Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Detour

This post originally appeared in slightly different form on August 15, 2007.

Speaking of movies you’d think I would have seen before now, I just watched DETOUR for the first time. This one has quite a reputation as a film noir, despite its low budget and lesser-known actors. It’s the story of a guy hitchhiking across the country (Tom Neal) so that he can be reunited with his girlfriend. Unfortunately for him, he accepts a ride from someone he shouldn’t, and he winds up having to cope with death, deception, and a dangerous woman -- all the stuff of classic noir, in other words.

For the most part DETOUR works really well. Yes, it looks cheap, but most of it is set in cheap places. I’m just old enough to have experienced first-hand the sort of greasy roadside diners, rustic gas stations, and dingy tourist courts where most of this movie takes place. You could still find plenty of those in rural Texas in the early Sixties. Tom Neal does a pretty good job as the unlucky Al Roberts and provides the usual voice-over narration. And Ann Savage, who plays the femme fatale Vera, is genuinely scary. There’s a moment soon after she meets Neal’s character when she turns her head sharply and looks directly at him for the first time, and her feral expression will send a shiver right through you. I think it’s her performance, and the lines from the script about doom and the arbitrariness of fate, that give DETOUR its reputation.

But the ending of the film is a real let-down. It’s arbitrary, all right, but not in a symbolic way. It’s just abrupt and disappointing and left me with the feeling that some of the movie is missing because of all the things that are set up and then never explored, as if the director said, “Okay, that’s it, we’re out of film.” Maybe that’s what happened, for all I know. I’m glad I finally saw DETOUR anyway. It’s about half of a great film.


Maurice said...

I agree with you on the movie ending.
The book,by Martin Goldsmith, is much more satisfying. I don't know why they changed the ending. I look forward each day to your blog. James

Dan_Luft said...

I know this one streams on Netflix but I haven't watched it since the VCR days. As I remember, it starts out a bit like Gil Brewer's The Red Scarf.

Got to watch it again.

Rittster said...

Detour is one of my faves, although I look at it more as a comedy, because of Al Roberts' lack of self-knowledge. I love the ending, "Fate, or some mysterious force, can put the finger on you or me, for no good reason at all." The poor schlemiel is totally clueless to the fact that his choices are what got him into the mess he's in, not Fate, or some "mysterious force".

Anders E said...

Ann Savage is amazing here. No cold blooded scheming femme fatale she - she's completely unhinged. One of the scariest females in movie history.