The Hitch-Hiker

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

The Hitch-Hiker is a 1953 American film noir written and directed by Ida Lupino, about two friends taking a fishing trip who pick up a mysterious hitchhiker during a trip to Mexico.[2] Inspired by the crime spree of the psychopathic murderer Billy Cook (1928–1952), the screenplay 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.

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

The film is in the public domain.[6]

Plot summary[edit]

A man hitchhikes on the side of a highway and is picked up by a passing car. His face is not shown and we see the car abandoned with two bodies being robbed by the hitchhiker. The man, his face still not shown, repeats the pattern and kills and robs again. Newspapers announce a "Hitch-Hike Killer" and publish a photo of the main suspect - Emmett Myers. On the last killing Emmett also steals the car.

Two men, Roy Collins and Gilbert Bowen (Edmond O'Brien and Frank Lovejoy) from El Centro, California, are driving in their new Plymouth Cranbrook Belvedere toward a planned fishing trip at the Mexican town of San Felipe on the Gulf of California. Just south of Mexicali, they pick up the hitchhiker, who announces himself as Emmett Myers (William Talman), and draws a gun on them. The car he stole has run out of gas. Myers is the psychopath who has committed multiple murders while hitch-hiking between Illinois and Southern California, and has managed to slip into Mexico at Mexicali. To evade the pursuing authorities, Myers forces the two men at gunpoint to journey deep into the heart of the Baja California Peninsula, toward the town of Santa Rosalía, where he plans to take a ferry across the Gulf of California to Guaymas.

In one very dramatic scene, for Emmett's amusement, he forces the two men to enact a William Tell style trick shot: one friend holding a beer can in his hand and the other shooting it out of his hand with a rifle, while Emmett holds a pistol to his head.

Justifiably in fear of losing their lives, the men try to plot their escape from the violent and psychopathic Myers. They try tactics such as sabotaging their car and leaving clues (like an engraved wedding ring) at various points on their journey. One man badly twists his ankle during an escape attempt. The sadistic Myers physically and mentally torments the men, forcing them to continue on foot and mocking their loyalty to each other by claiming that they could have escaped separately if they embraced Myers' each-man-for-himself ethos.

Law enforcement's tracking of Myers is covered extensively on the radio and the criminal is intent on listening. In an attempt to protect the two innocent men, the police purposely alter information to suggest they think Myers is still in the United States.

Arriving at Santa Rosalía, Myers tries to conceal his identity by forcing one of the men to wear his clothes. Myers, upon discovering that the regular ferry to Guaymas has burned, hires a fishing boat. However, while he is awaiting the fisherman, locals discover his status as a wanted murderer and contact authorities. Police surround the pier and take him into custody after some initial confusion over Myers' identity, and a brief scuffle during which he is revealed to be a coward.

The film ends with the weary friends agreeing to give statements to police.


Collier Young, the then husband of director Ida Lupino and the co-writer of the screenplay, makes an uncredited appearance in the film as a Mexican peasant.


Ida Lupino (left) directing The Hitch-Hiker

The inspiration for The Hitch-Hiker is the true-life story of Billy Cook, who in California in 1950, murdered a family of five and a traveling salesman, then kidnapped Deputy Sheriff Homer Waldrip from Blythe, California. Cook ordered his captive to drive into the desert, where he tied Deputy Waldrip up with blanket strips and took his police cruiser, leaving Waldrip to die. Waldrip got loose, however, walked to the main road, and got a ride back to Blythe. Cook also took two men hostage who were on a hunting trip.

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 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?"


Critical response[edit]

Frank Lovejoy, William Talman and Edmond O'Brien

A. H. Weiler, the film critic for The New York Times, gave The Hitch-Hiker a mixed review on its initial release. The acting, direction, and use of locations were praised, but the plot was deemed to be predictable.[14]

In the years since its release The Hitch-hiker has been reassessed and is now regarded with critical acclaim by modern critics. The film holds a 93% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 43 reviews.[15]

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.[16]

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.[17]

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.

Noir analysis[edit]

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."[18]

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 | Film Registry | National Film Preservation Board | Programs at the Library of Congress | Library of Congress". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved April 30, 2020.
  5. ^ "Hooray for Hollywood (December 1998) - Library of Congress Information Bulletin". Retrieved June 25, 2020.
  6. ^ Ladwig, Samantha (September 9, 2017). "30 classic Hollywood movies you can stream for free". Business Insider. Retrieved March 10, 2018.
  7. ^ a b Miller, Frank. "The Hitch-Hiker (1953): There's Death in his upraised Thumb!". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved July 31, 2013.
  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. ^ 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.
  15. ^ "The Hitch-Hiker (1953)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved February 23, 2021.
  16. ^ Krewson, John. The A.V. Club, DVD review, March 29, 2002. Last accessed: April 23, 2008.
  17. ^ Time Out Film Guide Archived May 3, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. Film review, 2008. Last accessed: April 23, 2008.
  18. ^ 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.


  • Foster, Gwendolyn Audrey. “The Narcissistic Sociopathology of Gender: Craig’s Wife and The Hitch-Hiker,” Part 2. Film International, March 9, 2014. [1]

External links[edit]