Greed. Corruption. Mistaken identity. A conniving femme fatale. Detour, released in 1945, and directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, fits all of the tropes that someone thinks of when you say film noir, but the movie takes these tropes and spins a much more cynical, dark, and brutal tale than audiences are familiar with. Film noirs are usually dark; shadows and morally gray characters populate the movie, making them feel like depictions of the dark side of humanity. Detour excels with its protagonist and narrator spinning a tale of death and malice, and tries to convince the audience of his innocence, and perhaps trying to convince himself.
A man, Al Roberts (Tom Neal), is picked up by a man named Charles Haskell (Edmund MacDonald), as he hitchhikes from New York to L.A. to visit his girlfriend, Sue Harvey (Claudia Drake). The movie is mostly told in flashbacks as Al Roberts goes on his hellish trip, each moment descending more into despair and hopelessness. Robert’s journey begins its downward spiral after the death of Haskell, who dies by accident, but Roberts knows no one will believe him and hides his body off the side of the road. Roberts assumes the identity of Haskell taking his cash and his car, planning on ditching it after he arrives in L.A. He picks up a woman named Vera (Ann Savage), and it turns out that she has been picked up by Haskell before, leaving scars on his hand as he dumped her on the side of the road. Vera is a malicious woman; she believes that Roberts murdered Haskell for his money and tries to scheme with Roberts to swindle more money out of people. Their story is destined for tragedy.
Tom Neal and Ann Savage are both tremendous in their roles and help elevate the movie past its low-budget. Neal plays the hopeless and destitute Al Roberts with sympathy. Savage-whose name fits the role she is playing–is equal great playing the dark and malicious femme fatale Vera. Director Edgar G. Ulmer is equally as great behind the camera. He takes this short b-grade movie and places it on a pedestal next to other film noir classics.
If you are looking for a dark, pulpy film noir with great characters and a well-told story, this one is for you. This movie is uniquely dark for its time, with a dark and hopeless ending that will stick with you for a while. The cast and the crew help bring this b movie to another level of greatness and helped make a landmark cult film that has influenced directors even to this day.