Film Notes: Detour (1945) directed by Edgar G. Ulmer


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USA / 68 minutes / bw / Producers Releasing Corporation, PRC /Dir: Edgar G. Ulmer Pro: Leon Fromkess and Martin Mooney (associate) Scr: Martin Goldsmith Story: based on the 1939 novel Detour: An Extraordinary Tale by Martin Goldsmith Cine: Benjamin H. Kline Mus: Erdody Cast: Tom Neal (Al Roberts), Ann Savage (Vera), Claudia Drake (Sue), Edmund MacDonald (Charles Haskell), Tim Ryan (Diner Proprietor), Esther Howard (Waitress) Release Date: 30 November 1945 (USA)

Summary Plot: Al Roberts becomes extremely upset when a customer in the diner where he is having a cup of coffee plays a song that reminds him of his past: In New York, Al, a piano player in a nightclub, is in love with singer Sue Harvey. Al wants to marry Sue, but although she loves him, Sue declares that she intends to seek fame in Hollywood first. Some time later, Al is given a large tip and calls Sue in California. Learning that she is working as a waitress, he impulsively decides to hitchhike west to join her. In Arizona, a man named Charles Haskell offers him a ride to Los Angeles. When Al notices deep scratches on Haskell’s hand, Haskell explains that a woman to whom he had given a ride scratched him after he made a sexual advance. That night, while Al is driving, it starts to rain. Al is unable to rouse the sleeping Haskell and stops to raise the top on the convertible. When Al opens the passenger-side door, Haskell falls out and hits his head. Convinced that he will be blamed for Haskell’s death, Al hides the body and steals his money and identification. (Read full summary at American Film Institute here)

The story was adapted by Martin Goldsmith and Martin Mooney (uncredited) from Goldsmith’s novel of the same name and was directed by Edgar G. Ulmer. The 68-minute film was released by the Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC), one of the so-called “poverty row” film studios in mid-twentieth century Hollywood. Although made on a small budget with bare sets and straightforward camera work, Detour has gathered much praise through the years and is held in high regard. In 1992, Detour was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. The film has fallen into the public domain and is freely available from online sources. (Wikipedia).

In 1972, Director Ulmer said in an interview that the film was shot in six days. In a 2004 documentary Ulmer’s daughter Arianne presented a shooting script title page which noted, “June 14, 1945-June 29. Camera days 14.” Ann Savage was contracted to PRC for the production of Detour for three six-day weeks. She later said the film was shot in four six-day weeks with an additional four days of location work in the desert at Lancaster, California. While popular belief long held that Detour was shot for about $20,000, Noah Isenberg, in doing research for his book on the film, discovered that the film’s actual cost was upwards of $100,000. (Wikipedia)

Film critic Roger Ebert wrote: “Detour” is a movie so filled with imperfections that it would not earn the director a passing grade in film school. This movie from Hollywood’s poverty row, shot in six days, filled with technical errors and ham-handed narrative, starring a man who can only pout and a woman who can only sneer, should have faded from sight soon after it was released in 1945. And yet it lives on, haunting and creepy, an embodiment of the guilty soul of film noir. No one who has seen it has easily forgotten it. (rogerebert.com)

Notas de cine: El desvio (Detour) (1945) dirigida por Edgar G. Ulmer

Argumento: La vida de Al Roberts, un pianista de Nueva York, se convierte en una pesadilla cuando decide hacer auto-stop para buscar a su novia que vive en Los Ángeles. Una noche lluviosa, el hombre que lo lleva en su coche muere… (Film Affinity)

“Detour” nunca llegó a estrenarse en España. Cuando se pasó por televisión se tituló como “El desvío”. Se rodó en ¡seis días! Con un presupuesto miserable, con actores mediocres y desconocidos, sin localizaciones en exteriores y con unos medios técnicos más propios de una película casera. Pues bien, con estos medios, Ulmer realizó una obra maestra del cine negro que, hoy, se nos aparece como una película fascinante, hipnótica, reconocida por toda la crítica con unanimidad y que aparece en todas las listas de las mejores películas del cine negro. Hay secuencias antológicas en la película que una vez vistas no se borrarán de nuestra memoria. No las voy a enumerar por no destripar la película pero en cuanto se ven se las reconoce sin ningún problema. Ulmer realiza una película que combina a la perfección el expresionismo alemán, el realismo americano de la época, y los paradigmas del cine negro americano. De esta combinación afortunada nace una película irrepetible, con una atmósfera asfixiante que envuelve a los personajes y que consigue que el espectador tenga la sensación de que algo horrible va a pasar, de que es inminente y, además, irremediable. (Crónicas de cine)

En 1992, Detour fue seleccionada para su conservación en el Registro Nacional de Cine de los Estados Unidos por la Biblioteca del Congreso como “cultural, histórica o estéticamente significativa”. La película ha pasado a dominio público y está disponible gratuitamente en distintas páginas de Internet.

7 thoughts on “Film Notes: Detour (1945) directed by Edgar G. Ulmer

  1. DETOUR is an extraordinary film and I remember the impact it had one me when I first saw it as a teenager – I’m not surprised the rumours about the budget and shooting schedule were exaggerated – it’s still pretty remarkable given the condition under which it was made. Thanks for the great reminder Jose Ignacio – if only it were available on a decent Blu-ray! 🙂

    1. Thanks for you comment Sergio. Afraid that since this film is in the public domain, there’s no incentive to create a good or decent copy in any format.

      1. Infuriating, isn’t it? I keep hoping that a decent video label like Criterion or Arrow will pick it up – well, a boy has to dream …

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