Detour (1945 film)
theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Edgar G. Ulmer|
|Produced by||Leon Fromkess|
|Screenplay by||Martin Goldsmith|
|Based on||Detour: An Extraordinary Tale (1939 novel)
by Martin Goldsmith
|Narrated by||Tom Neal|
|Music by||Leo Erdody|
|Cinematography||Benjamin H. Kline|
|Edited by||George McGuire|
|Distributed by||Producers Releasing Corporation|
Detour is a 1945 American film noir directed by Edgar G. Ulmer starring Tom Neal and Ann Savage. It was adapted by Martin Goldsmith and Martin Mooney (uncredited) from Goldsmith's eponymous 1939 novel and released by the Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC), one of the so-called "poverty row" film studios in mid-twentieth century Hollywood.
Although made on a small budget, with bare sets and straightforward camera work, Detour has gathered much praise through the years and is held in high regard. In 1992, Detour was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
Piano player Al Roberts (Tom Neal) is drinking coffee at a roadside diner in Reno, hitchhiking east from California, when a fellow patron plays a song on the jukebox that reminds him of his former life in New York City. At the time, Al was bitter about squandering his talent working in a cheap nightclub. After his girlfriend Sue Harvey (Claudia Drake), the nightclub vocalist, leaves to seek fame in Hollywood, he decides to go to California and marry her. With little money, he is forced to hitchhike his way across the country.
In Arizona, bookie Charles Haskell, Jr. (Edmund MacDonald) gives Al a ride in his convertible and tells him that he's in luck: he's driving all the way from Florida to Los Angeles to place a bet on a horse. During the drive, he has Al pass him pills several times. That night, Al is driving while Haskell sleeps. When a rainstorm forces Al to pull over to put up the top, he is unable to rouse Haskell. Al opens the passenger-side door and Haskell falls out, striking his head on a rock. Al then realizes the bookie is dead. Fearful that the police will believe he killed Haskell, Al drags the body off the road, takes the dead man's money, clothes, and identification, and drives away.
After spending the night in a California motel, Al decides to drive to an urban area and ditch the car. At a gas station, he picks up another hitchhiker, Vera (Ann Savage). After some time, she suddenly asks him what he did with the real owner of the car. It turns out she had been picked up by Haskell in Louisiana; she scratched him and got out in Arizona after he tried to become too friendly. Al claims to be Haskell, but she calls his bluff and blackmails him by threatening to turn him in. She tells him that they should sell the car rather than abandon it.
In Hollywood, they rent an apartment, posing as Mr. and Mrs. Haskell to provide an address when they sell the car. However, Vera learns from a newspaper that Haskell's wealthy father is near death and looking for his son, who ran away as a youth after accidentally injuring his friend. Vera demands that Al impersonate Haskell as soon as the father dies, but Al balks at this notion, pointing out that he knows next to nothing about either man.
Back at the apartment, Vera gets drunk and they begin arguing. She threatens to call the police, running into the bedroom with the telephone and locking the door. She falls into a stupor on the bed with the telephone cord tangled around her neck. Al pulls on the cord in an effort to break it. When he finally breaks down the door, he sees that he has accidentally strangled her. He gives up ever seeing his girlfriend Sue again and returns to hitchhiking instead, imagining his probable future arrest by the police.
- Tom Neal as Al Roberts
- Ann Savage as Vera
- Claudia Drake as Sue Harvey
- Edmund MacDonald as Charles Haskell, Jr.
- Tim Ryan as the Nevada Diner Proprietor
- Esther Howard as Holly, Diner Waitress
- Don Brodie as the Used Car Salesman
- Pat Gleason as Joe, truck driver
In 1972, Ulmer said in an interview that the film was shot in six days. However, in a 2004 documentary, Ulmer’s daughter Arianne presented a shooting script title page which noted, "June 14, 1945-June 29. Camera days 14." Moreover, Ann Savage was contracted to PRC for the production of Detour for three six-day weeks, and she later said the film was shot in four six-day weeks, with an additional four days of location work in the desert at Lancaster, California.
While popular belief long held that Detour was shot for about $20,000, Noah Isenberg, in conducting research for his book on the film, discovered that the film's actual cost was upwards of $100,000.
As detailed in Savage Detours: The Life and Work of Ann Savage, great care was taken during the post-production of Detour.
The final picture was tightly cut down from a much longer shooting script, which had been shot with more extended dialogue sequences than appear in the final film. The soundtrack is fully realized, with ambient backgrounds, motivated sound effects, and a carefully scored original musical soundtrack by Leo Erdody (who had previously worked with Ulmer on Strange Illusion (1945)). Erdody took extra pains to underscore Vera's introduction with a sympathetic theme, giving the character a light musical shading in contrast to her razor-sharp dialogue and its ferocious delivery by Ann Savage.
The film was completed, negative cut, and printed throughout the late summer and fall of 1945, and was released in November of that year. The total period of pre-production through post-production at PRC ran from March through November 1945.
In contrast, during the period Detour was in post-production, PRC shot, posted, and released Apology for Murder (1945), also starring Ann Savage. Apology was given a shorter production period and a quick sound job, and used library music for the soundtrack. Clearly, Detour was a higher priority to PRC, and the release was well promoted in theaters with a full array of color print support, including six-sheet posters, standees, hand drawn portraits of the actors, and a jukebox tie-in record with Bing Crosby singing "I Can't Believe That You're in Love with Me" (1926).
With re-shoots out of the question for such a low-budget movie, director Ulmer put storytelling above continuity. For example, he flipped the negative for some of the hitchhiking scenes. This showed the westbound New York City to Los Angeles travel of the character with a right-to-left flow across the screen, though it also made cars seem to be driving on the "wrong" side of the road, with the hitchhiker getting into the car on the driver's side.
The Hollywood Production Code did not allow murderers to get away with their crimes, so Ulmer got through the censors by having Al picked up by a police car at the very end of the movie, after foreseeing his arrest in the earlier narration.
Contemporary screenings of Detour were not confined to grindhouse theaters, as might be supposed. In downtown Los Angeles it played at the 2,200 seat Orpheum, in combination with a live stage show featuring the hit Slim Gaillard Trio and the Buddy Rich Orchestra. Business was reported to be excellent despite a transit strike.
Detour was well received upon initial release, with positive reviews in the Los Angeles Times, The Hollywood Reporter, and Variety, among many other venues. It was released to television in the early 1950s, and ran in syndicated TV markets until the dawn of mass cable systems in the 1980s. TV reviewers casually recommended it in the 1960s and 1970s as a worthwhile "B" movie. During the 1970s, Detour began to be seen as a prime example of film noir, and critics began to write about it at increasingly greater length. During the 1980s, revival houses, universities, and film festivals began to honor Edgar G. Ulmer with retrospective tributes to his work, and public interest in noir films and crime dramas increased with the rise of cable TV screenings and availability on VHS and Laserdisc in home video.
Edgar Ulmer died in 1972, well ahead of the full revival of Detour and the critical re-evaluation of his career. Tom Neal died the same year. Ann Savage made live appearances with the film from 1985 to 2006, increasing public visibility as critical interest and analysis continued to grow.
Critical response to the film today is almost universally positive. Most reviewers contrast the technical shoddiness of the film with its successful atmospherics. Film critic Roger Ebert wrote in his essay for The Great Movies:
"This movie from Hollywood's poverty row, shot in six days, filled with technical errors and ham-handed narrative, starring a man who can only pout and a woman who can only sneer, should have faded from sight soon after it was released in 1945. And yet it lives on, haunting and creepy, an embodiment of the guilty soul of film noir. No one who has seen it has easily forgotten it."
Sight and Sound reviewer Philip Kemp later wrote:
"Using unknown actors and filming with no more than three minimal sets, a sole exterior (a used-car lot) to represent Los Angeles, a few stock shots, and some shaky back-projection, Ulmer conjures up a black, paranoid vision, totally untainted by glamour, of shabby characters trapped in a spiral of irrational guilt."
"...Detour remains a masterpiece of its kind. There have been hundreds of better movies, but none with the feel for doom portrayed by ... Ulmer. The random universe Stephen Crane warned us about—the berserk cosmic impulse that causes earthquakes and famine and AIDS—is nowhere better depicted than in the scene where Tom Neal stands by the roadside, soaking in the midnight rain, feeling for the first time the noose drawing tighter and tighter around his neck."
The film was nominated for the following American Film Institute lists:
- 2001: AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills
- 2005: AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes:
- Vera: "Stop makin’ noises like a husband."
A remake of Detour was produced in 1992, starring Tom Neal's son, Tom Neal, Jr., and Lea Lavish, along with Susanna Foster making her first acting appearance in 43 years and her final appearance on film. Produced, written and directed by Wade Williams and released by his distribution company, Englewood Entertainment, it was released on VHS and in 1998 on DVD.
- Detour at the American Film Institute Catalog.
- Complete National Film Registry Listing. Library of Congress. Retrieved 19 February 2017.
- Mcgue, Kevin (July 1, 2010). "Detour Movie Review". A Life At The Movies.
- Morton, Lisa; Adamson, Kent (2009). Savage Detours: The Life and Work of Ann Savage. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co. ISBN 978-0-7864-4353-6. OCLC 423587955.
- Macnab, Geoffrey (May 8, 2004). "Magic on a shoestring". The Guardian. Retrieved March 7, 2008.
- Isenberg, Noah (2008). Detour. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 39. ISBN 1-84457-239-0.
- "Orpheum, Los Angeles (Tuesday afternoon, May 14)". The Billboard. May 25, 1946. pp. 54, 56.
- Ebert, Roger (June 7, 1998). "Great Movies: Detour". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved December 11, 2007.
- Kemp, Philip (1987). Wakeman, John (ed.), ed. Word Film Directors, Volume 1: 1890–1945. New York: H. W. Wilson. p. 1110. ISBN 0-8242-0757-2.
- Gorman, Edward; Mossman, Dow (1988). "Introduction". In Gifford, Barry (book author). The Devil Thumbs a Ride & Other Unforgettable Films. New York: Grove Press. p. 2. ISBN 0-8021-3078-X.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 20, 2016.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 20, 2016.
- "Movie Info: Detour". Rotten Tomatoes. 1992.
- Coursen, David (February 1976). "Detour: Closing Down the Open Road". Movietone News. 48. Retrieved 21 April 2013.
- Marcus, Greil (2006). The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy and the American Voice. Farrar Straus Giroux. ISBN 9780374104382.
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