The Hitch-Hiker

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The Hitch-Hiker
Theatrical release poster
Directed byIda Lupino
Screenplay by
Produced byCollier Young
CinematographyNicholas Musuraca
Edited byDouglas Stewart
Music byLeith Stevens
Distributed byRKO Radio Pictures
Release dates
  • March 20, 1953 (1953-03-20) (Premiere: Boston)[1]
  • March 21, 1953 (1953-03-21) (U.S.)[1]
Running time
71 minutes
CountryUnited States
The Hitch-Hiker full film

The Hitch-Hiker is a 1953 American film noir thriller co-written and directed by Ida Lupino, and starring Edmond O'Brien, William Talman and Frank Lovejoy. Based on the 1950 killing spree of Billy Cook, the film follows two friends who are taken hostage by a murderous hitchhiker during an automobile trip to Mexico.[2]

The Hitch-Hiker was the first American mainstream film noir directed by a woman. It was selected in 1998 for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant."[3][4][5]


In the early 1950s, a hitchhiker robs and kills motorists who offer him rides. A suspect, Emmett Myers (Talman), is publicized in newspaper headlines.

In California, two friends, Roy Collins (O'Brien) and Gilbert Bowen (Lovejoy), are driving to a planned fishing trip in San Felipe, Baja California, Mexico. In Calexico, California, they pick up Myers, who pulls a gun and takes them hostage. Myers forces the pair to drive him to Santa Rosalía, Baja California Sur, where he plans to escape a police manhunt by taking a ferry across the Gulf of California to Guaymas. To avoid law enforcement, he orders them to stay off main roads and instead try to drive through the Baja California desert.

Collins and Bowen comply, hoping they will be identified and stopped at the Mexico–United States border at Mexicali, but to their dismay they are let through. In Mexico, Myers sadistically terrorizes the pair—at one point forcing Bowen to shoot a tin can out of Collins' hand from a long distance—and revels in the ineffective attempts by Mexican law enforcement to catch him using checkpoints. After a tense moment while stopping to get food, they stop for the night. Collins and Bowen discuss their plans to escape, and agree that they must act at the right time or they will be killed.

The next morning, the car radio fails, and Myers berates Collins for breaking it, so Bowen must drive. Meanwhile, police investigators learn the three are together and deduce where Myers is planning to go. At a gas station, Myers kills a dog, while Bowen leaves his wedding ring for the police to find. Overnight, Collins and Bowen attempt to escape, but Collin injures his ankle, and the pair are recaptured. As the police investigation proceeds, investigators release false information to trick Myers, which seems to work. Later, when the car is damaged, Myers forces the group to continue on foot at gunpoint, and taunts them for missing opportunities to escape even if it would mean the other would be and killed.[6]

Collins, Bowen, and Myers reach Santa Rosalía and head to a bar, where Myers tries to conceal his identity and find an English speaker. Learning the regular ferry to Guaymas has burned, Myers pays a fishing boat to take him there instead. However, as he prepares to leave with Collins and Bowen, a local resident recognizes Myers and alerts the authorities, who prepare to catch him at the pier. After a shootout and a scuffle, Myers is arrested and Collins and Bowen are freed unharmed.



Ida Lupino (left) directing The Hitch-Hiker

The Hitch-Hiker was based on the 1950 killing spree of Billy Cook who, posing as a hitchhiker, murdered a family of five, kidnapped a Riverside County Sheriff's Department deputy and abandoned him in a desert (the deputy survived), and killed a traveling salesman, before attempting to flee to Mexico by taking two men on a hunting trip hostage and forcing them to drive him to Santa Rosalía. There, Cook was identified and apprehended by local police without incident. As Mexico then lacked a formal extradition treaty with the United States, Mexican authorities "extradited" him back to the U.S. by physically pushing him over the border, where he was taken into custody by waiting American law enforcement. Cook was tried, convicted, and received the death penalty. On December 12, 1952, Cook was executed in the gas chamber at San Quentin State Prison in California.[7]


The film was written by Lupino and her former husband Collier Young, based on a story by Daniel Mainwaring which was adapted by Robert L. Joseph. Mainwaring did not receive a screen credit due to his then being on the Hollywood blacklist[citation needed].

The Hitch-Hiker went into production on June 24, 1952, and wrapped in late July.[8] The director of photography was RKO Pictures regular Nicholas Musuraca.[9] Location shooting took place in the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine[10] and Big Pine, California.[11] Working titles for the film were "The Difference" and "The Persuader".[8]

Lupino was a noted actress who began directing when Elmer Clifton got sick and couldn't finish the film he was directing for Filmakers Inc., the production company founded by Lupino and her husband Collier Young to make low-budget, issue-oriented movies. Lupino stepped in to finish the film and went on to direct her own projects. The Hitch-Hiker was her first hard-paced, fast-moving picture after four "women's" films about social issues.[12]

Lupino interviewed the two prospectors whom Billy Cook had held hostage, and got releases from them and from Cook as well, so that she could integrate parts of Cook's life into the script. To appease the censors at the Hays Office, however, she reduced the number of deaths to three.[7] The Hitch-Hiker premiered in Boston on March 20, 1953, to little fanfare[13] and immediately went into general release.[8] The film was marketed with the tagline: "When was the last time you invited death into your car?"

The film is in the public domain.[14]


Frank Lovejoy, William Talman and Edmond O'Brien

The Philadelphia Inquirer said that "with nothing more than three able actors, a lot of rugged scenery and their own impressive talents as producers, authors and director, Collier Young and Ida Lupino have brewed a grim little chiller". The Inquirer critic praised the performances and said the film was "directed with masculine strength by the amazing Miss Lupino".[15]

The New York Daily News gave the film three and a half of four stars, saying Lupino made "good and exciting use" of the real-life incident.[16]

The New York Times called the film an "unrelenting but superficial study of abnormal psychology coupled with standard chase melodrama". Critic A. H. Weiler complimented the performances and Lupino's "brisk direction", but criticized the plot as excessively predictable.[6]

The Detroit Free Press said that the film performed a public service by warning motorists about the dangers of picking up hitchhikers.[17]


The film has been widely praised in the years since its release, and holds a 93% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 43 reviews.[18]

Critic John Krewson lauded the work of Ida Lupino, and wrote,

As a screenwriter and director, Lupino had an eye for the emotional truth hidden within the taboo or mundane, making a series of B-styled pictures which featured sympathetic, honest portrayals of such controversial subjects as unmarried mothers, bigamy, and rape ... in The Hitch-Hiker, arguably Lupino's best film and the only true noir directed by a woman, two utterly average middle-class American men are held at gunpoint and slowly psychologically broken by a serial killer. In addition to her critical but compassionate sensibility, Lupino had a great filmmaker's eye, using the starkly beautiful street scenes in Not Wanted and the gorgeous, ever-present loneliness of empty highways in The Hitch-Hiker to set her characters apart.[19]

Time Out Film Guide wrote of the film,

Absolutely assured in her creation of the bleak, noir atmosphere – whether in the claustrophobic confines of the car, or lost in the arid expanses of the desert – Lupino never relaxes the tension for one moment. Yet her emotional sensitivity is also upfront: charting the changes in the menaced men's relationship as they bicker about how to deal with their captor, stressing that only through friendship can they survive. Taut, tough, and entirely without macho-glorification, it's a gem, with first-class performances from its three protagonists, deftly characterised without resort to cliché.[20]

In January 2014, a restored 35mm print was premiered by the Film Noir Foundation at Noir City 12 at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco. On April 6, 2014 The Hitch-Hiker was shown again at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. Mary Ann Anderson author of The Making of The Hitch-Hiker appeared at this event.

While most films noir were filmed in claustrophobic cities, The Hitch-Hiker was filmed in the desert southwestern United States (territory similar to that of Baja California, where most of the story takes place), mostly in wilderness and small villages. Critics Bob Porfiero and Alain Silver, in a review and analysis of the film, praised Lupino's use of shooting locations. They wrote, "The Hitch-Hiker's desert locale, although not so graphically dark as a cityscape at night, isolates the protagonists in a milieu as uninviting and potentially deadly as any in film noir."[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "The Hitch-Hiker: Detail View". American Film Institute. Retrieved June 1, 2014.
  2. ^ "The 100 Best Film Noirs of All Time". Paste. August 9, 2015. Retrieved August 9, 2015.
  3. ^ IDA LUPINO’S THE HITCH-HIKER (1953) FILM RESTORATION (1993 to 1997) on Vimeo (upload by Louis Antonelli, the person responsible for the restoration from 1993-1997)
  4. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing". Library of Congress. Retrieved April 30, 2020.
  5. ^ "Hooray for Hollywood (December 1998) - Library of Congress Information Bulletin". Retrieved June 25, 2020.
  6. ^ a b A.H. Weiler (April 30, 1953), "The Hitch-Hiker at the Holiday", The New York Times, ... in selecting the rocky, dusty Mexican wasteland as a setting, the producers have added a graphic inflection to the helplessness of the victims.
  7. ^ a b Miller, Frank. "The Hitch-Hiker (1953): There's Death in his upraised Thumb!". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved November 18, 2023.
  8. ^ a b c TCM Overview
  9. ^ The Hitch-Hiker at the American Film Institute Catalog.
  10. ^ Fatooh, Joy. "Movie History in the Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, California" (PDF). Bureau of Land Management. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 4, 2016. Retrieved November 20, 2015. The director made good use of the incredible scenery near Lone Pine, with the weirdly eroded, jumbled rocks of the Alabama Hills
  11. ^ Morfin, Charles Michael (September 29, 2014). Location Filming in the Alabama Hills. Arcadia Publishing. p. 77. ISBN 9781467131315. [Lupino] returned to direct a very interesting and suspenseful film called The Hitch-Hiker (1953). In The Hitch-Hiker, the Alabama Hills are used to represent Mexico.
  12. ^ Hurd, Mary (2007). Women Directors & Their Films, pp. 9–13. Praeger, Westport, Connecticut. ISBN 0-275-98578-4
  13. ^ THE HITCH-HIKER RESTORATION INTRODUCTION WITH ROBERT CLARKE (1997) on Vimeo (uploaded by Louis Antonelli)
  14. ^ Ladwig, Samantha (September 9, 2017). "30 classic Hollywood movies you can stream for free". Business Insider. Retrieved March 10, 2018.
  15. ^ Martin, Mildred (May 4, 1953). "New Thriller By Ida Lupino At Stanton". The Philadelphia Inquirer. p. 20. Retrieved May 23, 2021 – via
  16. ^ Cameron, Kate (April 30, 1953). "Intense Suspense in 'The Hitch-Hikers'". Daily News. p. 80. Retrieved May 23, 2021 – via
  17. ^ Bower, Helen (May 30, 1953). "'Hitch-hiker' Warns Motorists". Detroit Free Press. p. 9. Retrieved May 23, 2021 – via
  18. ^ "The Hitch-Hiker (1953)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved February 23, 2021.
  19. ^ Krewson, John. The A.V. Club, DVD review, March 29, 2002. Last accessed: April 23, 2008.
  20. ^ Time Out Film Guide Archived May 3, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. Film review, 2008. Last accessed: April 23, 2008.
  21. ^ Silver, Alain, and Elizabeth Ward, eds. Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style, film noir analysis by Bob Porfiero and Alain Silver, page 130, 3rd edition, 1992. New York: The Overlook Press. ISBN 0-87951-479-5.


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