Film Noir Classics: DETOUR
Detour (1945) is an early example of film noir (or black film) it’s name referring to the darkly stylized aesthetic the films had. This was also one of the cheaply made “poverty row” productions of the time. Its budget was a mere $20,000 and it only had a 68 minute running time, but went on to prove that even a low budget black and white genre movie could be turned into something with impact and resonance. Detour is now considered a cult crime classic and continues to be heralded by fans and critics as one of the finest films of its kind.
“You’re being a goon, thats the way people wind up behind the 8 ball, once they get a few dollars they get greedy and want more.”
Al Roberts (Tom Neal) a down on his luck piano player is left behind when his sultry nightclub singer girlfriend Sue (Claudia Drake) moves to Los Angeles without him. Al is broke so he decides to hitchhike from Arizona to L.A. to be with her. As he thumbs a ride in the hot sun, Al gets a lucky break when a businessman named Mr. Charles Haskell (Edmund McDonald) picks him up and treats him to a free meal. Unfortunately problems soon arise when Al finds that his hospitable friend Mr. Haskell (who he thinks is asleep) has actually died while he’s driving the car for him. Al panics at his current situation and needs to decide what he’s going to do next. He knows if he calls the cops they’ll think he killed Haskell so Al leaves him on the side of the road and takes off in the car. As he continues on his way to California, he stops at a gas station to get some water and encounters a young woman named Vera (Ann Savage) another hitchhiker who he offers a ride. Vera is a snappy little thing and after a little conversation she passes out from exhaustion. Al becomes taken with Vera very quickly until suddenly after waking up she lets Al know that she knows he’s not Charles Haskell because she caught a ride with him in the same car before he did. Al is taken by surprise and tries his best to convince her that he didn’t kill Haskell. Vera shows Al that she is one tough, quick talking dame and blackmails him into helping her or else she’ll turn him into the coppers. When the two arrive in LA, Vera gets an apartment under the name Mrs. Charles Haskell and makes Al stay with her. Vera is really the epitome of a furious femme fatale, she’s cruel and bossy yet exudes that cute sex kitten quality. She has the same kind of wild eyed craziness that we would later see from Gloria Swanson in another noir classic: Sunset Boulevard. Vera basically holds Al hostage as the pair put on an act as man and wife using Haskell’s identity as a cover to buy things. It’s not long before Al and Vera square off over their next move. Vera gets drunk and restless, but Al tries his best to keep things quiet.
Detour may look like another low budget production on the surface but at the same time it becomes an engrossing tale that pulls you into its shady, scheming world with the noir voiceover narration, Tom Neal’s desperation soaked performance and Ann Savage’s surly broad persona. It’s an early 20th century dusky crime gem that we wholeheartedly recommend to genre enthusiasts!