Two friends, Roy Collins (Edmund OBrien) and Gilbert Bowen (Frank Lovejoy), are driving to Baja California for a fishing trip. Unbeknownst to them, Emmett Meyers (William Talman) has been on a killing spree, posing as a hitchhiker to his victims and evading the authorities all throughout California. The friends pick up Meyers and find themselves kidnapped and forced at gun point to take Meyers to Santa Rosalia, a fishing town where he can escape to Mexico proper.
This film has the distinction of being the first Film Noir directed by a woman, Ida Lupino. She was the only female director working in Hollywood during The '50s and this film was made with her own production company, The Filmakers.
Not to be confused with the TV series.
The Hitch-Hiker shows the following tropes:
- The Alcoholic: The bartenders cousin who alerts the police about Meyers.
- Ax-Crazy: Meyers is an unstoppable killer and hasnt killed Collins and Bowen because he needs them to help him escape.
- Based on a True Story: "This is the true story of a man and a gun and a car." Somewhat fictionalized but in some respects surprisingly accurate—Cook really did kidnap two guys on a hunting trip, he really did have a droopy eyelid, and he really was arrested in Santa Rosalia.
- Chiaroscuro: Dramatic use of lighting when Meyers first gets in the car: he's in pitch black darkness in the back seat until he pulls the gun and leans forward into the light, which is the first time we see his face. Later, the climactic fight is shot on a shadowy, dimly-lit pier at night.
- Coincidental Broadcast:
- Meyers hears a news bulletin about himself about three seconds after they find an English-language radio station.
- Later, while the odd trio are taking a break by the side of the road, the car radio apparently turns itself on in order to deliver another news bulletin about Emmett Meyers.
- Feet-First Introduction: Multiple shots in the opening minutes of the movie, showing only Meyers feet and lower body as he's murdering various people and stealing their cars. We don't see his face until eight minutes in when he pulls a gun on Roy and Gilbert.
- Hollywood Darkness: Somehow, there is a light shining on the three men, as they camp by a creek in the middle of the Mexican desert wilderness.
- I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Only just averted: The car goes over a bump and Meyers gun goes off. The only reason he didnt accidentally kill Bowen was because it was an empty round.
- Kick the Dog: While stealing some gas from a station, a dog starts barking, so Meyers shoots the dog.
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Collins begins to beat the hell out of Meyers once hes caught by the police.
- Oh, Crap!: When Collins and Bowen have escaped, but Meyers wakes up and catches up to them in the car.
- Off-into-the-Distance Ending: Ends with Collins and Bowen strolling away down the pier, after Meyers has been arrested.
- Parental Abandonment: One of the reasons Meyers is a psychotic killer.
- Pistol-Whipping: Meyers hits Collins over the head for breaking the radio.
- Reality Has No Subtitles: A lot of scenes are in Spanish without any subtitles.
- A Real Man Is a Killer: Meyers MO. He thinks that both Collins and Bowen are weak for not being a murderous psycho like him.
- Ripped from the Headlines: As mentioned above, the story is based on the Billy Cook murders. The film keeps a lot of the details from the real story like Cook having a deformed eye and wanting to escape to Santa Rosalia.
- Sleeps with Both Eyes Open: Much to their horror, Collins and Bowen discovers that Meyer is capable of this. It further complicates their planned escape attempt, as they find themselves unsure of whether he is actually sleeping or not.
- Spinning Paper: The film begins with Meyers killings and the newspaper reportage.
- Sunshine Noir: Most of the film takes place in the sunny deserts of Mexico.
- "Wanted!" Poster: How Meyers meets his doom. The local that he paid to arrange a boat across the Gulf of California to Guaymas sees his wanted poster in a store.