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Wednesday, 26 August 2020


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I watched the film the other night, and your interpretation never occurred to me. Now that you've laid it out, it makes perfect sense and explains some of the improbable events depicted. I shall go forward, now ever alert for unreliable narrators. Thanks for this informative digression.

I'm also a fan of noir, although I had not seen Detour before your "homework assignment." I did the assignment this weekend, though, since I have Amazon Prime.

Although the theory you discuss does appear in Ebert's "Great Movies" review, the theory itself is not Ebert's. From his review, "But the critic Andrew Britton argues a more intriguing theory in Ian Cameron's Book of Film Noir."

It's Mr. Britton who should be given credit for the theory, not Roger.

I was very lucky to have read your pre-announcment of your intention to review this movie. Literally 12 hour later it played on my local cable system, so I got to watch it.

The cost saving measures were obvious to me when they made no attempt to be realistic with the geography. At one point the two men were in the Mohave desert surrounded by Joshua trees (use to live there, recognize it well) hoping to be able to make it to Los Angels in a few days to place his bet... it's like three hours tops depending on where in LA. Also, when he picks up the female hitchhiker, she references Arizona and he Needles... on the way to LA. Those are non intersecting places given the route.

I was surprised how quickly I got pulled in. The beginning of the backstory was depressing. Once he made his decision to head to LA, I was on board. I must be a "people are good" type in my belief system. I never even thought of his narration being a big cover for what really happened to put him in a sympathetic light. The last lines he spoke, to me, sort of made me believe he was a good guy that have two terrible events that he felt he could not explain. Maybe Ebert was right.

Couple of other things:

People were taking nitro pills well into the 1970s, my father had them in his pocket every day, just in case.

The phone: I was screaming at my tv, "just rip out the cord!"

I was quite surprised that no reference to W W 2 was made by anyone in a 1945 movie. There would have still been rationing and surely someone would have been a veteran or had family member overseas.

His original girlfriend was way to much of a homebody for someone that delayed a marriage to seek her fame and fortune 3000 miles away. She was always in that chair holding the phone anytime day or night.

Overall, I'm glad that I put in the time.

A recommendation Mike...

If you really like the film noir style, the Coen Brothers (of Fargo fame) did their homage to the genre with a film called "The man that wasn't there ", a film that was shot by cinematographer Roger Deakins. The story is classic post war noir with great acting by all, but its strength is the photography. When it came out it got a lot of photo web boards talking about how great the B&W was shot. I bought the DVD and watch it often.

I'm delighted to see you having such fun with one of these noir films! I've been a fan of this genre for a very long time. It's ironic, too. I am a complete devotee of color photography. But I'll bet that at least 75% of my film collection is b&w!

There are actually several films in this genre that feature real, or imagined, sub-plots and subtexts so you might have fun hunting a few more down.

Beyond American shores, one of the finest examples of a film made to feature ambiguity is Akira Kurasawa's 1950 film Rashomon starring Toshiro Mifune. If you can deal with subtitled films it's an absolute classic that also beautifully illustrates how subtle changes in imagery can so dramatically help to deflect a narrative, something skilled photographers deal with daily.

Roger Ebert didn’t exactly propose the movie’s premise that you support; rather he credits the critic Andrew Britton for his theory presented in Ian Cameron’s Book of Film Noir. Ebert does, however, seem to agree with the premise.


“Wouldn't he simply pull the phone cord from the wall to prevent her from calling the police, like you've seen in a thousand other old movies? Why try to pull the phone back from her when he can't get it from under the door anyway?”

I thought exactly the same during the scene, Mike. But the director shows us that the telephone jack was actually in her bedroom. That is why he had to pull the cord instead of just pulling it off the wall.

Very nice reading. I think I agree with both Roger Ebert and you. But it never crossed my mind when I was watching the film.

One of the interesting things at the beginning of the film when they are walking home are the two shots of street signs on Riverside Drive. The first one is 73rd St. & Riverside Drive which in 1945 was the site of the Charles M Schwab house which was the most extravagant home ever built in Manhattan and was probably being demolished at that very moment. At the time it was a rather notorious symbol for reversal of fortune.

From Wikipedia
Schwab was a self-made man who became president of U.S. Steel and later founded Bethlehem Steel Company.

Schwab's former employer Andrew Carnegie, whose own mansion on upper Fifth Avenue later became the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, once remarked, "Have you seen that place of Charlie's? It makes mine look like a shack."

Schwab became notorious for his "fast lane" lifestyle including opulent parties, high-stakes gambling, and a string of extramarital affairs producing at least one child out of wedlock. The affairs and the out-of-wedlock child soured his relationship with his wife. He became an international celebrity when he "broke the bank" at Monte Carlo, and traveled in a $100,000 private rail car named "Loretto".

Schwab lost everything in the stock market crash of 1929 and died destitute ten years later.

He tried to give the house to the city as the mayor’s mansion but was turned down.

Even more interesting stuff here

My mother-in-law* lived on Riverside Drive and 77th St., the other corner shown and I recall there being some sort of celebrity sex/murder scandal or the like involving that address but I can’t remember it in any detail. Perhaps someone else knows.

*Manager of the ICP bookstore from its beginnings until the early 90s, so at least that’s photo related I guess.

I keep mining the usual resources for film noir as if they still make 'em, anyone know a rich untapped vein- do tell. A time of: dames, gams, mugs, peepers and screws...



This is fun.
Britton's interpretation helps explain the main inconsistency that bothered me: why Al immediately assumes he will be blamed for Haskell's death, and then assures it by taking his things. It also helps account for Savage's terrible acting -- an imaginary woman might be so stupidly vicious, but not a real one, I hope.
The backwards car and highway really had me worried too. But I've seen good YouTube discussions about filmmakers' choices between continuity and dramatic effect. Continuity definitely runs second, and this is an example I guess.

Albert Smith mentioned Roger Deakins' work on The Man Who Wasn't There. I'd only like to add that the film was shot on color film stock even though monochrome was the intended release format. I have no clue why they wouldn't have used a monochrome film stock.

As an aside, Deakins won an Oscar for his work on Blade Runner 2049 and it was astoundingly good work. He's one of the very best working cinematographers today.


A good Detour is THE BANG BANG CLUB - a movie about South African Photojournalists. Based on reality it gives life to what happened and how they dealt with it.
I tend to prefer reality based movies - the more accurate the better.
Or - go the other direction with Coen Brothers and similar departures from reality.

Check out the web site Miracle Movies https://miraclemovies.wordpress.com/. It's not updated very often--read one of the articles and you'll understand why: It's an understatement to call those articles deep dives about movie making and movie makers.

And nitroglycerin is still used by heart patients. A buddy of mine never leaves home without his little vial.

Hi Mike

This is a very skillfully written post in my opinion. I could detail all the reasons why I think this, but I shall content myself with saying I am impressed with your writing here.

I've never seen a more objectionable "broad" in B-films!

I wonder if Martin Goldsmith’s novel, upon which his script is based, sheds any more light on the ‘twisted truth’ theory. It’s subtitled “An Extraordinary Tale” - so perhaps that’s a clue.

Well, you sucked me in! Found it on YouTube. Got me from the opening credits, which should have been shot on an Olympus E-M1 Mk 3 with image stabilisation on full... (driving along a beautiful bouncing landscape) .. then an interesting introduction to a genre I'd not encountered before, and will continue to embrace... the side bars of YouTube invite investigation into many similar movies...Beautiful B&W photography, .. Fascinating gift of two hours where I should have been outside chopping up a tree which fell over my boundary fence during a storm a few hours ago.Great comments about the movie from commenters.. expanded my appreciation of a new area of movie making no end! I really was interested in what that car was!--Thanks Mike... rather beautiful. Would be worth a lot today I imagine... More than $1850 !! .

[I read widely about that movie and don't remember where every tidbit came from, but I recall reading somewhere that Haskell's car would be worth $70,000 today and that one sold for as high as $120,000. --Mike]

Two other great elements in this film: musical references to Chopin's Fanstaisie Impromptu a.k.a. "I'm always chasing rainbows" and to La Traviata in Vera's (consumptive?) cough and implications she may not live long,

John Huston's 1950 The Asphalt Jungle would make an excellent Double-Bill together with Detour.

This is another classic Film Noir where you sympathize with: criminals, crooked cops and women who are hopelessly in love with bad boys.

[One of my favorite noirs! --Mike]

I can vouch for nitroglycerin still being current. I was given it as a spray under my tongue (just after reading this post!) for a suspected heart attack — it wasn’t fortunately.

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