The Hitch-Hiker (1953)

“When was the last time you invited death into your car?” Believe it or not, the guy who later portrayed “Hamilton Burger” (William Talman) on Perry Mason – the most incompetent district attorney in TV history – stars as a psychotic hitch-hiker who has embarked on a murder spree across the United States and into Mexico. The Hitch-Hiker is also notable as being the first mainstream film noir directed by a woman – in this case Ida Lupino, who acted in such classics as They Drive by Night (1940), High Sierra (1941) and The Hard Way (1943). Two buddies, Roy Collins (Edmond O’Brien) and Gilbert Bowen (Frank Lovejoy), embark on a fishing trip to Mexico and have the misfortune to pick up sadistic, maniacal hitch-hiker, Emmett Myers. One of the creepiest aspects of the Myers character is that he has this lazy eye so he sleeps with one eye open and the two hostages have no idea if he’s asleep or not. In addition, he spouts off some interesting lines such as “My folks were tough. When I was born they took one look at this puss of mine and told me to get lost.” He’s one of the great film noir villains in my opinion. Interestingly, there are no significant female roles in the film, which was reportedly based on the true story of 1950’s spree killer Billy Cook, who was executed in the gas chamber at San Quentin State Prison in 1952. At just over 70 minutes, the film moves along at a rapid pace, making it the perfect choice for some quality late-night viewing. You might remember O’Brien from D.O.A. (1950) and Lovejoy in the title role of I Was a Communist for the FBI (1951). The Hitch-Hiker would make a good double feature with The Hitcher (1986), which starred Rutger Hauer as the insane hitchhiker. Talman was fired from Perry Mason briefly in 1960 after he was arrested at a “wild” party that reportedly involved marijuana use and nudity. The charges were later dropped and he returned to the show.

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