The 1947 Blogathon: The Devil Thumbs a Ride (or, Why Picking Up Hitchhikers is a BAD Idea)
Admittedly, I haven’t seen every movie Lawrence Tierney was in, but I can’t imagine that he ever played the romantic lead or the goofy but lovable sidekick. No, he was just too perfect as the bad guy – the guy who’d kill you as soon as look at you. The guy who didn’t give a hoot that you had a loving wife at home. The guy who was the very embodiment of the term “self-preservation.”
The guy like Steve Morgan, Tierney’s character in The Devil Thumbs a Ride (1947).
Not five minutes into this 1947 RKO noir, Steve Morgan kills a hapless bank employee, then hitches a ride with another guy who’s also lacking in the luck department: Jimmy Ferguson (Ted North). Ferguson is terribly in love with his wife of two years and is in a big hurry to get home to her – but the cocktails he enjoyed at a surprise birthday/anniversary party have apparently impaired his judgment to the point where he not only gives a lift to Morgan, but also to two dames he meets in a gas station – Carol (Nan Leslie) and Agnes (Betty Lawford). Instead of ending up safe and sound in sunny L.A., though, this ill-fated foursome spends a harrowing night at a beach house in Newport, where Morgan demonstrates the meaning of the film’s title to all and sundry.
A low-budget noir that’ll keep you on the edge of your seat, The Devil Thumbs a Ride is not only entertaining, but it also serves as a cautionary
tale on the importance of keeping your car doors locked and your windows rolled up tight. And just in case you’re getting any ideas of being charitable the next time you hit the road, take a look at a few of Morgan’s awful actions and dastardly deeds:
- He deliberately tries to turn a traffic cop into road kill with Ferguson’s car. (Incidentally, Morgan rationalizes his transgression to his fellow passengers by telling a sob story about being sent to a reform school as a kid and growing up hating cops. “Even now, whenever I see one, my blood runs cold.” Boo hoo.)
- While the others settle in at the Newport beach house, Morgan steps outside to breathe in some fresh air, have a quick smoke – and flatten the tires on Ferguson’s car. Just in case he was planning to… I don’t know…leave or something.
- When Ferguson insists on trying to find alternate transportation options, Morgan tips out of the room and disconnects the phone.
- Unfazed when the local night watchman shows up at the beach house, Morgan invites him to join the party and proceeds to ply him with liquor until the watchman isn’t watching anything but the inside of his eyelids.
- One minute, Morgan is scamming Carol with tall tales of his “connections” in Hollywood. The next he’s forcing his kisses on her and slapping her around. And then… well, I don’t think I should say any more.
- After swiping Ferguson’s wallet, Morgan knocks him out cold, then assumes his identity, snowing the local sheriff with a stirring yarn about how HE picked up Ferguson! “When we got here, we asked the guy in for a drink with us and he started to get ugly drunk!” And the sheriff buys it!
I’ll stop there – but if these don’t serve as enough of a reason for you to speed on by if you see any Steve Morgan types on the side of the highway, well I just don’t know what will. But don’t be skeered of checking out Morgan’s antics The Devil Thumbs a Ride from the comfort and safety of your own home. You’ll be glad you did.
After all, you only owe it to yourself.