We’ve all been there. Staring at the screen in disbelief controlling our urge to yell at the doomed character: “Don’t run up the stairs, you idiot! You were right next to the front door. The guy with the hockey mask and the axe is in the house… so why would you do that?”
The answer, of course, is that either that particular character is toast, or, if it is the main character, then having him or her run out the door and onto the street and into the nearest 7-11, where the armed cashier then proceeds to fill the bad guy with lead, doesn’t exactly ratchet up the dramatic tension. So you end up having characters make choices that no one but a moron would make in real life, all in service of the plot.
It’s annoying as hell when it happens in a cheesy horror flick, but even more when it happens in a film that has been anointed by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
Of course, Detour from 1945, didn’t start off that way. It started off on Hollywood’s Poverty Row, being filmed with a reported (albeit unlikely) budget of $20,000. Other sources cite $100,000 but it was not a high-budget film by any stretch of the imagination.
It’s essentially a hard luck story, and one never really wonders, even for a second, why the main character is having such a bad time. It’s clear that he is the kind of guy who would be incapable of tying his own shoelaces and is his own worst enemy. Unlike in The Lost Weekend, which we discussed here, the main character in Detour cannot use alcoholism as an excuse for his bad choices.
Fortunately, the bad choice is early in the movie, so it won’t really spoil all that much if I tell you about it. Essentially, the guy is hitchhiking and gets picked up by a random motorist. The man in the car takes some medicine, starts feeling bad, parks the car and, in an attempt to get out, stumbled and hits his head on a rock. In keeping with Hollywood tradition, he dies.
The main character decides that the police will blame him for the guy’s death. The only logical thing to do, therefore, is to steal the man’s car and belongings and pass himself off for the dead man. Of course. It’s what anyone would do in that situation.
So everything else that happens afterward is his own fault.
But that’s not even the worst part of the whole thing. I understand that penniless drifters are usually not well regarded, but to automatically assume that the police will blame them for everything and expect audiences to sympathize is another Hollywood-ism that annoys me to no end. Yes, I know, we’re all supposed to unite against authority and “The Man”, but, just once, I’d like for the police to believe the main character when he says it was an accident and calls them to report it.
All of the above is too bad. The acting, the mood, the dialogue were first rate… to the point where it was supremely well-received. I suppose that audiences and critics will often overlook a single moronic decision if the rest of the elements are in place. Maybe they are correct to do so.
But in my case, having to write my own thoughts a few months after seeing the movie, that single stupid choice was the most memorable part of the film, and therefore became what I write about. Might not be fair, but it is what it is.
Bizarre or interesting note? None in particular, except for the fact that, since the film was produced by a studio that no longer exists, and the rights seem to have fallen into some kind of black hole, it is now in the public domain. Which means that I can link you to a place where you can watch the thing legally.
Oh, and it’s noir. I did mention that everything in 1945 was noir, didn’t I?