A short movie for a weekend afternoon. It wastes no time, opening with heavy doom music and a written warning, then a hitchhiker, face unseen, shoots the people who gave him a ride, and a couple (movie) minutes later he’s being picked up by a couple of dudes on vacation.
“You guys are gonna die, that’s all. It’s just a question of when.”
Driver Roy is Edmond O’Brien, star of D.O.A. and “Rock Around the Rockpile” singer/gangster in The Girl Can’t Help It, and Passenger Gil is Frank Lovejoy, lead cop in House of Wax the same year as this. Our baddie Emmett, who immediately pulls out the pistol and tells the two they’re taking him on a multi-day journey to Mexico, is William Talman, Perry Mason’s TV rival. And all three guys look kinda similar, which becomes useful towards the end when the hitcher wants to swap clothes with Roy in case they’re walking into an ambush (they are).
Doom-camera when they stop for a William Tell shooting competition:
Not sure what to make of the plot point where the guys turn out to have lied to their wives about which direction they were driving. Bystanders in the 1950’s are more suspicious and attentive than you’d expect, so once they cross into Mexico the cops are on their trail, issuing Fake News over the radio in case the kidnapper and crew are listening (they are). Roy hurts his foot trying to escape, the car finally breaks down, and Emmett’s caught at the docks while seeking a boat. Tense little movie.
Sleeping with one eye open:
In December 1950 and January 1951, an ex-con named Billy Cook went on a killing spree that took him halfway across the country, from Missouri to California, and eventually into Mexico. He murdered an entire family that stopped to pick him up, a crime so well-publicized that Jim Morrison referred to it 20 years later in “Riders On The Storm” … Released in March 1953, only three months after Cook was executed, The Hitch-Hiker fictionalizes his final run, when he bummed a ride from two men on a hunting trip and forced them to drive him across the border.