An Entertaining and Brief ‘Detour’ Down a Dark Highway


Ann Savage and Tom Neal in Detour
Ann Savage and Tom Neal in Detour

After watching (and earlier this week, I had an itch to watch a little more film noir. So, last night, before bed, I started doing a little searching and decided on Edgar G. Ulmer‘s 67-minute feature Detour starring Tom Neal and Ann Savage.

It should be said, before Ulmer started directing films he worked in the art department as set designer on Fritz Lang‘s Metroplis and M as well as assistant art director on F.W. Murnau‘s silent classic Sunrise. We’ve also featured a previous film of his here on this site when Matt Risnes wrote about his 1934 classic Black Cat (read that here) a spectacularly dark and eerie feature featuring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, each of them chewing up the big screen, attempting to outdo one another.

detour-posterThat aside, when it comes to Detour, like Out of the Past we’re talking about another femme fatale, though not one as darkly sinister as Jane Greer‘s, instead the woman we’ll come to know as Vera is a bit more of a nag with the upper hand. The movie begins with Tom Neal as Al Roberts, a New York piano player who sets off to hitch his way from the Big Apple to Hollywood to be reunited with Sue (Claudia Drake), the love of his life, but along the way trouble arises.

A series of events leaves Al, innocent of any crime, with a dead man on his hands and a car that isn’t his. The police would never believe Al’s story so he does what he must to steer clear of any trouble with a mind to get to L.A. and put the nasty business behind him and hope he’s never caught. Enter Vera (Ann Savage), the last person Al needed in his life as she just so happens to know he’s not who he says he is as she had hitched a ride with very man Al left dead on the side of the road back in Arizona.

Bad luck and massive coincidences drive the narrative of Detour, but at only 67 minutes the pace is quick enough to keep you on your toes and it doesn’t necessarily play like some dark and sinister noir as much as it is a tale of follies that find sad sack Al pouting his way through the majority of the film’s duration and Vera taunting him and snarling at every turn. The performances aren’t such that you fall in love with them and the narrative is about as silly as it gets, but the darkly comic tragedy of it all is definitely entertaining.

The pic was shot in only six days and what’s most interesting are the final 30 seconds of the film wherein the Production Code of the time wouldn’t allow films to show murderers getting away with their crimes. Therefore, Ulmer included a brief sequence, almost a throwaway, to appease the censors, but in a film filled with such ridiculous twists, turns and coincidences it fits right in.

Fortunately for you, the film is in the public domain and can be watched directly below. I watched it last night using the very stream here, Chromcasting it to my television. It’s not the best quality and for a piece of film noir it really doesn’t do the movie any justice to be seen in such a format, but at just over an hour it’s a solid distraction.