Al calls her bluff, and soon enough she is on the phone with the operator. He yanks the phone away and offers her an alcohol beverage. Now that is how you get a femme-fatale to calm down!

It backfires though. Soon she is drunk, raging and demanding for her leg to be cut off, all for a cool $15 million dollars. The conflict gets more physical and she is determined to call the police and snitch on Al. Snitchers get shanked! She tricks him into opening up a window so she can grab the phone and lock herself into her room. In her drunken stupor, she accidently wraps the phone cord around her neck and lies down. Al demands for her to open the door or else he will break it down. In desperation, he grabs the phone cord and starts pulling it with all his might, hoping to sever the connection.

 

Detour screen shot, pulling phone cord

Tug-O-War is dangerous.

 

 

detour screen shot, dead woman

Oops!

 

He severs the connection all right! He breaks down the door to discover her dead body, dead by his hands. He is guilty this time. His mind races with panic. He knows a jury will surely gut him this time. This is like, a noir orgy! Noir bursting from the seems. This is what noir is about. Normal people killing people, for dumb reasons, sometimes on accident, sometimes with passion. And in the end it’s all entertainingly morality play.

I love the title especially. Detour. Straight and to the point, highly descriptive, sums it up perfectly. An unexpected detour through the harsh reality of life. The most noir film noir I’ve ever seen.

I recommend this film to people who like old boring movies, and film noir fans. Not to say that it was boring, quite the opposite. One of the more entertaining Noirs I’ve come across. Boring to people who aren’t into film and who don’t like weird shit like me. I like old boring movies! They’re fun, they’re educational, and they make you feel better than those lesser simpletons who require color and post 80’s production values. Good times!

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