Wednesday, September 7, 2011

DETOUR (1945)

DETOUR is a slang-filled, pitch-black noir that's so dark and overflowing with venom it's almost best to look at it as a comedy.

Al Roberts is a weak, pathetic loser. In the voiceover he complains endlessly about his shit life. He doesn’t want much, but, according to him, Fate is out to trip him up, put a finger on him for no good reason at all! He’s a piano player in a NYC nightclub and he’s in love with the singer, Sue. Al’s happy with their relationship, but she puts things on hold and moves to Hollywood to try her luck in Tinseltown. At first Al is heartbroken, but then he decides to join her. He doesn’t have any money, but he’s gonna make it anyway he can - train, plane, bus, magic carpet, crawl, even if he has to travel by pogo stick!

Slowly hitchhiking it across country, Al's spirits are even lower than normal when his luck seems to change and he's picked up by Charles Haskell, Jr. who's heading all the way to L.A! Haskell's a real big talker, but Al doesn't mind. Haskell even says some interesting things about how much money he has. So is it bad luck, Fate or just plain murder when later that night Haskell happens to bump his head on a rock and end up dead? Naturally, the coppers wouldn't believe a bum like Roberts so the best thing to do is dump the body, dress in Haskell's clothes, steal all his money and identification then drive his car to LA where he'll dump it. Sounds like a logical plan to me!

But Fate's not finished with Al yet. Not by a long shot! The next day he picks up a hitchhiker, but not just any hitchhiker. Vera (played to Satanic perfection by Ann Savage) actually rode with Haskell earlier and hated Haskell's fucking guts...even more than she hates Al! Holy shit. Every word out of his snarling wordhole is a poison-tipped dart aimed straight at Al's throat.

DETOUR was made outside of the big Hollywood system by Producers Releasing Corporation for a rumored $100,000 in around three weeks. Because of this it's pretty rough around the edges, but that only adds to the brutal cynicism of the film. It might be questionable to put this in my Best Films category, but when you look at how simple (and short!) this film is versus the raw emotion and hate it conveys I think you'll agree. DETOUR is a masterpiece.

One small note to aspiring filmmakers: notice how when we very first see Vera the music is softened just a little to almost trick the viewer into letting down their guard and feeling pity for her...then without warning she snaps like a demon-possessed piranha.

If I was to ever come in possession on a large sum of money one of the first things I would do is buy the rights to DETOUR, find the best print still around then have it remastered to the highest quality possible and put it out for $5 on Blu-Ray with a shit ton of extras including a copy of Martin Goldsmith's 1939 novel.

If you're looking more more film noir road movies be sure to check out THIEVES' HIGHWAY or even better yet read A. I. Bezzerides' novel "Thieves' Market".