Sunday, April 18, 2010

Detour (1945)

My buddy Leo recommended Detour as a good noir film and a great example of making a good movie on a very low budget. Roger Ebert said of this movie ".. 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...", yet goes on to call it "an embodiment of the guilty soul of film noir." Yes, this low budget, poorly made piece of trash is a film classic. Go figure.

Al (Tom Neal) is a grumpy night club musician engaged to marry singer Sue (Claudia Drake), when she tells him instead she is going to go make it big in Hollywood. He stays behind to be all grumpy. When he gets a ten dollar tip, he decides he will sell his stuff and hitchhike across country to be with her.

Out of cash and losing hope, he is picked up by Charles Haskell, who befriends him. His luck turns bad and his trip takes, ahem, a detour.

I won't spoil anything, but the story takes a number of twists and turns. Neal narrates the story in flashback and what Ebert said about ham-handed is dead on. The acting was bad, the script was weak, and the lack of budget was plainly visible on the screen. This is a perfect example of making a bad movie that turns out to be a fairly good movie. And, I don't mean that like how Plan 9 became a "good" movie. Plan 9 is good because how bad it is. Detour is good despite how bad it is.

As far as what I said about the low budget being plainly visible, most of the movie was in either a hotel room or in the director's personal car in front of a rear projection screen. Most of the other shots were done in empty rooms or public places. One scene is done in almost complete fog, another is at a "night club" where we see the singer, a microphone, an the silhouette of three horns players behind her. That's it. I think film development might have been the biggest expense.

Let's talk about Tom Neal. His angry and violent behavior led him to be essentially blackballed in Hollywood. His roles became smaller and smaller. When he killed his third wife, his career was over. He served six years. He died of heart failure at age 58. His son, Tom Neal Jr, has one acting credit, the forgettable 1992 remake of Detour.

I liked the movie, even though the film quality was rather bad. It falls very close to being a story about everything going wrong for someone, but it does say something about what happens when bad decisions are combined with bad luck. My kids were only momentarily interested, but it held mine. AMRU 3.

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