One of the greatest attributes a film can possess is being timeless. In basic terms, this means a film made say forty years ago that appealed to its societal culture would do the same in ours today. Almost sixty-eight years later, Detour hasn’t lost a drop of its appeal. What isn’t to love about this film noir classic? It has the gritty narration, over the top bang bang dialog, intense dark lighting, and a dame or two.
Edgar Ulmer’s film traces Al Roberts’s (Tom Neal) struggle to get from New York to Los Angeles in order to be with his Claudia once more. However, as you would expect, tragedy ensues when Roberts is so close to his goal, forcing him off track and farther away from the woman he loves. But there is a silver lining, for the viewer is introduced to the fast talking femme fatale, Vera (Ann Savage). Her performance is quite something to watch, giving us a window into the time period, while illuminating the strength and cunning of a woman. Unfortunately, ideologies of the time were quite rigid, causing a role switch giving back the power to the male protagonist. On the other hand, Hollywood films really haven’t changed much in that department.
Today, it seems whenever you watch something with a film noir style narration it is always a parody of sorts. We see this in film and television all the time, which makes the act of going back to the source so interesting. It’s like watching a Hitchcock film and seeing every horror stereotype in the book, but then realizing he created every stereotype in the book. Detour had this same impression on me, allowing me to gain much more respect for the film and the genre.
Plus there is so much more to be taken from this film contributing to its style. The lighting of Roberts in the diner speaks for itself and I already touched upon the femme fatale character. The best part of the film for me was the dialog. It was absolutely amazing to watch two characters throughout the film going back and forth with each other at the paces they went. Especially once Vera comes into the picture, bringing a whole new dynamic to the process.
This film was one of those classics that stayed true to its title. It definitely gives any film student some hope, as Detour was made on the lowest of low budgets, which is also evident while watching the film, but at the same time adds to the entire experience. The most surprising aspect of the film is the fact that it is only sixty-seven minutes long. However, for being just over an hour long, Detour feels incredibly put together and flushed out. That is something quite hard to do with today’s audience.
Edgar Ulmer’s questions of life, meaning, and circumstance play as large undertones to the film. He played with his themes and created something worth watching. If you ever see this old B movie lying on a shelf, take it down and dust it off. Take a look back at an important film genre of our culture and watch Detour.
Detour (1945) directed by Edgar Ulmer