Cast: Tom Neal, Ann Savage, Claudia Drake, Edmund MacDonald
SUMMARY: Al (Tom Neal) is a small-time piano player in New York, who is dating fellow nightclub musician Sue (Claudia Drake). Sue decides to go to Hollywood to try to make it big, and after only a short time, Al decides to move out there, too. However, he has almost no money, so he has to hitchhike his way there. In Arizona, he gets a ride from a man named Charles Haskell Jr. (Edmund MacDonald), who seems to have plenty of money to spare (he pays for a large dinner for Al). On several occasions, Haskell takes pills for an undisclosed reason. Eventually the men trade places, allowing Haskell to sleep while Al drives. When it starts to rain, Al wants to stop and put the top up on the car, but is unable to wake Haskell. He pulls over and opens the passenger door, and Haskell falls out and knocks his head against the ground. Al realizes that the man is dead, and immediately realizes that he will be suspected of murder. Instead of calling the police, he trades places with Haskell, exchanging clothes and ID with the man, and taking the large sum of money Haskell was carrying. The next day, Al stops at a gas station, where he sees another hitchhiker, Vera (Ann Savage). Almost immediately, Vera falls asleep, but when she wakes up, she confronts Al: Vera knew Haskell (she had actually hitched with him before he picked up Al, and was responsible for several nasty scratches on Haskell’s hand), and knows that Al is an imposter. From what Haskell told him, Al knows that Vera is unstable.
Despite this knowledge, Al is unable to get rid of Vera, as she knows his secret, and threatens to turn him in to the police. Al intends to abandon the car, but Vera informs him that this will only arouse more suspicion (as police always investigate abandoned cars), and that they should sell it instead. When they get to Los Angeles, the two rent an apartment, posing as a married couple. Vera continues to strong-arm Al, locking all the doors in the apartment and keeping the key. The next day, the two go out to sell the car, but as Al is going over paperwork with the dealer, Vera buys a paper and learns that Charles Haskell Sr., who is worth an estimated $15 million, is dying, and wants to see his son. Vera wants Al to pose as Haskell for a little while longer, so that they can get at least some of the inheritance money. This is too much for Al, who argues that it will never work, because he knows nothing about Haskell. Despite Vera’s insistence, Al refuses to give in. That night, Vera gets roaring drunk, and begins to needle at Al about Haskell’s death. When Al still refuses to impersonate the man, she announces that she is going to turn him in: Al tries to call her bluff, but eventually caves. He tries to take the phone away, but Vera runs into the bedroom with it. In desperation, Al grabs the cord and tries to pull the phone back out the door (or tries to pull the cord apart, it’s hard to tell), but nothing happens. He then forces open the bedroom door — and finds Vera lying dead on the bed, the phone cord wrapped around her neck. Al realizes that there is no chance of his getting out of this one, as he actually did kill Vera; he also knows that he cannot go to Sue, and that he will have to spend the rest of his life on the run. He picks up the apartment in an attempt to cover his tracks, and begins hitchhiking again; after a while he is picked up by the police.
MY TAKE: This movie seems to be regarded as the best B movie ever made. I haven’t seen a lot of B movies, as I wasn’t alive during that time period, but I would have to agree that this was a pretty good movie, especially if it was made on a limited budget and in limited time. Al actually mentions at the beginning that he knows hitching is not the best idea, but that he doesn’t have any other option. I bet he wishes he had found another way, or just stayed in New York, since hitching pretty much ruined his life. Personally, I started to get suspicious when Haskell was so happy to throw money around: anybody that is driving across the country with a lot of money should ring alarm bells. Al should have learned his lesson from this, but he wanted to be a good Samaritan and return the favor, so he picked up the craziest person west of the Rockies. Seriously, you can tell by her eyes that she’s nuts. And what are the odds that he picks up the only other person who knows about Haskell and his money? Seriously, seriously bad luck on Al’s part. His luck only gets worse after that, since he accidentally kills Vera, then gets caught by the police (the Production Code didn’t allow criminals to get away with their crimes). Should’ve stayed home.
RATING: Not revolutionary, but pretty good.