October 29, 2015

#52FilmsByWomen - The Hitch-Hiker (1953) - Ida Lupino

TCM is partnering with Women in Film/Los Angeles to raise the awareness of the history of women working behind the camera.

Will you watch a film a week by a woman for one year? Say yes, and join Women in Film/Los Angeles' #52FilmsByWomen movement! It is super easy: make the commitment, watch the film and post about it on Facebook or Twitter. Click here to sign up!

I made the commitment to watch a film a week by a woman. Since I'm an Ida Lupino enthusiast, I chose 1953's The Hitch-Hiker for my first film.

The Hitch-Hiker is a 1953 film noir about two fishing buddies who pick up a mysterious hitchhiker during a trip to Mexico. It is regarded as the first American mainstream film noir directed by a woman. The director of photography was noted film noir cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca.

The film is based on the true story of psychopathic murderer William Edward "Billy" Cook. He was an American spree killer with a belligerent attitude. He was known for having a deformed right eyelid that never closed completely and had the words "H-A-R-D L-U-C-K" tattooed on the fingers of his left hand. He murdered six people on a 22-day rampage between Missouri and California in 1950–51.

Posing as a hitchhiker, Cook was picked up by farmer Carl Mosser from Illinois, who was en route to New Mexico with his wife, three children, and a dog. Cook forced Mosser to drive around aimlessly for 72 hours. Mentally unstable and increasingly tired, Cook shot the entire family and their dog shortly afterward. He dumped their bodies in a mine shaft near Joplin, Missouri.

Cook then headed back to California and kidnapped another motorist, Robert Dewey, from Seattle. Sometime later the traveling salesman tried to wrestle the gun from Cook but was wounded in the process. The car left the road and careened into the desert. Cook murdered Dewey with a shot to the head and dumped his body in a ditch.

Cook kidnapped two other men, James Burke and Forrest Damron, who were on a hunting trip. He forced them to drive across the Mexican border and on down to Santa Rosalia. Amazingly, Cook was recognized by Santa Rosalia police chief Luis Parra, who simply walked up to Cook, snatched the .32 revolver from his belt, and placed him under arrest. Billy Cook was then returned to the border and handed over to waiting FBI agents.

Cook was returned to Oklahoma City to answer for the Mosser killings, and sentenced to 300 years in prison. In 1951, a California jury sentenced him to death for killing the salesman from Seattle, Robert Dewey. On December 12, 1952, Cook was executed in the gas chamber at San Quentin Prison. "I hate everybody's guts," he said at the time of his arrest, "and everybody hates mine."

Billy Cook's victims: Carl Mosser, 33, Thelma Mosser, 29, Ronald Dean Mosser, 7, Gary Carl Mosser, 5, Pamela Sue Mosser, 3 and Robert Dewey, 32.

Ida Lupino interviewed Cook and got a release from him, so that she could integrate parts of Cook's life into the script. To appease the censors at the Hays Office, she reduced the number of deaths to three.

Director Ida Lupino was a noted actress who began directing when Elmer Clifton had a heart attack and couldn't finish the film he was directing for Filmakers, Inc., the company started by Lupino and her then-husband Collier Young to make low-budget, issue-oriented movies. Lupino stepped in to finish Not Wanted and went on to direct her own projects. The Hitch-Hiker was her first hard-paced, fast-moving picture.

In an article for the Village Voice, Carrie Rickey wrote that Lupino was a model of modern feminist filmmaking:
Not only did Lupino take control of production, direction and screenplay, but each of her movies addresses the brutal repercussions of sexuality, independence and dependence.
Writer Richard Koszarski noted:
Her films display the obsessions and consistencies of a true auteur.... In her films The Bigamist and The Hitch-Hiker Lupino was able to reduce the male to the same sort of dangerous, irrational force that women represented in most male-directed examples of Hollywood film noir.

Did You Know?

  • Money was tight for Filmakers, Lupino's production company. Some people worked without salary.
  • Lupino worked to stay within bounds of the small budget. She found shortcuts, ingeniously choosing the sets. Once, "Ida used a set from an old [John] Garfield picture, taking three walls and making each a different scene."
  • She talked her personal physician into appearing as a doctor in the delivery scene of Not Wanted.
  • When she needed wardrobe for the star, she opened her own closet.
  • When money got tight she did not panic. "Ida kept on track and maintained a tight shooting schedule. She earned the respect of the crew, many of whom were veteran technicians."
  • Another way to keep costs down was what is now called product placement, placing Coke, Cadillac and other brands in the films.
  • Films were shot in public places to avoid the rental cost.
  • Budget-conscious all the time, Lupino carefully planned each scene to avoid technical mistakes.
  • She was a hard worker and never late.

Click here to read a great piece by Wheeler Winston Dixon on Ida Lupino as a director.

The Hitch-Hiker (1953) Info
  • Directed by Ida Lupino, William Dorfman (assistant), Grayson Rogers (assistant), Doran Cox (assistant)
  • Produced by Collier Young, Christian Nyby (associate)
  • Screenplay by Ida Lupino, Collier Young, Robert Joseph (adaptation)
  • Based on a story by blacklisted Out of the Past screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring (uncredited).
  • Alternate Titles: The Difference and The Persuader
  • Music by Leith Stevens, C. Bakaleinikoff (musical director)
  • Sound: Roy Meadows, Clem Portman
  • Cinematography by Nicholas Musuraca
  • Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino (art director), Walter E. Keller (art director)
  • Film Editor: Douglas Stewarr
  • Set Decoration: Darrell Silvera (set decorator), Harley Miller (set decorator)
  • Special Effects: Harold E. Wellman (photographic effects)
  • Makeup: Mel Berns (makeup artist)
  • Production Misc: James Anderson (assistant to producer), Robert Eggenweiler (assistant to producer), Lew Jarrad (scr clerk)
  • Production Companies: The Filmakers, Inc. and RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
  • Distributed byRKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
  • Release dates: March 20, 1953 (premiere in Boston) and March 21, 1953 (U.S.)
  • Running time: 71 minutes

  • Edmond O'Brien (Roy Collins)
  • Frank Lovejoy (Gilbert Bowen)
  • William Talman (Emmett Myers)
  • Jose Torvay (Captain Alvarado)
  • Sam Hayes (Himself)
  • Wendel Niles (Himself)
  • Jean Del Val (Inspector general)
  • Clark Howat (Government agent)
  • Natividad Vacio (José)
  • Rodney Bell (William Johnson)
  • Nacho Galindo (Proprietor)
  • Martin Garralaga (Bartender)
  • Tony Roux (Gas station owner)
  • Jerry Lawrence (News broadcaster)
  • Felipe Turich (Mexican in car)
  • Rosa Turich (Mexican in car)
  • Orlando Veltran (Barker)
  • George Navarro (Barker)
  • Joe Dominguez (Man outside store)
  • June Dinneen (Waitress)
  • Al Ferrara (Gas station attendant)
  • Henry Escalante (Mexican guard)
  • Taylor Flaniken (Mexican policeman)
  • Wade Crosby (Joe, bartender)
  • Kathy Riggins (Child)
  • Gordon Barnes (Hendrickson)
  • Ed Hinton (Chief of police)
  • Larry Hudson (FBI agent)


A taut, thrilling B-movie, The Hitch-Hiker features fasten-your-seatbelts, edge-of-your-seat tension from start to finish. Ida Lupino really makes her mark here as a director with a film that is as tough and merciless as anything any of her male counterparts were creating at the time. Edmund O'Brien and Frank Lovejoy are good as regular joes who are on the longest and worst fishing trip of their lives. But it's William Talman as their sadistic kidnapper who is brilliant. This is one of those performances that all future criminal scumball characters can be measured by. Talman's cold-blooded killer personifies America's deepest fears about random crime that can strike anyone anywhere.

Slideshow - Scary William Talman

Watch The Hitch-Hiker (1953)

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