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I got a head start on this film from the public film archives. In some respects it's not pure film noir as it's largely filmed in the sunny, dusty Mexican desert and does not have a tragic ending; indeed, it has a very satisfactory ending. But William Talman in a marvelous performance portrays a criminality that almost denies any form of "rationality" and reflects a scary malevolence seldom equaled in film or literature. He's not a mobster rationally protecting his rackets or a robber primarily looking for money; instead, he kills first and takes the wallet afterwards, almost as an afterthought. He mocks his captives (two friends) saying one of them could have escaped but that "you guys are too close to each other." At another moment he says to them that their trouble is that they have too many "IOUs" and thus have pressure (financial and otherwise) on them while the hitchhiker brags: "I don't have any IOUs, I take what I want and I don't care who it's from or how I get it" (rough paraphrase). Is the hitchhiker the way he is because "my parents took one look at this puss and said the hell with him?" I suspect the hitchhiker's pure malevolence, his psychopathic and sociopathic outlook and behavior, springs not from some childhood rejection but from some far deeper source that defies an easy rational explanation but that Freudians might explain by pointing to dark impulses arising from our collective natural history and uncontrained by any working superego, or that Christian theologians would call original sin (for his soulless behavior and outlook). In any event I doubt that Talman ever prosecuted an individual on "Perry Mason" more evil than the one he portrayed in this film noir.

 

I can't end this note without mentioning Ida Lupino's direction. Professor Edwards says her average film took only $160,000 to make which would presumably apply to this film as well. Filming in Mexico may have kept the cost down, but she used her resources wisely and made a very good film that takes an uneasy look at the rawest form of criminality.

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I got a head start on this film from the public film archives. In some respects it's not pure film noir as it's largely filmed in the sunny, dusty Mexican desert and does not have a tragic ending; indeed, it has a very satisfactory ending. But William Talman in a marvelous performance portrays a criminality that almost denies any form of "rationality" and reflects a scary malevolence seldom equaled in film or literature. He's not a mobster rationally protecting his rackets or a robber primarily looking for money; instead, he kills first and takes the wallet afterwards, almost as an afterthought. He mocks his captives (two friends) saying one of them could have escaped but that "you guys are too close to each other." At another moment he says to them that their trouble is that they have too many "IOUs" and thus have pressure (financial and otherwise) on them while the hitchhiker brags: "I don't have any IOUs, I take what I want and I don't care who it's from or how I get it" (rough paraphrase). Is the hitchhiker the way he is because "my parents took one look at this puss and said the hell with him?" I suspect the hitchhiker's pure malevolence, his psychopathic and sociopathic outlook and behavior, springs not from some childhood rejection but from some far deeper source that defies an easy rational explanation but that Freudians might explain by pointing to dark impulses arising from our collective natural history and uncontrained by any working superego, or that Christian theologians would call original sin (for his soulless behavior and outlook). In any event I doubt that Talman ever prosecuted an individual on "Perry Mason" more evil than the one he portrayed in this film noir.

 

I can't end this note without mentioning Ida Lupino's direction. Professor Edwards says her average film took only $160,000 to make which would presumably apply to this film as well. Filming in Mexico may have kept the cost down, but she used her resources wisely and made a very good film that takes an uneasy look at the rawest form of criminality.

 

On the one hand, the ending is very satisfactory. The hijacker is caught and no more policemen, bystanders, or hostages are killed or seriously wounded. But, on the other hand, I think it's darkly complicated if you read below the surface. The hitch-hiker Emmett Myer's has deeply scarred both of the men, Gilbert and Roy. You get this in two senses. First, the man who is stereotypically more "masculine" Roy, the mechanic is both the first man to really crack and begin to behave irrationally and emotionally, which is stereotypically more feminine, in response to Myers' sadism  Second, through Myers' comment that he is about the same size and build and Roy and then switching outfits with him, so that Roy is now the one in all black and the more shadowy figure but also by this point the hostage most like Myers in that he is the most prone to violently lash out. This violent nature awakened in him is very evident at the end, where Lupino makes a point to show Roy seething with anger ready to unleash a barrage of punches onto Myers for revenge right before Roy pummels Myers as Myers resists arrest from the police. Indeed, Roy has to be restrained by multiple policemen who repeatedly say "that's enough!" in their efforts to subdue Roy. And look at the body language of two men as they walk off, even though Gilbert says "it's all right" the weary, almost stumbling, body language of the two as they walk off to go over things with the police suggests there's some psychological trauma they'll have to overcome for everything to be all right.

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