23 July 2005 | jotix100
It's a tribute to Edgar Ulmer that "Detour", made for about thirty thousand dollars, still keeps an interest with new fans who discover it. According to some comments, "Detour" has not been seen in this country in quite a while, but we recall the first time we saw it when it was presented at New York's Film Forum as part of a Film Noir festival in the late eighties. The copy shown recently on TCM has a poor quality, while the print we saw at Film Forum was in better condition.
What makes "Detour" a must see, is the clever way its narrative unfolds on the screen. Al and Sue are seen first in the small bistro he plays the piano and she sings, in Manhattan. Sue sings a happy rendition of "I Can't Believe You're in Love with Me", and Al shows he can improvise on a theme by Chopin as he jazzes it up. When Sue decides to pack it and move to L.A., Tom promises he'll follow. The tragic mistake he makes is to intent crossing the country hitchhiking. Even in the forties, it's a miracle he made it alive!
In Arizona Al meets the kind Charles Haskell, who happens to be going all the way to L.A. and offers him a ride. The two men develop an easy friendship until the point when Haskell dies of an apparent heart attack. Al disposes of the body and keeps going, assuming now, Haskell's persona. At the nearest gas station he sees a pretty woman, Vera, who appears is hitchhiking, and offers her a ride. This will prove to be his biggest mistake.
Vera turned out to be Al's worst nightmare. She knows Al is not Haskell since she, herself, knows the man. Al ends up a virtual prisoner hiding in the apartment they have rented in Hollywood. He can't escape. When Vera realizes there's a lot of money to be made by having Al pretend to impersonate the dead Haskell, he refuses. She threatens to call the police and he is left on the other room pulling the telephone cord...
The film works because all the elements are in place in this satisfying 67 minutes work and because of the great performances Mr. Ulmer got out of Tom Neal and Ann Savage. Edmund MacDonald and Claudia Drake played Haskell and Sue.
"Detour" was shot in two sets and it shows. It's a small film that doesn't pretend what it's not, and that's basically why audiences seem to like it as it's discovered.