First Time Watch: Ida Lupino Double Bill - Part 1
Ida Lupino is a name that keeps popping up quite frequently for me recently. The English born actress was an option for me in a recent Zoom quiz and on Twitter has appeared a lot on my timeline. The name kept appearing constantly and it seemed to become creepy as my email inbox showcased her name. Thankfully, it was just an email from MUBI.
With this, a great suggestion was made, for the apparent first-ever Noir film directed by a woman. I was aware of Lupino's work, mainly due to working on 'The Twilight Zone' but beyond that, was not really aware of her workings. But after reading up on the MUBI recommendation, I had to further explore her career with her trailblazer status made so clear.
Lupino is regarded as a great pioneer and one of the most prominent female directors during the (even more so) male-dominated 50's Hollywood studio system. Working as both an actress and a director, Lupino fought hard for female representation as she targets social messages throughout her filmography. With quite the resume and being held in such high regard, there was no better time than to check out her work. Thankfully, MUBI had me all sorted out, with the Ida Lupino double bill doing the rounds. It was about time that I watched something from a much earlier era, so enjoy part one of the Ida Lupino double bill, starting with 'The Hitch-Hiker'.
Plot Synopsis: Ray (Edmond O'Brien) and Gilbert's (Frank Lovejoy) fishing trip takes a terrifying turn when the hitchhiker (William Talman) they pick up turns out to be a sociopath on the run from the law. He's killed before, and he lets the two know that as soon as they're no longer useful, he'll kill again. The two friends plot an escape, but the hitchhiker's peculiar physical affliction, an eye that never closes even when he sleeps, make it impossible for them to tell when they can make a break for it.
The 1940s and 1950s were the years in which Film-Noir truly blossomed, with the crime dramas dominating screens creating a 'classic period'. These films dominated for many years, but there was a distinct lack of female voices within the game, in fact, it was a sub-genre that was wholly male for quite some time. This was the case until Ida Lupino stepped in with 'The Hitch-Hiker', being credited as the first Noir directed by a female filmmaker. It would be a safe assumption to assert this as to why woman were portrayed consistently as seducers and placed under a clear male gaze. With Lupino taking the helms of a Noir for the first time, it was interesting to see her steer away from this storyline all together.
As well as this, Lupino takes the Noir out of the city and opts for a claustrophobic car as well as the wilderness for her tale, following the influence of real-life road crimes. The use of the settings works well to the film's tensions, as the car scenes offer close encounters whilst the wilderness gives our heroes the possibility to escape. Both highlight the dangers perfectly well, as this ticking time bomb plot keeps you glued at all times, especially with its madman villain.
'The Hitch-Hiker' wastes absolutely no time in setting up the premise, as well as the characteristics of the merciless villain in its opening credits. Immediately, fear is struck into the viewer, as normal people are savagely killed in cold blood by a mysterious figure. This continues, as tremendous use of lighting and framing continues some mystery, before a great reveal as we finally see our madman, in the shape of William Talman. Talman's character Eddie Meyers is where the weight of the film truly relies upon, as we are introduced to him and his ways very quickly, leaving little info about him to be found out for the duration of the film. In terrific fashion, it is a perfect set up for a lead villain as basic writing and directing pins him up perfectly. Throw in a dodgy eye and a great performance and the film creates a simple yet very effective and memorable villain.
The film follows a very simplistic story, as a deranged murderer holds two men at gunpoint as he tries to escape the law. There's not an awful lot of extra character, real motives or extra personality is given to any of the characters as the film's script is a little bare. At a runtime of 71 minutes, the film does just enough to stretch this plot out over the hour mark but does stumble upon moments of repetition. With some extra character, the film could've delved further into the psyche of each of the characters but with its thin plot, it does back its self into a corner at times.
Lupino's 'The Hitch-Hiker' is a simple story that is told very well, utilising a great villain, locations and tension to create a more than worthwhile viewing. It is an underseen gem within a historical period of cinema and holds a special place within history. With a short runtime, it's a very easy watch and if you have MUBI, definitely give it a go.
Final Rating: 3/5
As mentioned earlier before, the film is available on MUBI where you can get a free trial if you fancy catching up on some hidden gems and classic cinema. As usual, thank you for taking the time to read my review, it is much appreciated and I hope you enjoyed doing so. Make sure to return tomorrow though for Part 2, where I will be reviewing a second Ida Lupino film 'The Bigamist'. Thanks again and continue to stay safe!