Take a Drink: every time the narration starts up again.
Take a Drink: every time the movie cuts to driving.
Do a Shot: when Al gets screwed by the circumstances.
By: Reel 127 (Two Beers) –
Detour is the story of Al, a piano player who heads out West to be with the girl he loves. He hitches a ride from a man named Haskell who ends up dying while Al is driving for him. Fearing he will be framed for murdering him, Al hides the body and assumes Haskell’s identity. But he picks up a woman hitchhiking who met Haskell and knows that Al isn’t him. Al is helplessly trapped in her clutches as he tries to get out of everything.
Detour was a film that time almost forgot. A B-movie from the early 40s that only began to find success after it floated around television for a couple decades. By all circumstances this film really should have been terrible. It had a low budget with a several unknown actors starring in it. Despite all these factors, Detour is one of the best of the film noir genre.
Even with the disputes on what the actual budget and production of Detour are (supposedly it was made for $20,000 and filmed in six days) this film is an impressive feat for its time. Comparatively The Lost Weekend, a noir film that won Best Picture the same year, was made on a budget of $1.25 million. High end estimates of Detour don’t even reach a tenth of that for its budget. This is easily the best example of a “poverty row” movie, movies made by B-studios. However, this low budget works largely to the films advantage in helping to capture the rawest feeling of film noir. The genre itself originates from films working off of low budgets and Detour captures that perfectly. In a way the film symbolizes the main character. Al is forced to hitchhike across America because he has little to no money. He eventually gets some money (the film’s hopeful returns from the box office) but only once a man trying to help him dies (the hardships of filming this movie on a shoestring budget).
That’s some quality driving footage I tell you what.
The storytelling in this movie is some of the best to come out of noir. Unlike other B-noir films that tried to copy successful ones, Detour actually broke away from the clichés that had been built up in the genre. The main character isn’t a detective or a criminal, he is a victim of circumstance. He wants a happy life with the woman he loves but he is forced into the darker world that accompany noir films because of his bad luck. It is interesting that Detour took two things you will almost always see in a noir film, a dead man and a femme fatale, and made the main character run into them. This causes our innocent hero to fall into a dark underworld.
Despite this being such a great movie there are a few flaws that can’t be avoided. There are several points in the movie where it is abundantly clear how low of a budget they were working with. If you count when characters are in a car together then this film has around five or six different sets in it. The short run time and production design are also giveaways to the budget of this film. However, unlike a movie like Plan 9 from Outer Space, Detour does not try to overdo what it can with its budget. It stays within the boundaries. This makes these problems not glaring errors, but rather minor problems that may or may not bug the audience.
While on the topic of Ed Wood, his “noir” film is terrible too.
I have said this before and I still stand by it, this is the best noir film ever. The Maltese Falcon and Double Indemnity are certainly greats of the genre, but Detour captures the dark world of the genre so much better than the other two. The characters in Falcon and Indemnity are already part of this dark world or are not afraid to cross into it. Detour takes an innocent character and corrupts him, trying to show what it would be like for an average person (like you) to get caught up in this situation. Hopefully Detour’s popularity will grow in the years to follow and it will be held up like the other greats of the genre.