“Until now, I’ve done things my way. But recently, something stepped in & shunted me off in a different direction than the one I’d picked for myself.” My Blogs have been relatively regular since I started the Blog after I retired. But my responsibilities expanded yesterday. I’ve been hired as an employee at Rave Cinemas in Manchester CT. However, I’ll continue to Blog classic films whenever possible.
In 1992, Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour became the first B movie chosen for preservation in National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. It is also the first Hollywood film noir movie so honored. Film noir: We hear the term all the time. But what exactly is it? “Film noir” is a French phrase that means ‘black movie’. A more accurate translation is ‘dark movie’. What characteristics are necessary for a movie to be considered film noir? Well really, there are just three. In classic film noir, the protagonist is a normal, law-abiding man – always a man – who, through circumstances that he does not bring about entirely himself, finds he is involved in a serious crime. So, the characteristics are: The genre is crime drama; the protagonist is male; and he is involved in a crime as a result of circumstances over which he has little or no control. If we have that, we have film noir. Often, however, film noir has other qualities: Very often, they’re shot in black & white; camera angles are interesting – low & shot upward to create an eerie effect, and close-ups are common; the story is often told through the protagonist’s narration, sometimes retrospectively; the protagonist is usually an anti-hero; and there is usually a “femme fatale” – another French term meaning ‘fatalistic woman’, the female lead who helps bring about in some way the tragedy that befalls the anti-hero. Some of the most famous film noir classics include The 39 Steps, The Maltese Falcon, Sunset Boulevard, Double Indemnity, and Strangers on a Train. Film noir was very common in the 40’s, and Ulmer’s Detour was released in 1945.
In Detour, our anti-hero is Al Roberts (Tom Neal), a New York City jazz pianist who works with the beautiful singer & love of his life, Sue Harvey (Claudia Drake). Shortly after she heads to Hollywood to limited success, he decides to join her. He hitchhikes & is picked up by Charles Haskell, Jr. (Edmund MacDonald). Something is not quite right about Haskell. He seems sordid & he’s all scratched up from a physical conflict with a woman. Later, we meet our femme fatale, Vera, played by Ann Savage.
Detour is a great example of a low-budget film noir. I’ve included the film in its entirety below. It’s only 67 minutes long & well worth the hour’s investment. 3 Stars!