This is the first film noir directed by a woman, the talented and enormously Ida Lupino. The film is based on the true story of Billy Cook, a psychopathic murderer.
In 1998, The Hitch-Hiker was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant." Hardly sentimental and sharp edged thriller with very modern filming. The paralysed "eyelid" thing is very clever too.
Lupino interviewed the two prospectors that Billy Cook had held hostage, and got releases from them and from Cook as well, so that she could integrate parts of Cook's life into the script. To appease the censors at the Hays Office, however, she reduced the number of deaths to three. The Hitch-Hiker premiered in Boston on 20 March 1953 and immediately went into general release. It was marketed with the tagline: When was the last time you invited death into your car? (more)
More on the singular Lupino here:
The Hitch-Hiker was reportedly Lupino’s favourite of all her films. Based on the case of one William Cook, who murdered six innocent people during a hitchhiking “thrill kill” spree, The Hitch-Hiker is a mere 71 minutes long and was shot for the most part on location in the California desert. Once again, Lupino was tackling a controversial theme, although the film did have a harrowing precedent in Felix Feist’s 1947 film, The Devil Thumbs A Ride, in which Lawrence Tierney played a psychopath who goes on a similar rampage. As a woman directing in Hollywood, Lupino was still something of a curiosity to the press, and UPI sent a reporter and photographer to the Baja desert to photograph Lupino in action.
Stills taken during this visit reveal the Spartan working conditions endured by Lupino, her cast and crew. Lupino is dressed in dungarees, sneakers and a check flannel shirt topped with a baseball cap, her hair tied back in a bun. The crew, entirely male, look on with professional detachment as Lupino explains a typically complex shot to stars Edmond O’Brien and Frank Lovejoy. There are a few reflectors (to enhance the use of natural daylight in the film), but the camera equipment used is modest, outdated (a 35mm Mitchell camera) and somewhat bulky
Lupino was beginning to feel that her role as a social critic was somewhat limiting, and later declared that during the making of The Hitch-Hiker she realized that suspense was her niche. As the psychopathic killer who terrorizes Roy Collins (O’Brien) and Gilbert Bowen (Lovejoy), William Talman is remarkable as Emmett Myers, an escaped convict with a paralyzed right eye, which remains open whether Myers is asleep or awake. The Hitch-Hiker is certainly Lupino’s most purely visual film and also her most intimate. Once again working with an essentially triangular situation (Myers’ terrorizing of Roy and Gilbert echoes the conflict between Fletcher, Florence and Millie in Hard, Fast and Beautiful), Lupino stages The Hitch-Hiker in a series of starkly-lit close-ups, wide-shots that emphasize the inhospitality of the desert terrain, and lighting strategies that favour shafts of light in the darkness of the desert night, or else slightly overexposed shots to convey the heart of the desert during the daytime.
It is also worth noting that The Hitch-Hiker was made by Lupino and the Filmakers Company after her divorce from Collier Young, and represents a return to the director’s chair after a two-year hiatus. Though filming of The Hitch-Hiker went smoothly, and all seemed well on the surface (Collier Young even appeared in a cameo within the film as a sleeping “Mexican peon”), there is an atmosphere of real violence in the film – not only in the subject matter, but also in Lupino’s relentless pacing, hyperkinetic camera set-ups, and her intense use of oppressive close-ups to heighten the film’s suspense.