This is a boy (in a band) meets a girl (singer) love story. Except the girl singer, Sue (played by Claudia Drake), decides to head to Hollywood. As in three thousand miles away from the boy, piano player Al (portrayed in dour, but likeable fashion by Tom Neal). And, as long-distance relationships don’t exist in the 1940s, lonesome Al is left feeling high and dry.
Anyway, he changes his mind about breaking up with Sue and goes West to find her, because he simply can’t forget her. But he has no car, no money, no nothing. So, he hitchhikes. Edmund MacDonald plays the pill-popping Charles Haskell Jr., a rich dude who picks him up. And, throughout their (short) ride, he regales Al with stories of how rich he is and his plans to clean up placing bets at the racetrack when he gets to the Golden State.
Things go very wrong when they take turns driving. Al notices that the rich dude is no longer jabbering his ear off. At that point, Al pulls over to the side of the road, exits the car, goes around to open the passenger door … and the guy falls out, hitting his head on the ground.
Cue voice over: “What would you assume? Would you believe me?” That sort of thing. So, instead of walking the fuck away, he figures, “Why don’t I make everything look even worse? I’ll take this guy’s clothes and wallet and pretend to be him.”
My what a brilliant plan. But wait … it gets better.
Now that he’s stolen the identity of the man he may not even have killed, he really screws the pooch by picking up a female hitchhiker. I guess he sees her and (despite the fact that he’s worried about getting caught and all the people who’ve seen him with the dead guy) takes pity on her sulky ass. And when I say sulky, I’m talking mean as a rattlesnake.
Okay, this unlikely set of events are what pass for a film noir plot. And what are we to make of this? That life sucks for the terminally stupid?
As Al, Tom Neal manages to look grumpy throughout the whole film, as if he can’t quite believe he took the part. And Ann Savage as Vera the Hitchhiking Bitch is so overbearingly nasty, it’s almost as if she’s thinking, “I can do better than this.” They spend most of the movie snarling and sniping at each other.
On a positive note, the film is 68 minutes long. That’s barely an hour of your time. And even by film noir standards, this movie is really short.
I have to agree with Roger Ebert, who wrote of the film in his essay 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.
Try as I might, I haven’t.
What kind of rating to give this so-called classic film noir? How about so-so? 🙂