Film Review – Detour (1945, Criterion Collection)

Detour is a 1945 black and white film noir, directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, and screenplay by Martin Goldsmith based on his own 1939 novel of the same name.

The film stars Tom Neal as Al Roberts, who also narrates the film, a piano player that after his singer girlfriend (played by Claudia Drake) leaves to find fame in California, attempts to follow and marry her by hitchhiking across the country. On the way he gets a ride with a man called Haskell, Edmund MacDonald, who tells him a story of a women he had recently picked up. A little white later as Roberts is driving the car he stops and fails to rouse the sleeping Haskell, opening the passenger door Haskell hits his head and dies, fearing the police will think he killed him Roberts buries the body and taking Haskells car and identity flees.

While stopped at a gas station he picks up a hitchhiker of his own, a woman Named Vera (Ann Savage) it does not take long for her to recognise the car as Roberts realises it is the same women Haskell had picked up earlier. Vera then forces Roberts to go along with her schemes to sell Haskell’s car and to con his dying father out of the inheritance by passing Roberts off as his son.

Savage is great as the feisty and fiery Vera, who is always one step ahead of Roberts with her blackmail. Tom Neal is also good considering he only got the part three days before filming began, you can really feel his guilt for what has happened. The scenes where the two are alone in the apartment arguing are some of the best scenes of the film, the chemistry between the two actors really shows through, although i think Ann Savage steals the film and every scene that she is in.

The film itself is fine, though far from being the worst i have ever seen, it was very cheaply made, under $100,000 and filmed supposedly in 6 days though according to Ann Savage it was more like four 6 day weeks. The low budgets shows throughout the film with a lot of scenes in the front seat of a car and other limitations to shots and scenery. The film is very short at 68 minutes so you don’t really have the time to get to know any of the characters, but it is not boring, the pace is almost nonstop and the time does fly by. The Blu-ray transfer is also not the best that i have seen but still clear and could be worse, again just ‘fine’.

To sum up i think this is a film is just OK. I am not so sure why this is considered a noir ‘classic’ as there as so many better options out there, the runtime makes it an easy watch and the acting is good enough to recommend checking Detour out for yourself.

As usual the Criterion Collection release of the film includes some features that are definitely worth checking out, I highly recommend the documentary about Ulmer the director of the film, and the programme about the restoration of the film.

Crime, Film Noir | USA, 1945 | PG | Blu-Ray | Sony Pictures Home Entertainment | Dir.Edgar G. Ulmer | Tom Neal, Ann Savage, Claudia Drake, Edmund MacDonald

New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
Edgar G. Ulmer: The Man Off-Screen, a 2004 documentary featuring interviews with filmmakers Roger Corman, Joe Dante, and Wim Wenders and actor Ann Savage
New interview with film scholar Noah Isenberg, author of Edgar G. Ulmer: A Filmmaker at the Margins
New programme about the restoration of Detour

PLUS: An essay by critic and poet Robert Polito