Friday, October 23, 2009

The Devil Thumbs a Ride (1947)

The Devil Thumbs a Ride is an amazingly pulpy ultra-cheap 1947 B-movie that is great fun if you accept it for what it is. It’s often described as a film noir but really it’s just your basic bad guy on the run movie.

Laurence Tierney is Steve Morgan, a bank robber who thumbs a lift with an incredibly dumb traveling salesman called Ferguson. Ferguson is your ultimate sap, frighteningly naive and good-natured. He’s on his way home to his wife after a party. Morgan persuades him to pick up a couple of girls at a filling station. Carol is a good girl who dreams of breaking into the movies, and she’s nearly as dumb as Ferguson. Her pal Agnes is a smart cookie, but she has Bad Girl written all over her.

The cops are more interested in their poker game than in apprehending criminals (and like so many cops in the 1940s American crime movies they’re also terrifyingly trigger-happy). Luckily a public-spirited gas station attendant is on hand to help track down the bad guy. Only in B-movies like this do the cops take along over-enthusiastic civilians when tracking down dangerous armed holdup men, but it adds to the pulpy fun.

Laurence Tierney as Morgan is a smooth talker with a propensity for sudden violence, and Tierney plays the character with relish. Mind you, it’s worrying to contemplate just how stupid anyone would have to be to be taken in by his painfully obvious manipulations. But hey, this is the movies. Betty Lawford is delightfully slutty as Agnes. There’s also a drunken night-watchman and a dumb hick sheriff to complete the cast of stock characters.

It has something of the film noir look, with quite a bit of the action taking place at night, although it doesn’t have the visual brilliance of the finest examples of film noir.

If you’re in the mood for an undemanding but entertaining cops and robbers B-movie that is unashamedly pulpy then The Devil Thumbs a Ride won’t let you down. It ain’t Citizen Kane, but it works for what it is.

1 comment:

  1. The brilliance of this noir is undeniable, with not a minute of its hour-long duration wasted. Tierney’s psychopathic behaviour starts with cold blooded murder in the first minute and never lets up; he electrifies this film with his presence. I’ve never seen sustained suspense created so convincingly before by a character in a noir who combined his knowledge of human nature with a devious, quicksilver psychopathic personality. “The Devil…” has a sharp & gritty script which fleshes out the characters’ personalities & motives superbly with a degree of wit, despite the underlying menace of the drama. The dialogue is edgy & filled with hard boiled crime banter. This film stays in your mind & you don’t want it to end, so when it does finish it comes as a bit of a letdown...but what an hour long ride this ‘devil’ took us on! There’s enough smart plot ideas, pacing & momentum here to cover 2 or 3 other film noirs. This is a rare noir gem worthy of the very best.