Thursday 30 January 2014

Mrs. Miniver (1942)

Mrs. Miniver
With ”Mrs. Miniver” I have finally caught up. This is the last of the new additions up to the point where I am on this chronological journey through 1001 movies I apparently have to see before I die. Some additions were good and some were less good. “Mrs. Miniver” is a big hmmmm.

In a sense I am being a bit unfair to this film. I am just coming off the excellent “Brief Encounter”, a realistic and honest film about some ordinary British people experiencing something extraordinary. “Mrs. Miniver” is also about some supposedly ordinary British people going through something extraordinary, but with an entirely different result. In almost every way “Mrs. Miniver” is the opposite of “Brief Encounter” and that is not really a good thing.

Of course it is all about context. “Mrs. Miniver” is essentially a propaganda film made in the US in 1942 for the American public. Its aim was to show how likable the British were and how heroically they were fighting the war and that was the right film at the right time as evidenced by the pile of Oscar statuettes coming its way at the 1943 awards.

If you want somebody to be likable you have to portrait them in your own image and that is exactly what “Mrs. Miniver” does. This is essentially an American story about an American family living a life and fighting a war that would be recognizable to the American public. Ah, there is a sprinkling of British elements, but they are of the stereotypical sort, the kind of postcard British that the locals would merely scuff at. In fact I doubt a Britton in 1942 would find much he recognized in this film. The result is a Disneyland version of England that screams phony.

At the outset of the film everybody are so happy and live their beautiful perfect lives, so careless that you almost smirk at the thought that war is almost upon them. The Minivers are supposedly a middle class family in a Kentish village, but that must be some architect salary! Their palace of a house, their maid and cook and the idle wife fits more into the classical American family ideal, a Stepford Wife’ish ideal rather British country life. Their problems are limited to conspicuous consumption and a son who has got some leftish ideals while at Oxford. The later seems played more for fun than drama. It is understood that his ideas are rather ridiculous and may just serve to tell the innocent American viewer that, oh, in England they have nobility and they still have some silly privileges. Harmless ones though, but fun too, you know, real nobility!

Even the dialogue is borderline annoying and my recent brief encounter just aggravates that impression. The only relief in that entire first half is Dame May Whitty as the old Lady Beldon who is able to stuff enough English vitriol into that old hag to make her interesting.

The second half is better. As reality of war hits like a hammer the impact is so much bigger because it hits this Garden of Eden. There is drama in the bomb shelter and the ride home during an air raid and that saves some of the film. This part gets sufficiently tense and coupled with a surprise ending I did manage to get moved. That is of course engineered and the design is almost overdone. The pathos is thick as mud and played for every cent. The annoying thing here is that although events are starting to get “interesting” the characters remain essentially the same. There is little in the sense of character development. In “Gone With The Wind” Scarlett is forced to evolve in the face of adversity but the Minivers are still their happy careless selves. They are just a bit sad somebody close died and that the Jerries ruined their house. Everybody are so damned busy being heroic that they forget being human.

It was as I said the right film at the right time. A few years later it would not have been even close to an Oscar. William Wyler, the famous director of this film, won the award for Best Director for “Mrs. Miniver”. He would later go on to win it again for “The Best Years of Our Lives”. The differences between these two films are glaring. “The Best Years of Our Lives” is still a great film today, but who remembers “Mrs. Miniver”?

This was a movie that did little for me. It was not on the original list and I did not miss it, but I suppose 6 Academy Awards requires some sort of recognition. So, seen it, check, on to the next one.

Sunday 26 January 2014

Brief Encounter (1946)

Det Korte Møde
You know how it is when you read about a movie and you think, oh dear, this really does not sound like a film I would like. You read on and learn that this should be a real tear jerker, oh dear oh dear oh dear. Then as you watch the movie this turn out to be the most wonderful movie, painful in a sense, yes, but in that wonderful way that leaves you moved and you are so happy that you overcame that antipathy and saw the movie after all. That was my experience with “Brief Encounter”.

This is a British movie released just after the end of the war and directed by one of British films great directors David Lean, perhaps better known for such masterpieces as  “The Bridge on the River Kwai” (1957) and  “Lawrence of Arabia (1962)”. “Brief Encounter” shares none of the fame of those later movies, nor a host of A-list actors. Instead it tells a narrow, but poignant story, carried out by actors who were the perfect choice for their parts.

Briefly the film is about a married woman, Laura (Celia Johnson) who meets also married Alec (Trevor Howard) in a chance encounter. There is immediate sympathy and they fall in love. However before this affair is allowed to impinge on their official lives they abort their relationship.

Uf, that was too brief, I know. The story is a lot more complex than that. Or maybe not.

The story has been seen as a critique on British morality in the sense that conservative conventions are keeping these two people from fulfilling their lives. My take on it is a bit different. I see the affair as a sort of day dream, a fantasy on the part of Laura. I am not denying that they are real people with real emotions, but this is a story told singularly from the point of Laura. Most dialogue is her narration as she relates what has happened in a fictional confession to her husband. Everybody else, even Alec, are just characters seen from her perspective. They have no more depth than she is giving them.

Laura lives a safe, if slightly boring life. She has a really nice husband. I may take some heat for saying that, but he is a really good man who is also more attentive to her than she may herself credit him and she loves him dearly in that homely fashion that you love family. She has two children whom she loves and cares for, though we hardly see them. Their roles are merely to tell us how settled in middle class normality she is.

When she meets Alec, and it has to be said that he is the active part in that relationship, she is responsive, beneath her self-control because he stirs something unfulfilled in her. He takes her on a dream, to a place she dares not go in reality and as long as it is just a dream that is fine. The problem is when the fantasy starts to have an influence on her reality, when it is no longer just a Thursday escape, but something that makes her lie to her husband and ultimately will require her to reshape her life entirely. At the cost, mind you, of practically all she holds dear.

She bails out, painful as it is, because she ends up acknowledging what is reality and what is fantasy. She has been on a dream voyage, which her surprisingly perceptive husband sense, though unaware of the particulars and he is there to receive her as she is coming back.

I think most people have their daydreams and flights of fancy, and while it is healthy to pursue some of them, others engrossing as they may be should remain fantasies. How far will we allow such double lives to take us? And how real is the gratification they bring? A healthy dose of fantasy may be what takes us through the normality of life and to some extend movies as a phenomenon serves that exact purpose. This movie explores that balance point and Laura almost loses her balance. She does not know Alec, she has no clue what a life with Alec would lead to, but that is almost beside the point for her. She is gratified and alive with him in an exciting way that is like a drug for her. Alec is just the person who triggers it and that is why I think he is not described with any particular depth. We have no clue what makes him ready to give up wife and children for an unknown woman and although he is the perfect gentleman there is a streak to him that makes him push their relationship that may not be entirely wholesome, but again, entirely beside the point. He is there to offer her that dream and as a character he is perfect for that dream.

In a later age’s optic the resolution may seem antiquated. The standard Hollywood message over the past five decades has been to pursue your dreams at all cost, but there I entirely disagree. I think this story is as relevant today as it was in 46, and that is not because I am particularly prudish. I think it is a common enough situation to stand at that crossroad and have to reject a dream because what you really want is not this dream as over powering as it is. The thought of what you really want with your life is important and immensely painful and rarely have I seen a finer example than in “Brief Encounter”.

What really works so well here is the normality of the people and the situation. These are really ordinary people like you and I. Nobody are shouting or venting unrealistic feeling. Oh, they feel, but they feel like normal people feel and I can recognize myself in these people. Maybe it helps that they are British. Although awfully eloquent the mentality of the characters are not far from Danish. In any case the drama is subdued, but no less intense.

The second factor is Celia Johnson. She is just amazing. Her face reflects her narration beautifully. It speaks volumes without words. It is happy, embarrassed, desolate or angry in such an artless and natural way that we almost do not need the narration. When the abhorrent Dolly interrupts their final parting Celia’s face could kill. We know that that woman is inches from strangulation even without the narration. Also in the recurrent glimpses we get in the home living room as she is recounting the story for us her face goes through all the emotions and that is not wasted at all on her husband. When he comforts her at the end we believe that he really does understand although he has not heard a word, because we have seen her face and know how well it tells the tale.

I am very impressed with this film and I feel like watching it again right away. I have not even commented on the subplots, but really they take second stage to the drama unfolding. I thank you, editors of the Book, for forcing me to watch this movie and promise I will be nicer to you in the future.  

Sunday 19 January 2014

The Lady Vanishes (1938)

The Lady Vanishes
When the editors of the Book revised the List for the 10th edition they removed a number of Alfred Hitchcock’s films. He was over-represented and the loss of a film like Spellbound I would hardly consider a big loss.

But it was not only a sanitation of Hitchcock films, we also got a new entry in “The Lady Vanishes”. It is a worthy entry, more entertaining than many other films on the list and definitely one I enjoyed watching.

If I had not seen how wide a spectrum Hitchcock covered in his British years I would say this one falls a bit outside his comfort zone. It is funnier, even silly, than the Hitchcock we know and love to the extent that I would call it a suspense-comedy, maybe even a spoof on the genre. This is likely because this was a project Hitchcock took over from another director and carried out without changing it much. Now, I have seen Hitchcock do comedies so I knew he could do it and, I think, if you consider most of his classic films there is a subtle comedic element to them as if he is trying to pull our leg. Though rarely as outright as in “The Lady Vanishes”.

The setting of “The Lady Vanishes” is almost out of Agatha Christies “The Orient Express” (which is quite a coincidence, I am just now on my way home from Istanbul where I saw the hotel where Agatha Christie allegedly wrote the classic novel). A group of otherwise unrelated people are riding a train through an “exotic” part of Europe where gloomy things are happening (in 1938…hmmm…) when a person mysteriously disappears and everybody is a suspect.

Except there are a few twists.

First of all everybody, with the exception of the little lady who disappears, are described as somewhere between obnoxious and annoying. It is really incredible. The lead woman, Iris (Margaret Lockwood) is a spoiled rich girl who is too fine for everybody else and just the type of person you feel like slapping. But alas, she is nothing compared to the male lead, Gilbert (Michael Redgrave), a happy-go-lucky student of folk music (?) who claim it as his right to have people dancing in wooden shoes in the middle of the night on the crowded mountain resort where all the passengers are stranded. He also barges into Iris room to take it into possession since she was the one complaining and is just generally far too presumptuous. Suddenly it is him I feel like slapping.

But we are far from done. We got an annoying magician, a scary baroness, a sinister brain surgeon (?) and an obnoxious lawyer Mr. Todhunter and his mistress. And of course our local Thomson twins, Caldicott (Naunton Wayne) and Charters (Basil Radford). The latter two are the sources of much hilarity throughout and in fact they were such a success that their characters were reused in several films following “The Lady Vanishes”. They are two English gentlemen with a very stiff upper lip and a cool that can only be described as British. Their mission is to get back to England (and civilization) before a scheduled cricket friendly in Manchester between England and Australia and this is what they live and breathe for. A hilarious scene takes place at the hotel when they hear the receptionist receive a call from England. While the receptionist is looking for the recipient of the call our two gents grab the phone and eagerly asks for news only to angrily hang up when the caller is less than interested in cricket. They are definitely modelled on Dupond and Dupont aka Thomson and Thompson.

Another twist is that nobody seems to recall the missing lady. Iris who announces her disappearance faces a blank wall when calling foul play. Did she dream it all? Is it all just a result of her hitting her head? That part sounds more like Hitchcock. He loved this play with perceived reality.

Finally, and that should be clear by now, the missing person is not somebody rich and famous or remarkable in any way, but the unlikeliest character of all: a sweet old English lady, Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty) working as a governess. Why on earth would anybody want to remove her?

Hitchcock has placed a number of political references in the film. It does not take much imagination to see this as a criticism of the English appeasement policy against Fascism and Nazism in Europe in 1938. Mr. Todhunter is a perfect representative of this policy. But it is also a slap against English arrogance to people outside their own circle. It is played for fun, but the message is quite clear.  

The comedic elements are both the strength and the weakness of the film. I loved the first half hour of the film, this is genuinely funny. The problem is that the silliness takes such proportions that it becomes a bit difficult to take the mystery part serious. It is just not as scary or suspenseful as it could have been and this carries over into the almost ridiculous resolution with the gunfight on the sidetrack. It is still funny and entertaining but it loses believability and becomes just ridiculous. We only really lack that they start throwing the guns at each other when they are out of ammo.

Then there is the romance between Iris and Gilbert. It is funny that two such annoying characters end up in each other’s arms. However at the time when that happens they have stopped being annoying all of a sudden. That does not exactly cut it for me.

But if you see “The lady vanishes” for the comedy alone this is truly worth watching and I can recall a number of other suspense comedies that works poorer than this. Try watching Iris and Gilbert fighting the magician on the train without laughing? Or the faces of Caldicott and Charters when they line up a cricket game in sugar and Miss Froy has the audacity to ask them to pass the sugar. This is straight out of Monty Python.
So, why was Miss Froy abducted? Frankly, that hardly matters.

Sunday 12 January 2014

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

De Bedste År
One thing is to win the war, another thing to win the peace. You would think that fighting a war is the hardest challenge, but I have come to think that the battle after victory may be even harder. How many movies have we seen about returning veterans who cannot just slip back into their lives? How often has the ending of a war triggered a general depression, not only for the people involved but for the society at large. And we are not just talking the losing parties. In fact they may be better off because they have something to actually rebuild.  No, fighting with guns is in many ways the easy battle (though more likely to kill you).

The first of the issues mentioned, that of returning veterans is the subject matter of “The Best Years of Our Lives” from 1946. This movie was made right at the end of the war and relates to the homecoming of three American soldiers to their common hometown. Stop to think about it for a second. The war ends in August 1945, Samuel Goldwyn orders a screenplay made, Billy Wilder starts filming in April 1946 and the film is ready for the 1946 Academy awards and not just ready, it practically cleans the table. That is serious turn-around. When this film came out the subject matter was reality for hundreds of thousands of returning personnel, who no doubt saw themselves portrayed in Al, Fred and Homer.

The Book makes a big issue out of declaring that the story is antiquated to which I can only shake my head. The only thing antiquated about this film is the forced happy end of the film, which I will return to later. In every other way this film is as relevant today as it was 68 years ago. Going to war changes people, if for no other reason than being away from home for an extended period. For most people it is a lot more than that. In war you see things and may have to do things that people at home would never understand. “All Quiet on the Western Front” has some excellent scenes showing that and “The Big Parade” continued that theme, both in relation to WWI. For many soldiers their fellow brothers in arms are more family to them than their relatives and loved ones at home, simply because they share the experience. Home on the other hand becomes a pink tinted myth, a dream that represents everything the war is not and a dream reality could never live up to. I believe it matters little if the war is WWI, WWII, Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan. The pattern is much the same.

Al, Fred and Homer are returning back to Boone City, which I take is some Everytown in the American Midwest. They face a different reality in more ways than one. When we meet them Fred (Dana Andrews) is the dashing officer, a captain in the air force with looks and style to match. Al (Fredric March) is a sergeant of the infantry, a grunt, if a bit grandfatherly and Homer (Harold Russell ) is a mechanic (petty officer) from a carrier. Their military ranks place them neatly in order, an order they easily fall into although the war is over and they have all been decommissioned. So much more the surprise when their civilian rank kicks in and we learn that Al is a wealthy banker, Homer belongs to a middle class family in the suburbs and Fred returns to an alcoholized father in the slums. In civilian they are entirely different people. That alone is pretty shaking.

However each of the three has their own battle to fight, battles which are not entirely uncommon.

Homer lost his hands when his carrier went down and instead has two hooks. He is surprisingly skilled at using them, but he is painfully aware of his loss. What is worse is that his family is, not surprisingly, quite stunned and does not know how to treat him, which makes him even more aware of his handicap, especially in relation to his childhood girlfriend Wilma (Cathy O'Donnell). Harold Russell was an authentic veteran who really lost his hands and that lends a lot of credibility to his character.

Al returns to a family who grew up without him. I do no sense any resentment in them, but Al is painfully aware that he does not know them as well as he should. The first part of the film makes a lot of showing his fear at reassuming the distinguished and responsible role he is returning to and leaving the grunt behind. I am not too sold on that though. The man has been married for 20 years and he should know his wife (Myrna Loy) if not his children pretty well. The more interesting struggle is in the bank. Being a grunt gave Al a different perception of people as actual humans rather than risks, assets and liabilities. This makes him rebel against the cold and ruthless world of banking to the chagrin of his superiors in the bank. Here is clearly a message from the director to the financing world and one that was actually carried on a very large scale with the Marshall plan in the following years. An idea that largely prevented much of the misery and woes which followed WWI.

It is however Fred who is the really interesting fellow to watch. For him the change from gentleman officer to working class inferiority is quite a shock. He came home with a middle class dream and finds him at the losing end on every account. As reality kicks in he somewhat comes to terms with it, but we can see the pain when he accepts the low pay and low status job behind the counter in the drugstore. If that was not bad enough his private life is a mess. When he left for the war he was 20 days married to a bombshell of a girl he hardly knew. When he returns Marie (Virginia Mayo) works in a night club, enjoys an extrovert lifestyle entirely at odds with Fred’s appetites and clearly has no intention to return to the gutter or the mediocre middle class lifestyle Fred is aiming for. In a sense I do not blame her. They are just a hopelessly poor match and when the glitter of an officer husband wears off she sees no further use of him.

This is the line-up of the movie.  It is a glorious setting and I am entirely sold. It helps a lot that the film is deliberately slow (almost 3 hours) giving us time to actually know these people. There is a tenderness in the storytelling that we see in glimpses which are only possible because the film takes the needed time to show them. Like the flight across the land with the three soldiers in the nose of the plane, looking down at their fate. Or the scene where Wilma buttons Homers shirt. There is so much feeling in that scene that it is beyond sex. This is extremely intimate, yet so subtle. One of my favorite scenes is Fred on the plane junkyard. Seeing all the decommissioned planes he realizes how he himself has been decommissioned. He is like these planes and working with them is both a nod to his officer-self and a final embrace of his civilian self. It is very exquisite.

Then of course we have the resolution of the story. Al’s daughter Peggy (Teresa Wright) and Fred, Wilma and Homer and to some extend Al and his wife Milly. This is the romantic element and it is a story engine, but its fairy tale character is somewhat at odds with the harsh and brutal story of homecoming soldiers. It is very much a product of its time, but it also changes the film from a slap in the face to a feel good experience. I understand why it is done this way, but a part of me wishes they had not.

“The Best Years of Our Lives” sets an interesting and always relevant premise, presents it beautifully, but ends up with the easy solution. I am happy to have seen it and it deserves its Oscars, but oh, what they could have done with this story had they dared.

Monday 6 January 2014

I Know Where I'm Going! (1945)

Det Hændte i Skotland
The second Powell and Pressburger installment on the list is “I Know where I’m Going!”, a romantic comedy from 1945. As some may recall the first installment was “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp”, a grand and colorful story of almost epic scope. “I Know where I’m Going!” is almost the opposite. This is a much smaller and simpler story in a much cheaper format. That however I will not hold against it. Some of the best movies are good exactly because they focus their attention on a narrow subject.

For better or worse “I Know where I’m Going!” is a rom-com. That means it is light and enjoyable, but sadly without depth and substance. That goes with the territory. We follow Joan Webster (Wendy Hiller), an English city girl, who has set her teeth in Sir Robert Bellinger, a rich industrialist, evidently for the money. A lot of fuzz is made of that she is a very determined person who aims to get what she wants. Unfortunately the grand prize resides on a remote Scottish island by the name Kiloran, so to marry this guy Joan must travel practically to the end of the world and certainly far outside her comfort zone. 

Her voyage is halted at the last stage as bad weather prevents the boat from crossing the sound to the island for several days. Instead Joan is stuck with a bunch of quaint and lively Scotchmen and women and of course a potential romantic interest.

That is basically it. 20 minutes in we know how this is going to end. The tone and style means that this can only end one way and there is not even a twist to that end.

That does not mean this is a bad film. It is highly enjoyable because of these same Scotsmen and women. They are portrayed as a tough lot with free spirits, big hearts and cunning ways. Men and women who have adapted to a life with limited resources and brutal elements by creating their own space. In a sense this entire movie is a love letter to Scotland with just enough saltwater to prevent it from getting too saccharine.

There is Catriona, the self-sufficient huntress, Colonel Barnstable, the enthusiastic Falconeer, Ruairidh Mhór, the tough boatman plus a bunch of revelers at a local céilidh (party-wake). Each one with a straight forward honesty, which is at odds with the gold digger from Manchester.   

Among these jolly natives we find Torquil MacNeil, the nominal lord of Kiloran, played by the Welsh Roger Livesey. He is a navy officer on leave trying to get home to his island and stuck by the weather same way as Joan Webster. It is Sir Robert Bellinger who has rented the manor on Kiloran from Torquil MacNeil  and Toquil live off the rent. In other words he is penniless (sort of), but with a noble name and heritage. How romantic.

While the beautiful Scottish surroundings and the charming natives are a definite boon to the film, the opposite can be said of Livesey and Hiller’s characters.  It is almost too obvious that Torquil is supposed to be the romantic interest here and he is hitting on her right from first sight. He is just a little too close to her, a leaning a little too far in her direction and showing her a bit too much attention for it to be comfortable. Considering she is on her way to her own wedding he is showing quite a bit of impudence, so when she finally runs away from him, it is objectively difficult to say if it is her feelings or his attention she is trying to escape. Well, the context does not leave us in any doubt there, but if I were in Joan’s shoes I would feel it rather uncomfortable.

If Torquil is mildly annoying then Joan is a real pain. She is supposed to be a fish out of the water, I understand that, but she is really going out of her way to be obnoxious. There is something in her attitude that just rubs me the wrong way and it is not so much her gold digging as it is her superior air and blatant selfishness. The last we see in full exposure when she insists on going to the island in the gale although everybody refuse and warns against it. She will take no advice, thread or pleading, but sends the boatman’s son on a suicide mission for lousy 20£. We of course have to understand that she is tempted to break the engagement and instead run off with Torquil and if she does not get over to that island pronto she will not be able to control herself. Fine. But really, this does not make her look good. She is being stupid and incredibly selfish and endangering other people’s lives. Minus 200 points to Joan Webster.

But this is a rom-com and I suppose this sort of drama is necessary. On the up-side it gives us an amazing boat ride in the gale and a gorgeous view of the Corryvreckan whirlpool. That is a site I here on the spot have decided that I must see.

While researching for the review I stumbled on a curious anecdote. While a lot of the movie is filmed on location in Scotland, the male lead Roger Livesey never left London. He could not leave London because of some West-end play he was doing, so his parts were all filmed in the Denham studio. In Scotland they used a stand-in and only filmed him from a distance. It is so cleverly done and works so seamlessly that I would not have guessed it.

“I Know Where I’m Going!“ is light and easy entertainment for Sunday afternoon. I would recommend it for anybody with a penchant for Scotland and for that awesome whirlpool.

Wednesday 1 January 2014

Detour (1945)

”Detour” is proof that you can make a see worthy and interesting film on a miniscule budget if you focus on story, dialogue and style. On the face of it “Detour” is very simple. There are no fast chases, no gun fights, a minimum of sets and all of those obscure and the actors are reduced to a handful, none of them very glamorous. Instead there are monologues, dialogues and lots and lots of driving in front of rear projections.

This is a grimy story about a broke piano player, Al (Tom Neal) trying to get from New York to L.A. to be reunited with his girlfriend, Sue (Claudia Drake), a hopeful actress trying out Hollywood. His journey gets seriously sidetracked though a number of incredible coincidences of the kind no police would accept. Instead things just gets worse and worse for Al until we find him washed up at a dinner in the opening of the film, because like most film noir this story is told in flashback.

“Detour” hardly brings anything new to the table. In 1945 the noir format was already well established and the ingredients had already been introduced through movies like “The Maltese Falcon”, Double Indemnity” and a ton of other like-minded films. What “Detour” does is giving the whole thing a notch extra. This is lower, grimier and more desperate than its contemporaries and the cheap production quality actually supports this expression.

Like all film noir “Detour” has its femme fatale. Except this is no ice queen or alluring, yet dangerous, blonde. Nope, Vera (Ann Savage) is as badass and bitchy as they come. A horrible horrible woman. Base and cunning and cruel to boot, Vera is a true lowlife and thus a good representative for this film.

Al is hitchhiking and gets picked by a jovial Charles Haskell (Edmund MacDonald), who seems like an okay guy. He buys him meals and tries to befriend him and everything is just dandy until Charles dies sleeping in the passenger seat while Al is taking a turn at the wheel. Though it may be that he dies when Al opens the door and Charles falls out, I am not sure. This is not entirely clear in the film. In any case Al is not to blame but now he is stuck at the side of the road with a stiff and a car. Al is probably not entirely wrong when he assumes that the police will have some difficulty buying the real story, so he shuffles the body behind a bush and assumes Charles identity until he can get to Los Angeles and lose the car.

Soon after Al picks up what appears to be a pretty, lonely hitchhiker. Boy, was that a mistake! This is no other than Vera, the she-devil incarnate, and what is worse, she knows Charles Haskell and that Al is not him. She assumes Al has killed and robbed Charles and now she uses that to put a leash on him. He better do what she tell him to do or she will turn him in.

For a while it is not really clear what she intends to do except to get to L.A., but being with her is punishment enough for Al. She is awful. Ann Savage shows some skill at presenting such a base character. She even tries to be alluring and manipulate Al in that way, but at least he is not falling for that. No matter, she quickly returns to what works: shouting and threatening him.

That is a major part of the film, watching first Al and Charles driving around and then Al and Vera driving, sitting in the sofa in a rented apartment, playing card and drinking solid in said apartment and driving some more. All the way talking, shouting, ranting, pleading. And all through with a running commentary through the narration of Al at the diner.

Things come to a head when Vera finds out that Charles Haskell stands to inherit a large sum of money and she gets the idea that Al should show up and claim that money now that he is Charles. The resulting debacle ends in another incredible accident, even more insane than the first one and Al now finds himself a double murderer.

The message “Detour” wants us to read is that Al, an ordinary, innocent and even talented guy gets ruined through these coincidences. He has no intention of violence, yet people die around him and he is snared into a world where he does not belong and do not want to be. So when we find him at the diner we are looking at a broken, finished man just waiting to be picked up by the police.

Here is the problem though. Charles dies from an accident and Vera had it coming. Besides, her demise was an unforeseen accident as well and actually left him free of that disaster on two legs. Apparently the police even thought it was Charles, not Al, who had killed her, so essentially Al was free. A terrible experience richer, but free. He should be relieved, not broken, and hurry up to find his girlfriend, not bumming it at the diner. Therefore the ending seems a bit forced to me. The guy needs a shower, a bed and a shrink and then he should be okay. Instead he is just waiting for the inevitable retribution from the law.

Except for that last bit I liked “Detour”. It is seedy and grimy and poor of technical quality, but it is has great entertainment value. It is clear how many later movies were inspired by this one. I bet Tarantino has seen and loved it.