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.

Too close for comfort.

Too close for comfort.

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:

  1. 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.)
  2. 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.
  3. When Ferguson insists on trying to find alternate transportation options, Morgan tips out of the room and disconnects the phone.

    My name is Ferguson. Ferguson! FERGUSON!!

    My name is Ferguson. Ferguson! FERGUSON!!

  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

———–

This post is part of the 1947 Blogathon, hosted by Kristina, of Speakeasy, and yours truly. Check out the wrap-up of posts on Day 1 and Day 2!

~ by shadowsandsatin on July 14, 2015.

14 Responses to “The 1947 Blogathon: The Devil Thumbs a Ride (or, Why Picking Up Hitchhikers is a BAD Idea)”

  1. Great review. Amazing that he made this and Born to Kill the same year. And I hear Tierney was a lot like the characters he played, though he stayed mostly on the right side of the law!

  2. Omigosh, he was arrested so many times I can’t even tell you. I am really going to have to do a Tierney post one of these days. His life off-screen was unreal. I was thinking when I was watching this movie tonight that part of his real personality must have fueled his roles like the ones he played in Born to Kill and Devil Thumbs a ride.

  3. Tierney is always a nasty piece of work and this is one of his nastiest roles. A perfect blend of noir and down and dirty low budget poverty row filmmaking.

  4. From what I’ve read , heard and actually seen (Film Noir Fest @ the Egyptian Theater, Hollywood) Mr. Tierney was very good at playing himself. Robert Wise (Tierney’s director for BORN TO KILL, 1947) was overly kind in simply suggesting the man was definitely unique and one of a kind.

  5. Looks like a good one and I like Tierney.🙂

  6. Yikes! I’ve never picked up a hitchhiker and now I never will! Great post!

  7. Boy oh boy – I’m looking forward to this one.

    It’s always amazing, in a film noir, how an innocuous action can spiral out of control. It’s breathtaking in a way, to see how quickly things can slide off the rails. And this one sounds like a perfect example. Thanks for recommending!

    • My pleasure! I hope you get a chance to see it — it’s definitely worth your time. Thanks for inspiring this post — I had your excellent posts in mind when I was deciding what to write.🙂

  8. […] Shadows and Satin knows why it’s so scary when The Devil Thumbs a Ride. […]

  9. Lawrence is hands down one of the most intimidating men of noir, and movies in general. Have you seen him in Reservoir Dogs? Tarantino said 90% of a role is good casting and with Lawrence you sure get that. Great post and fun event you thought up, co-hostess!

  10. You make me glad I’m a lifestyle transit user! Looking forward to catching up with this one.

  11. I haven’t seen this one Karen, so thanks for the great review. And thanks for co-sponsoring the 1947 Blogathon – so many great movies.

  12. The brilliance of this noir is undeniable, with not a minute of its hour-long duration wasted. Tierney’s psychopathic behaviour starts with cold blooded murder in the first minute and never lets up. Yet it’s no wild-eyed craziness – it is well disguised by an authoritative and forceful presence. His smooth and convincing line of arguments and justifications holds the plot together and keeps his hapless fellow travellers and associated characters in the grip of his deadly company throughout a night ride through hell which threatens not to end.
    Such is Tierney’s strength of performance, as a viewer you are swept along for the ride too, as a willing passenger anxious yet keen to witness what his devious mind will come up with next, to ensure things keep rolling his way. Ever watchful and always seemingly a move ahead of his own immediate danger, he electrifies this film with his presence. I don’t think I’ve ever seen sustained suspense created so convincingly before by a character in a noir who combined his knowledge of human nature with a devious, quick silver psychopathic personality.
    “The Devil…” has a sharp and gritty script which fleshes out the various characters’ personalities and motives superbly with a degree of wit, despite the underlying menace of the drama. The dialogue is edgy and filled with hard boiled crime banter that adds much to the overbearing atmosphere created by Tierney’s presence.
    Casting choices are excellent, with minor characters not just tacked on to the plot as disposable extras – they all do their bit suitably, and are all well characterized as they come into Tierney’s deadly orbit – even the cops. Performances are uniformly excellent, but a special word for the brassy and brash blonde. From the bit we hear about her past, she’s evidently got the worldly savvy and sordid history to allow her to trade patter with Tierney in a way that fosters a mutual admiration we can feel. We sense that this blonde moll has lived a lot and might just have inadvertently lucked onto her soulmate in Tierney – her sharp tongue and earthy attitude make the vibe between the two of them terrific to watch. (It even had me wishing near the end for a whole new film, with them careening off together to wreak God knows what new type of havoc).

    Like the best films you see, this one is unique; it stays in your mind and you don’t want it to end. As the tension mounts, inevitably Tierney’s web of lies and deception make him take one step too many, so the ending when it comes does feel sudden and thus something of a letdown. But what an hour long ride this ‘devil’ took us on!!! My interest in the film never waned – along with the performances, there’s enough smart plot ideas, pacing and dramatic momentum in evidence here to cover two or three other good quality film noirs…and that’s not to put the others down. This is a rare noir gem worthy of the very, very best…..see it and know greatness.

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