Al Roberts is not a happy man. He slumps through the action on-screen, keeping his face unshaven and his clothes crumpled. He whines on the narration always thinking the worst of his situation and what a situation it is. He sets off in pursuit of his girlfriend who chased fame to Los Angeles. Along the way he jumps from car to car, all with the loneliness of man going to the gas chamber. His luck turns around when he meets a man who is willing to take him the rest of the way. This man is full of scars and hackneyed stories, but he only has time to explain some of them before he dies of a heart attack. Cursing his bad luck again and insisting in the narration that no matter what the cops were going to find him guilty of killing this man, he might as well take his things and his money. He buries the body and assumes his identity, but then the loneliness comes back and he decides to pick up a young woman. But this woman knows his secret and has him in his snatches. Convincing of him to pull off a big blackmail involving the dead man’s dying father, things start to spiral out of control for him. But do we believe that he is just a pawn in the game and not one of the royalty? Is his version of these events reliable in any way?
Detour is a little bit of anomaly when it was made. Equipped with the smallest budget possible, the director, Edgar G. Ulmer, managed to make one of the most lauded film noir with only a skeleton of a story, a fog machine and a car that was his own. He managed with this film to prove that American consumerism and European art did not have to be mutually exclusive which of course later influenced the French New Wave players in their ideas of great cinema. All you needed was sharp dialogue, loose morals, and the hint of a bigger set in order to tell a convincing story. In fact I would call this noir more interesting than the high budget noirs of Bacall and Bogart. Although I like them, this film just feels grittier and more cynical, two qualities that make a good film noir better. It is actually kind of fascinating to read about the history of this film and how the players in the film all seemed to identify with Al Roberts. The man who played him went on to be accused of murder for his third wife, Ulmer was once a promising director but never got the chance to prove his worth with a bigger budget, and Ann Savage was a third-rate pin up. But the holy combination of these three makes this film some of the more interesting film lore and watching I have had in a while. By the way it is available for free on youtube if you are interested.