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Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Darkness #18: Keep Driving (Scene from The Hitch-Hiker)

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-"You like to shoot?"

-"Yeah"

-"So do I"

 

Two buddies going on a fishing trip, what can go wrong? Wait...do I hear banjos in the distance?

 

Edmond O'Brien and Frank Lovejoy will wish they stayed home & played golf instead.

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A man steps out of the darkness on a windy night and puts out his thumb. A car with two men pull over and pick him up. "Out of gas?" they ask. "Yeh," he answers. In just a few seconds, they will realize their act of kindness has put them in grave danger.

 

This opening scene of "The Hitch-Hiker," filmed mainly in a car, feels very cramped and nearly claustrophobic. They may be on a highway and outdoors, but they look very confined. The lighting and staging helps with these feelings. The light shines dimly only on their faces or a side of their face; otherwise they are nearly engulfed in darkness.  In the car, the two innocent men sit in the front seat together; the hitch-hiker is in the back and the darkness shrouds his face until he pulls his gun and moves forward, menacingly, into the light. Even when the trio gets out of the car, the camera mostly stays in a tight close-up of the three men. Again, there is very little light and they are surrounded by darkness. There is no doubt these two men are trapped.

 

The scenes from "The Hitch-Hiker" and "Kiss Me Deadly" have many similarities. In both, we are being thrown into a scenario with no understanding of what is happening. Both scenes are taut and unnerving, and have people who come out of the darkness and are desperate and on the run. Both scenes take place on an open road which should signify freedom, but instead acts to trap the characters.

 

But there are differences. The actual hitch-hiker is clearly a violent man who terrifies not only the two men in the film, but the audience. We have no doubt this is a bad guy. Christina in "Kiss Me Deadly" is a mystery. She looks like a victim, running frantically from some dangerous situation in her bare feet, but we don't know for sure. The man who gives her a ride, Mike Hammer, is actually quite nasty to her but he does give her a ride. Our sympathy is with Christina, not Mike but there is that nagging doubt of both characters because the situation could be deceiving. One thing is certain, both movies set us up for a very taut, unnerving journey.

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I have been on road trips when we decided to drive through the high desert at night in order to avoid the daytime heat. The desert can be extremely eerie at night. Our greatest fear was that the car would break down in the middle of nowhere. But then, putting that aside, we'd roll down the windows, feel the cool air coming in and pop open a real coke bottle. All was good.

 

As I watched the opening scene of The Hitch-Hiker I was harshly reminded that times changed quickly back in the 1950's. People, of course, change as well and, unfortunately, not always for the better. It was a generation that produced a great many advances but was also a very insecure one. The family unit was splitting, crime was on the rise and the fear of the Cold War's threats were very real. But there was Elvis and I Love Lucy, too. And we managed.

 

This introduction of The Hitch-Hiker put the characters in a much more isolated, darker area than in the opening scene of Kiss Me Deadly  where at least there was traffic, action and light coming from other sources.

 

I felt more fear and helplessness with The Hitch-Hiker than I did with Kiss Me Deadly.

The camera filling the frame with the car and limiting the amount of landscape, the viewer experiences a strong sense of confinement even in the expanse of the desert. The helpnessnes and confinement is emphasized when Talman asks O'Brien and Lovejoy to take their jacket sleeves down to the elbows and keep them there. Talman is now in control.

 

There was trouble in the making at the "get go". By showing only the legs with the pant legs blowing in the wind with the dust and weeds heeds a warning that something evil is about to occur and it won't be pretty.

 

I applaud Ida Lupino for launching into controversial subject matters as a director. She had the guts and talent to put sensitive topics on film in an intelligent and a sometimes sympathetic way without removing the harder elements of the message. I think she has been underrated and not credited enough for her contribution to films. Perhaps some of you would know more about her achievements.

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In typical noir fashion, The Hitch-Hiker exhibits themes of chaos, darkness, and the random nature of events. I mean, here are two regular guys out having some wholesome bro time when WHAM, they try to do a good deed and help out a stranded motorist and end up with Mr. CrayCray McFugitive in the back seat. Unlike other movies where bad stuff happens to folks for easily discernible reasons, films in the noir universe, such as this excellent one from (my favorite female director) Ida Lupino, have a point of view that bad things happen just because.

 

As for the lighting and staging of the scene, it all works together to create a superlatively menacing vibe. The way we only see William Talman's shadowy feet at first, then the back of him, and how the rear view mirror casts a shadow over his face until after he points the gun, even after he is in the back seat, really ratchets up the tension, notch by notch.

 Thanks for putting an entertaining spin on this topic .... "Two regular guys out having some wholesome bro time..." You made me laugh, but you made your point as well!

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Although THE HITCH-HIKER was made by Ida Lupino's company The Filmakers, it was released by RKO and aside from sharing cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca, it plays very much like an RKO noir of this classic period. The darkness in this "Keep Driving" clip is absolute, making the lighting so important in emphasizing the danger faced by Roy and Gil and the randomness of evil entering their lives while enroute on a simple hunting trip. Like Mike Hammer's pickup of Christina Bailey in KISS ME DEADLY, our typical middle-class American males in THE HITCH-HIKER have had the finger put on them by fate (to borrow Al Roberts' final observation in DETOUR) by unknowingly giving a ride to killer Emmett Myers. The lighting again comes into play as, pointed out in other posts, Myers enters the car and sits in the blackened back seat, uttering terse answers to the vacationers' good-natured questions. When Myers lunges forward to show us his face, the dashboard illumination captures his all-around detestable nature and contemptuous attitude toward his captives. Lighting from the sports car (was it a Jaguar?) dash in KISS ME DEADLY make Christina's and Mike's faces the focus of our attention and we learn things about their characters, Christina's remarkable self-possession despite her terror, and Mike's flip, what's-in-it-for-me demeanor. In THE HITCH-HIKER, we've been introduced to Roy and Gil early on traveling in the front seat of the Plymouth sedan, and by watching their faces we get some insight into the malaise they are seeking to escape on the hunting trip. After Myers enters the picture, their faces reflect the fear that has so suddenly entered their lives, THE HITCH-HIKER is also of its time when the unexpected and vicious nature of crime came into the fore. Serial killings were not unknown and made sensational newspaper copy, but were not part of normal everyday discussion in the early '50s. However, radio shows like GANGBUSTERS and TALES OF THE TEXAS RANGERS (starring Joel McCrea) were remarkably frank about the brutal nature of the criminal mind, the audience learning the grisly details as the investigators discuss them in trying to solve the crime. As part of our discussion of the motives of film noir, if THE HITCH-HIKER was designed to showcase the aberrant nature of Myers and the peril he posed to public safety, it succeeds admirably. Myers, brilliantly portrayed by William Talman, is an outsider to beat them all, and what's worse, he doesn't seem to care. He's boiling over with rage at the world, and at the end (sorry, spoiler alert), stripped of his all-empowering gun and in custody, he uses the only thing he's got left to strike back -- by pathetically spitting at his former hostages. THE HITCH-HIKER pointed to a new kind of madman at large by giving us Emmett Myers.

 

Thanks for the background info in your post; it helps put the movie in perspective to the time it was made.

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This noir example just makes me nervous.  It was like watching a possessed criminal pretend to be a drill sergeant!  That said, I was impressed by the contrast of darkness and light with the color scheme that Lupino seemed to choose.

 

The general darkness that the hitchhiker hides behind, while showing the lightness of the terrified victims, makes for an intriguing balance that ultimately seems to contribute well to the suspense.

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Several people have wondered why they would pick up a hitchhiker. I think I can propose a theory on this. The Lovejoy and O'Brien characters are both in their 30s. They would be old enough remember well the Great Depression when thousands of men (and sometimes women) were hopping freights or hitchhiking around the country looking for work and the gas rationing and tire shortages  in World War II when many people had to hitchhike when they had used their gasoline allotment or had a bad tire that couldn't be replaced. It was common for people to lend a hand to others by giving them a ride. There was a sense that you were helping your fellow man. Part of what we see in this movie is that that trust and charity might no longer be appropriate. The '50s were becoming a time to mistrust. Your neighbor might be a Communist and the guy down the street might be a killer.

 

I think many film critics don't give the Depression enough credit for helping to create the states of fear, helplessness and loneliness. When the first films noir were made the Depression was already more than a decade old. It had been the result of forces that most people didn't understand and had left many people without resources and wondering where their next meal might come from. There was a terror and helplessness to the plight of many Americans during the Depression. Then World War II added more uncertainties and more things that were caused by forces and people where the individual had little or no control and no way to avoid. Then the Cold War started...

 

One other thing I noted in the scene in question in this movie. Not only are our two ostensible heroes regular guys but they exhibit kindness in that the first thing they do after picking up the hitchhiker is to offer him a cigarette. Part of this movie has always struck me as being about kindness and humanity being punished rather than rewarded.

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Unlike the beginning of Kiss Me Deadly, the feet are shoed and stationary, as if waiting for something or someone.  The person waiting appears in shadow against the lights of the car, adding more mystery to the scene.  It isn’t a spiffy sportster that stops, but a rather mundane hard top.  The angular light across the hitch-hiker’s face obscures his identity for the audience and cautioning against change coming because of the new passenger. 

 

Emmitt Myers, when he shows his face, is well lit – better lit than the two men in the front seat.  Despite his hardboiled face and angry expression, his face seems almost angelic in the light.  Whereas the audience couldn’t see him before, now the audience can’t stop staring at him.

 

Of course, the gun helps keep the focus on him.

 

Crime tends to play center stage of most noir film, though I found the opening interesting in the fact that the criminal was center stage in most of the shots. 

 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go listen to The Cure’s The Stranger, thanks to the video lecture (yes, the song is based off of the book of the same name by Albert Camus)

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What are some of the major themes and/or ideas introduced in the opening sequence of The Hitch-Hiker?

Since this is the dawning of the Cold War and the Red Scare, there was this common misconception that the enemy could be anyone; your neighbor, your spouse, your kids' teachers, etc. I think this concept is poignant in this film in that any random person and/or chance encounter could lure you into a dangerous situation.

 

Discuss the role of lighting and staging in this scene, and how lighting and staging both work to reveal the underlying substance of film noir?

What I immediately noticed is how the hitch-hiker appears disembodied. We only see his head in full view floating behind and terrorizing these men. It's as though he is less than human with no concept of compassion or respect for his fellow man. Our two victims here are shown in full lightness, yet are in the dark about who this man is and how to proceed.

 

Compare and contrast the opening scenes of Kiss Me Deadly and The Hitch-Hiker? What is similar between the two? What is different? Why do these openings both work as excellent examples of how to open a film noir?  

What struck most as a similarity is the technical aspect of filming from behind. Again, as in Kiss Me Deadlywe are along for the ride. The plots are similar in that we pick up a random stranger that will set the drivers' lives onto a completely different, life-threatening course. Where they two films differ is in dialog. In Kiss Me Deadlyit's the heavy breathing that dominates the scene with the driver in complete control. In The Hitch-hiker it's the passenger who is dominant and taking control away from the driver and his passenger. The idea of fast paced movement and focus on a road is often a repeated motif in films noir; it's evident even in modern noir.

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I have to say that this week's noir movies are doing their job...I don't like them!

 

I hate that feeling of not being able to control what happens...knowing there's danger afoot and having to sit there just like the characters and take it. 

 

"The Hitch-Hiker" has to probably be the worst so far. 

 

I had to keep asking myself why Hamilton Burger was being so nasty!

 

A true movie of the 50's with William Talman and Frank Lovejoy; both so involved in that decade.

 

Edmund O'Brien as well, with this and "DOA" to his credit, another edge-of-your-seater!

 

Interesting that after having killed several folks already for their cars and/or cash, he decided to use these two guys for awhile.  I guess had he not, there wouldn't have been a movie, right?

 

I didn't like this film...way too realistic!

 

I agree The Hitch-Hiker was filmed in a very tough and realistic manner from start to finish thanks to the talented Ms Lupino.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, this movie left me exhausted and a bit un-nerved as this could happen to any of us.  A filmed notion of reality keeping us aware of our ever-present vulnerability.  I like the movie and appreciate the cinematic accomplishments it achieved but it's not one I can watch over and over again like Out of the Past, Postman Always Rings Twice or The Third Man. That could be the cultural shift the 1950s brought to film noir.  In your face fear and paranoia.

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I am hopelessly obsessed by what is in Emmett Meyers' ear.

 

I love the use of light in this opening scene. The way that Hamilton Burger, I mean William Tallman's face comes out of the shadow to menace the two guys in the front seat. "Bringing the crazy" as our prof says in the Daily Dose of Darkness and that is absolutely right. 

 

I think this idea of the menace coming out of the night to flag down a lone car is another indication of the fickle hand of fate, and speaks to an existential fear of the vulnerability of the lone car on a dark road and the evil that can materialize out of the dark. This last observation is writ large, and small, in this opening scene, and was also on display in the opening scene of "Kiss Me Deadly".

 

 

 

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This film had really abrupt moments and strikes right at people's innate emotions of fear and desperation. To have someone pull a weapon after you just offered to do a kind act for them is a big fear I'm sure for lots of people.

The light is prototypical noir or at least I mean to say its very common style to have the low lights and silhouetted figures. adds a lot of the mystery and suspense. Who is this guy and what's he like?

Putting the camera in the front and then back of the car showed how there is a power and control situation that has evolved rapidly in the car with the men. They went from offering a smoke to having a gun in their face. 

 

I think this is contrasted to kiss me deadly because both movies really have the fear aspect as a major theme but they both do it in diametrically opposite ways. One is slow and methodical. Quiet could even be a word to describe. Whereas the other was frantic and fast paced with a girl running full speed. Both are on dark highways. Both are not happy places. 

 

Mark

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1.)   One of the major themes introduced in the opening of The Hitchhiker is isolation.  The two men who pick up the hitchhiker are completely and utterly isolated in the automobile with the hitchhiker. There is no way for them to escape and no way for them to alert the outside world.  One of the ideas that is presented in the opening scene is an idea that adheres closely with scholars analysis of film noir. In just the first few minutes of the film, the two major protagonists make an minor mistake (picking up the hitchhiker) which leads to disastrous results.  Like Burt Lancaster in The Killers stating ...I make a mistake once". the two men in the car have made their one fatal error in the noir world and now the error is coming back to haunt them.

 

2.)  The lighting and the beginning of the scene once the hitch hiker enters the rear seat of the car shows his face enshrouded in blackness an shadow.  We see his body but where his face should be we see complete and inky darkness...almost like a black hole hovering over his body. It is the blackness  of evil and when the character leans forward and we see his face it is as if the devil himself has risen from the blackness and now has taken human form.  The lighting and this unique staging work to reveal the underlying substance of film noir in that we see how technique underlines psychological meaning.  First the hitchhikers face is obscured in darkness...not just a shade of gray or a slight shadow, but a deep, bottomless blackness...a total void without light and detail.  The audience is left to wonder...who is this figure ?  The audience knows instantly that the body without a face can mean nothing good to the two men driving.  When the hitchhiker draws his gun and moves forward to reveal his face our greatest fears for the two men driving have come true.  Blackness is equated with evil in the noir world and this scene demonstrates that.

 

 

3.)  Both opening scenes from Kiss Me Deadly and The Hitchiker start with a lone figure on a desolate stretch of highway looking for a ride.  Both of the characters seeking a ride are of questionable psychological stability.  Both scenes feature protagonists who agree to give the hitchhiker a ride without concern for what fate may befall them as a result.  In both scenes,  the characters who pick up the hitchikers have but to wait a few minutes to find out something is not quite right with the person they gave a ride to.   In the case of Kiss Me Deadly, Hammer has gotten himself into something by picking up an escapee, but he is not nearly the prisoners that the two men in the Hitchhiker have become.  

 

   Both  opening scenes are excellent examples of how to open a film noir because they instantly launch us into the story without wasting a breath or a moment.

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The light and darkness in The Hitchhiker's opening scene shrouds the killer in shadow. By only seeing his legs first, then starting the reveal with a shot of the gun, the audience is cued to the danger of the anonymous stranger the two men in the car try to help.

 

The shot of the two men in the front seat exchanging glances underscores the tension of the scene.

 

Like Kiss Me Deadly, the opening scene involves a car and a hitchhiker. However, in Kiss Me Deadly, the hitchhiker is a victim, as opposed to The Hitchhiker, in which the title character victimizes the guys who pick him up.

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The hitch-hiker in "Kiss Me Deadly" draws more sympathy or empathy from me, with the fear residing in her (not the driver). In "The Hitch-Hiker," the fear will reside in the driver and his companion, with the stranger pushing them around. I don't feel for any of these characters yet, whereas with "Kiss" I bonded with both, which is interesting.

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   The Hitch-Hiker's opening sequence embodies a theme of paranoia in 1950's America of how a sudden danger or threat (especially with a weapon) can abruptly alter the course of one's life. The two passengers, Roy and Gil lost control of their lives while trying to help what they thought was a person in need. The other themes in this scene are related to the tension caused by the impending violence. The phenomenal camera work allows the viewer to sense the men's fright by illuminating their terrorized faces with the dashboard lights.Subsequently,we are the ones swiftly unnerved by the first glimpse of the hitch-hiker's gun and then by his menacing face. There is no doubt that he is dangerous. "You like to shoot. So do I"

     The dark sequences are effectively lit by the dashboard lights,trunk light, or gunman's flashlight. The flashlight serving as a "spot light"at times. The director, Ida Lupino places the viewer inside the car and gives us a direct point of view when the car swerves into the side road.The head lights illuminate a desolate area where the obvious message is that the men are hopelessly trapped.

     The similarity between "Kiss me Deadly" and "The Hitch-Hiker" is the night on night road scenario where a person is seeking a ride. In the first movie, we see the woman in full light and in the Hitch-Hiker he is kept in the shadows until we see the gun. The barefoot woman is not an obvious threat to anyone but the male is intimating to certainly use the gun. In both sequences, the viewer is kept in the dark about who, what and why. The hitch-hikers force their predicament on innocent people.In both cases, they present an unexpected peril to people trying to help them; therefore, creating noir-like tension, fear, danger and violence.

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-- Major themes and/or ideas introduced in the opening sequence:

 

Fear, mistrust, bleakness, loss of innocence, betrayal, and paranoia are along for the ride in THH. Today no one picks up hitchhikers anymore for fear of precisely this kind of horrifying situation, but in the 1950s, it was much more common. The underlying idea that someone you may be trying to help out of a bad situation can turn on you in the most ruthless way is deeply unsettling, and for it to happen in a car, a confined space, is even worse. Cars are supposed to help people escape, and here the car is a prison in motion.

 

-- How lighting and staging both work to reveal the underlying substance of film noir:

 

The car's headlights are the first lighting we see, reminiscent of a searchlight, honing in on the hitchhiker coming out of the darkness. The spotlight effect inside the car, on the men in the front seat and then the flashlight effect on the madman in the back seat, distorts faces disturbingly. This coupled with the switch in perspective from the front of the car (as if we're on the hood) and the back (as if we're behind the back seat), creates a noir-ish sense of foreboding with a psychological bent...we quickly feel the discomfort of O'Brien and his friend; in fact, we feel it before they do, because we see the feet and legs of the hitchhiker in the first few seconds, observe his face awash in shadows in the back seat, and hear his faceless voice. The effect is both creepy and realistic.

 

-- What is similar between The Hitchhiker and Kiss Me Deadly, what is different, and why these openings both work as excellent examples of how to open a film noir:

 

The openings of KMD and THH are similarly effective in setting, style and mood: they both begin on a dark, lonely road at night, both establish tension quickly as a stranger is introduced into the small, confining space of a car, both use lighting and shadow to heighten the sense of dread, confusion, and uneasiness, and both incorporate sound, music and dialogue to underscore the sense of fear and paranoia. THH is missing the sexual tension of KMD, and is a lot darker and more scary. We get the sense that the characters in KMD are up to no good, but in THH real terror is lurking in the backseat. As discussed both films establish the shock and confusion of film noir very quickly, and use lighting, staging, sound, music, and dialogue to excellent effect.

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What are some of the major themes and/or ideas introduced in the opening sequence of The Hitch-Hiker?

 

The major themes introduced during the pick-up of the hitchhiker are, crime, ruthlessness, fear, isolation, and desperation.

 

Both of the hunters find themselves the victims of an unwelcome surprise when they do a good deed by giving a stranded motorist a lift to get some gas for his vehicle. Never having seen the film, I assume that the audience is in on the fact that a criminal is on the loose, and that the hitchhiker might be the desperado. When the hitchhiker levels the gun at them after being offered a cigarette, and announces his name, the audience has the feeling that the two friends could look at each other and say "who's Emmett Myers?" 

 

There are several opportunities for Edmund O'Brien and Frank Lovejoy to surprise William Talman and turn the tables on him, but they never seize those chances.

 

I have seen several films directed by Ida Lupino, and she always does a good job of building tension and fear in the face of a desperate or somewhat crazed individual. It is clear from this scene that she is up to her standards. (I did find it somewhat disconcerting that Hamilton Berger, the DA on Perry Mason, was playing Myers!).

 

Discuss the role of lighting and staging in this scene, and how lighting and staging both work to reveal the underlying substance of film noir?

 

Although the instructor has already discussed a lot of  the above matters in his preamble, I can make some other observations. The staging assists in building suspense. From the pair of shoes waiting in the dark on the highway, to the fact that Lupino doesn't reveal his face until he has raised the gun, and the tight shot in the car with the three faces close together, the audience feels the fear and and desperation of all the travelers, albeit for different reasons. Once they emerge from the car, all three are kept in a tight shot, with the script calling for Myers to deliver a series of somewhat contradictory instructions, which Frank Lovejoy registers on his face each time they occur, making the audience root for the two hunters to take a chance and upset Myers so they can take his weapon and get the upper hand.

 

The lighting is interesting because for a lot of the scene, no light source makes sense, so the audience just has to accept the bright light on Myers face, and the lighting on the faces of all three once they leave the vehicle. The flashlight, which can't be the light source of most of the scene's lighting is the primary light focus with the headlights providing the other lighting. I once read an interview with James Wong Howe in which he stated that the DP should not worry about an organic explanation for the light source in any given scene, so I always remember that when I think that the lighting is contrived.

 

Compare and contrast the opening scenes of Kiss Me Deadly and The Hitch-Hiker? What is similar between the two? What is different? Why do these openings both work as excellent examples of how to open a film noir?

 

The first observation I would make about both scenes is that one made me want to watch the rest of the film and one did not. 

 

The Hitchhiker is a film I want to see more of because Lupino built so much into the scene in terms of tension, suspense, and investment in the characters. I really don't want to see the rest of Kiss Me Deadly. I thought the scene was wooden, overacted, predictable, and uninteresting. Although it could have contained suspense and tension,  the director negated any such effects by having Cloris Leachman overdo the panting and moaning. In contrast, the three occupants of the car in Hitchhiker give very spare performances, allowing the audience to read something into the situation and thus become engaged in the the action such that when the clip ends, we are  left wanting more. I had no such desire once Kiss Me Deadly ended. While Hitchhiker is a good example of a noir opening, in my opinion, Kiss Me Deadly is not.

 

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The Hitchhiker is a film I want to see more of because Lupino built so much into the scene in terms of tension, suspense, and investment in the characters. I really don't want to see the rest of Kiss Me Deadly. I thought the scene was wooden, overacted, predictable, and uninteresting. Although it could have contained suspense and tension,  the director negated any such effects by having Cloris Leachman overdo the panting and moaning. In contrast, the three occupants of the car in Hitchhiker give very spare performances, allowing the audience to read something into the situation and thus become engaged in the the action such that when the clip ends, we are  left wanting more. I had no such desire once Kiss Me Deadly ended. While Hitchhiker is a good example of a noir opening, in my opinion, Kiss Me Deadly is not.

 

 

You really should see Kiss Me Deadly, a lot of its wooden feeling will be forgiven as you get further into the film. The movie is as much about noir as it actually is a noir. It's almost like a neo-noir made while regular noirs were still popular.

 

Side note; Hello, fellow Alaskan, from an expat. I was born and raised in Anchorage, and just moved out last year. Hope you're safe from the wildfires and the awful high temperatures.

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Like the opening of Kiss Me Deadly, the opening of The Hitch-Hiker plunges the viewer into a menacing, chaotic world from the start. Whereas the source of Cloris Leachman's terror in Kiss Me Deadly remains unknown in the opening sequence, we are well aware of the source of terror in Edmond O'Brien's backseat. I think this opening reflects the sense of paranoia and doom that is common in films noir. One minute you're trying to do a good deed by picking up a fellow in need of a ride, and the next minute you're being held at gunpoint and forded to march out into the desert (or whatever the setting--haven't seen this film yet). It's an evil world out there waiting to devour the innocent.

 

I thought the way Lupino introduced the villain was revealing. We see him first only as a silhouette in the shadows of the backseat. Then we get a close-up of his gun. We see the driver and passenger react to the realization that they've picked up a criminal. Then the camera zooms in past the front seat to a close-up of the villain in the backseat as he explains that he is in charge and they had better obey orders or else. Unlike Kiss Me Deadly, there's no question about who is the force of evil in this scene. But all the other questions that we ask ourselves in the opening of Kiss Me Deadly are repeated as we watch the opening of The Hitch-Hiker. Who is this guy? What has he done? What does he want? How far is he willing to go? How evil is he?

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Side note; Hello, fellow Alaskan, from an expat. I was born and raised in Anchorage, and just moved out last year. Hope you're safe from the wildfires and the awful high temperatures.

 

 

Hello fellow Alaskan!

 

We are having some beautiful, warm, sunny days. The smoke does blow in off and on, but the weather is perfect for golf!

 

Thanks for introducing yourself.

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This clip reminds me of Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” They pick up someone not realizing he’s the escaped murderer. The family is hopeless (although Grandma doesn’t think she will actually be killed) just like O’Brien and his friend. They do what they are told without real hope of living through the experience. Unlike O’Connor, Lupino gets straight to the point—they’ve picked up the wrong man. The only light in the first minute is the one showing the gun. Like spotlight, it lets the men know they don’t have a bright future. I haven’t seen this film, but it can’t end happily—maybe I’m wrong and they survive. The first five minutes doesn’t set you up for anything but a bad ending. You can see it in the men’s eyes; they know they will be used and then killed. O’Brien doesn’t grab the gun, even though he knows he will die. Maybe there is a bit of hope--maybe they are waiting for a better plan. But is there one?  I’ll watch the film tomorrow night to see what happens. The beginning does draw you into it. I feel sorry for the guy, and I want to see that maybe this time, they survive.

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This clip reminds me of Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” They pick up someone not realizing he’s the escaped murderer. The family is hopeless (although Grandma doesn’t think she will actually be killed) just like O’Brien and his friend. They do what they are told without real hope of living through the experience. Unlike O’Connor, Lupino gets straight to the point—they’ve picked up the wrong man. The only light in the first minute is the one showing the gun. Like spotlight, it lets the men know they don’t have a bright future. I haven’t seen this film, but it can’t end happily—maybe I’m wrong and they survive. The first five minutes doesn’t set you up for anything but a bad ending. You can see it in the men’s eyes; they know they will be used and then killed. O’Brien doesn’t grab the gun, even though he knows he will die. Maybe there is a bit of hope--maybe they are waiting for a better plan. But is there one?  I’ll watch the film tomorrow night to see what happens. The beginning does draw you into it. I feel sorry for the guy, and I want to see that maybe this time, they survive.

 

I've assigned O'Connor's story for my students' reading list this summer quarter. I'm teaching the literary genre: The Southern Gothic. Definitely a bleak story with similar archetypes as in The Hitch-hiker, but definitely two different plots. I've seen this film many times. It's a great one to watch.

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Lupino introduces the villain's face in the same way she introduces his gun. Both rise out of the shadow and into the light. The juxtaposition of the villain's lethal pistol with his victim's larger but impotent in this scene shotgun is significant as well. I look forward to watching the entire film to figure out how.

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-- Major themes and/or ideas introduced in the opening sequence:

 

Fear, mistrust, bleakness, loss of innocence, betrayal, and paranoia are along for the ride in THH. Today no one picks up hitchhikers anymore for fear of precisely this kind of horrifying situation, but in the 1950s, it was much more common. The underlying idea that someone you may be trying to help out of a bad situation can turn on you in the most ruthless way is deeply unsettling, and for it to happen in a car, a confined space, is even worse. Cars are supposed to help people escape, and here the car is a prison in motion.

 

-- How lighting and staging both work to reveal the underlying substance of film noir:

 

The car's headlights are the first lighting we see, reminiscent of a searchlight, honing in on the hitchhiker coming out of the darkness. The spotlight effect inside the car, on the men in the front seat and then the flashlight effect on the madman in the back seat, distorts faces disturbingly. This coupled with the switch in perspective from the front of the car (as if we're on the hood) and the back (as if we're behind the back seat), creates a noir-ish sense of foreboding with a psychological bent...we quickly feel the discomfort of O'Brien and his friend; in fact, we feel it before they do, because we see the feet and legs of the hitchhiker in the first few seconds, observe his face awash in shadows in the back seat, and hear his faceless voice. The effect is both creepy and realistic.

 

-- What is similar between The Hitchhiker and Kiss Me Deadly, what is different, and why these openings both work as excellent examples of how to open a film noir:

 

The openings of KMD and THH are similarly effective in setting, style and mood: they both begin on a dark, lonely road at night, both establish tension quickly as a stranger is introduced into the small, confining space of a car, both use lighting and shadow to heighten the sense of dread, confusion, and uneasiness, and both incorporate sound, music and dialogue to underscore the sense of fear and paranoia. THH is missing the sexual tension of KMD, and is a lot darker and more scary. We get the sense that the characters in KMD are up to no good, but in THH real terror is lurking in the backseat. As discussed both films establish the shock and confusion of film noir very quickly, and use lighting, staging, sound, music, and dialogue to excellent effect.

 

I was kinda waiting for the killer to say ,"Simon Says." 

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