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The Devil Thumbs a Ride

Posted by martinteller on November 4, 2012

“Now listen, baby, I’m gonna be watching you every minute.  So if you know what’s good for you, you’ll keep that little trap of yours clamped up tight!  Get what I mean?”

Steve Morgan (Lawrence Tierney) robs a bank and murders a guard in the process.  He hitches a ride with Jimmy Ferguson (Ted North), a stocking salesman returning home from a big party.  They stop for gas and pick up a couple of gals… Carol (Nan Leslie), sweet and a bit shy, and Agnes (Betty Lawford), a fun-loving dame.  Morgan’s got to keep them out of the hands of the law while not tipping the fact that he’s the guy they’re looking for.  After a dubious run-in with a motorcycle cop, he steers them towards an isolated house, the residence of one of Jimmy’s friends.  Meanwhile, the hunt is on, including a sharp cop (Harry Shannon), the observant gas station attendant (Glen Vernon), and a night watchman with a taste for the booze (Andrew Tombes).

Tight and lean at a brisk 62 minutes, this is a delightfully fun movie.  It doesn’t go to dark places or explore deep themes about the nature of humanity, but it packs a lot of entertainment.  Tierney is riveting as usual.  In a lot of movies, his intimidating presence is the focus, but here the character relies much on his masterful ability to manipulate everyone around him.  Lawford is a real hoot as well, seeing through his bullshit but perfectly willing to go along with it… perhaps more for the thrill than the chance of a cash payoff.  She’s got a terrific hardened, sarcastic edge to her.

But the whole cast is marvelous.  North, Shannon, Vernon, Tombes, Marian Carr as North’s increasingly impatient wife, William Gould as the captain dividing his attention between the manhunt and a poker game.  Even Leslie fares well in the typically ho-hum “good girl” role.  Everyone has some bit of business or funny lines or character quirk that makes them feel fleshed out and not just a plot delivery device.

The stylizations — the photography, the music — are not special, but serviceable.  What makes this film so enjoyable is its sharp, witty script, tightly constructed and always keeping the scenario fresh.  The film has some roughness to it, a willingness to show the seedier side of life, but also a more comedic spirit.  Think of it as the more light-hearted cousin to Lupino’s The Hitch-Hiker.

Also, one of the greatest noir titles ever.  Rating: Very Good (85)


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