Detour (1945)

Genres - Crime  |   Sub-Genres - Crime Drama, Film Noir  |   Release Date - Nov 30, 1945 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 67 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Mark Deming

Edgar G. Ulmer was one of the very few filmmakers who was able to carve out a distinctive and memorable style while working in the lowest depths of Hollywood's Poverty Row, and he rarely wrung more from less than in Detour. Detour was shot in a mere six days, and one look at the shoddy, minimalist sets or the clumsy, in-the-camera optical effects makes clear that this movie wasn't meant to be anything more than another dingy time-filler from PRC Pictures. But screenwriter Martin G. Goldsmith filled this tawdry crime story with a cheap but expressive poetry (the cynical bite of Tom Neal's narration and Ann Savage's venomous dialogue tapped a well of bitterness rare even in film noir of the period), and Ulmer made the most of it, filling the film with an air of dread and weary hopelessness. Ulmer's bold compositional framings and effective use of visual shorthand gives a real and effective visual style, something few of the hacks at PRC could be bothered with (cameraman Ben Kline certainly helped), and if there's little subtlety in the performances of fatalistic Tom Neal and shrewish Ann Savage, they suit the tone of the screenplay and add to the film's blunt impact. Detour isn't quite the masterwork film cultists sometimes make it out to be, but it's still a darkly fascinating little film that proves the right director could make something powerful and expressive even out of the most shoddy materials available.