YouTube Noir — Noirvember Day 5: Detour (1945)

If you’ve never seen Detour (1945), you’re in for a down and dirty, noirishly good treat. I envy you.

Detour is one of those “B” noirs you may have heard about, with a budget so low that the director, Edgar Ulmer, used his own car for filming. But it doesn’t feel cheap, and it packs a noir punch that leaves you breathlessly satisfied.

There are no big stars in the film – when I first saw it, the only performer I recognized was Esther Howard, who I knew from Murder, My Sweet (1944) and Born to Kill (1947). But that didn’t matter one bit. Who needs stars when you’ve got a cracking good story, first-rate acting, and some of the most memorable noir lines this side of Double Indemnity?

Clocking in at an economical 68 minutes, Detour will keep you riveted from start to finish. Trust me.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

The salad days.

Tom Neal stars as Al Roberts, a nightclub piano player whose singer-girlfriend strikes out for the big time in Hollywood, leaving him all alone. Before long, Al decides to join her, but because of his meager financial situation, he has to hitchhike across the country, from New York to California. He manages to get lucky with a few rides, even making it all the way to Arizona before his luck runs out and he finds himself in a world of trouble. Talk about a detour!

WHAT ELSE?

Director Ulmer also helmed several other noirs, including Strange Illusion (1945), The Strange Woman (1946), and Murder is My Beat (1955).

Tom Neal had an off-screen life with enough drama for a couple of noirs, at least. Read all about him here.

These two were a “don’t invite ’em item.”
If you know what I mean.

Neal’s co-star is Ann Savage, who makes her appearance about halfway through the movie, but once she shows up, the movie really kicks into gear. Savage wrote in her memoir that she and Neal didn’t get along during the making of Detour – after he stuck his tongue in her ear, she slapped his face, and from them on, they didn’t speak to each other unless they were filming.

In one scene, a guy who gives Al a ride tells him a story about a dame he’d picked up earlier. He wound up tussling with her in the car, and the guy pulled over, telling her to “take it on the Arthur Duffy.” I’d heard this expression before and guessed the meaning from the context clues – but I wondered where the saying came from. It turns out that Arthur Duffy was a runner who set the world record for the 200-yard dash in 1902. Labeled as the “world’s fastest human,” he held the record for 28 years. So – to take it on the Arthur Duffy means to run off or escape. (Now you know.)

TOMORROW . . .

Join me for my next YouTube recommendation on Day 6 of Noirvember!

~ by shadowsandsatin on November 5, 2020.

3 Responses to “YouTube Noir — Noirvember Day 5: Detour (1945)”

  1. SUCH a good movie. I couldn’t take my eyes off Ann Savage. This was the first movie I’d seen her in, and I thought, How come she wasn’t a bigger star?

  2. “Detour” is one of my absolute favorite film noirs! I saw a 35 mm print of it at the 16th annual Film Noir Festival closing weekend party at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood (hosted by Eddie Muller’s Film Noir Foundation). It was great to see it on the big screen with 500+ people in attendance wearing vintage attire!
    Thank you for the “Arthur Duffy” explanation-I never knew the reference & love learning things like this.
    Some tidbits to share: I like how Tom Neal’s theme song/musical motif is “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” played in a minor key. A great touch.
    Since you mentioned no big stars in this one, I have to tell you of an obscure player I spotted. Actress Dorothy Granger is in the role of hotel clerk at the reception desk-she has no lines. I think a voiceover comes on when she is seen. As a big Laurel and Hardy fan, I recognized her as Oliver Hardy’s wife in a 1930’s short called “Hog Wild”.
    Lastly, I know a man who’s around 85 years old who told me he spent a night in jail with Tom Neal! I told him I loved film noir, & he brightened & asked if I knew who Tom Neal was!! I said yes, and he told me that they were in the drunk tank together in the 1950’s!
    Thanks for the fun post!

    • Wow, Amy – so much good stuff in your comment! I will have to go back and look for Dorothy Granger. And how absolutely cool about the man who spent the night in jail with Tom Neal. What a story!

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