Monday, December 29, 2008

Ann Savage, 1921-2008

Lobby card for Detour

Ann Savage, who played one of the nastiest femmes fatales in the 1945 movie Detour, has died at the age of 87. Detour, directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, stars Tom Neal as a struggling nightclub pianist in New York. He's got a girlfriend, who decides to go to Hollywood to try to make a name for herself; he promises that he'll follow when he gets the money. Unfortunately, though, he never can get enough money, so he decides to try to hitch-hike his way out to Los Angeles. Big mistake.

Along the way, he meets a seemingly kindly wealthy man with a wad of money, a nice car, and some health issues. When Neal takes over the driving duties at night, he discovers, to his horror, that his benefactor has died of an apparent heart attack in the passenger seat. Of course, Neal recognizes that nobody will buy this story, so after a bit of dithering, he decides to dump the wealthy man's body in a ditch, and take over the man's identity. Big mistake #2.

Enter Ann Savage. As the now-relatively wealthy Neal is driving to LA, he picks up a hitch-hiking Savage. (Big mistake #3.) Neal tries to pass himself off as the wealthy man, but Savage is having none of it. It turns out that she had earlier been a passenger in the rich man's car, and she knows that Neal is not the rightful owner of the car, or the man's identity. She doesn't seem to buy Neal's story about what happened to the rich guy, either, so she's got the power of blackmail. Neal and Savage are joined at the hip, all the way to LA and beyond, and if Neal tries to do anything about it, Savage can just turn him in to the police.

Ulmer directed Detour on a miniscule budget, and that shows. The sets are lousy; the plot introduces sub-lines and then just drops them, never developing them; and the acting and dialog are sometimes over the top. On the whole, however, the story is quite good, full of twists and turns. The lousy sets aren't a big problem, either; in fact, the low-rent nature of the sets mirrors the fact that these are all characters living on the edges of society. And although Savage especially goes over the top, it only makes her seem even meaner.

Detour is available on DVD, although the prints I've seen are of a fairly poor quality. (The movie was distributed by Producers Releasing Corporation, so the original print probably wasn't that good.) Still, it's a pretty darn good movie, and one that shows what you can do if you've got a lot of devotion to the movie-making craft.

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