Movies Noir

Noirvember Review: Detour 1945)

Detour. Released in 1945. Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer and Starring Tom Neal and Ann Savage.

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.

Rating 4/5

Movies Noir

Noirvember Reviews: Double Indemnity (1944)

Directed by Billy Wilder. Written by Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler. Based on novel Double Indemnity by James M. Cain. Starring Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, and Edward G. Robinson.

Double Indemnity follows insurance agent, Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), who is seduced by the beautiful Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck). Mrs. Dietrichson inquires to Neff about getting an accident policy for her husband without him knowing. Neff is alarmed by her request. After giving in to his feelings for Mrs. Dietrichson, Neff forms a plot to kill Mr. Dietrichson with Phyllis in order for her to collect the insurance money. As the duo tries to get away, insurance investigator Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) is on their trail to uncover the grim truth.

Phyllis Dietrichson is a classic femme fatale of the noir genre. She is motivated by greed. Stanwyck portrays Mrs. Dietrichson as a cold, charming wife, who’s clearly using Neff to her advantage. Stanwyck and MacMurray have beautiful chemistry together. Together, they’re able to show what a toxic, manipulative relationship looks like with Mrs. Dietrichson using Neff’s love for her to achieve her goals.

Billy Wilder’s film has a delicate pace with beautiful shots of shadowy interiors. These dimly-lit rooms are perfect for this couple, who are conspiring to murder. There aren’t many shots of the Los Angeles streets, but the ones that the audience sees are beautiful. In the film’s opening scene, Wilder poses a shot of an empty L.A. street that is foggy with street lamps lighting the dark streets. It’s appealing, yet invokes a sense of fear due to not knowing what lurks in the fog. Wilder creates gorgeous shots with masterful lighting.

Double Indemnity is essential viewing for Noirvember. It is highly regarded as one of the best films in the noir genre. The film is an excellent study on the lengths a man will go to satisfy his love for a woman. Rent or buy this film to watch on a cold November night.

Overall rating: 4.5/5.