Noir doesn’t get much darker than this widely fêted B-movie classic in which a fatalistic cross-country road trip goes catastrophically awry. Screening in new 4K restoration.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2023
When nightclub pianist Al Roberts decides to hitch-hike across America to reunite with his girlfriend, he’s on the road to his own destruction. This isn’t a spoiler: Al’s at the end of said road at the beginning of Detour, a dirty, broken shell of a man. It’s getting there that’s the tale, and while Al (Tom Neal, haunted like few can be) may be the architect of his own destruction, it’s the arrival of a wrecking ball named Vera that begins those proceedings in excruciating slow motion. As frightening of a femme fatale as there ever was, Vera (Ann Savage, perhaps the most aptly named actress in cinema) leads Al down the path of no return, to an unforgettable and diabolical climax.
While director Edgar Ulmer’s claim that Detour was shot in six days has been debunked, this potent and pungent Poverty Row film nonetheless vastly transcends its modest roots. Even after its much-belated canonisation, its public domain status meant that most have only seen copies as dirty and broken as its leads. A recent 4K restoration finally gives Ulmer’s classic the long-overdue audiovisual respect it deserves, but nothing could ever cleanse the grime from Detour’s dark heart. – Doug Dillaman