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The Hitch-hiker

A perilous and grim film noir entry--noted as being the only one of the genre ever directed by a woman, Lupino--THE HITCH-HIKER offers three outstanding performances by victims O'Brien and Lovejoy and killer Talman. O'Brien and Lovejoy leave their families to go on a fishing trip and, en route, make the mistake of picking up hitchhiker Talman who suddenly threatens them with a gun and holds them hostage, forcing the two men to drive him through the southwestern desert and into Mexico. He is a wanted killer and intends to get to Baja California and leave by boat to points unknown. Talman has already killed a number of people; he is a sadistic and utterly cunning psychopathic killer. He toys with the men, first offering them opportunities to overwhelm him, then to escape. At every turn, he second-guesses their desperate moves and is waiting for them with a gun. Slowly, his background is revealed to them. He has been an abused child and early learned to hate humanity. Talman has a permanent affliction: an eye which never closes. At a campfire site one night the men try to move in on him but he has been faking sleep and suddenly holds the gun on them, almost killing them both. Near the end of the film one of the hostages leaves his wedding ring on the pump at a Mexican gas station, alerting police who save the pair and capture Talman. Lupino's direction is superb as she slowly builds the tension, cleverly selecting her setup shots in remote desert areas. She was the only woman directing films at the time, and she proved her enormous talent with this taut little thriller. Talman's role is based upon the real-life exploits of mass murderer William Cook who slaughtered six people in 1950-51 before Mexican police captured him; he was executed in San Quentin's gas chamber on December 12, 1951. The story, taken right out of the headlines, was written by Daniel Mainwaring who had written INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. He did not receive credit because of his left-leaning politics during the HUAC witchhunts, and because Howard Hughes, then running RKO, refused to give "radicals" any credit for film work.