What It’s About: Piano player Al Roberts (Tom Neal) gets much more than he bargained for when he attempts to hitchhike from New York to LA to join his girl, singer Sue Harvey (Claudia Drake), and winds up in a diner, hunted by police and rethinking the events that lead him to be on the run for murder.
Why Watch it Today?: Today is April Fool’s Day, and the obvious move would be 1980s slasher film almost-classic April Fool’s Day, but instead we are going with Detour. Detour is the odd film from Hollywood’s old “Poverty Row” independent studios that is regarded today as a classic, thanks largely to the inventive direction of European expatriate Edgar G. Ulmer. Ulmer started out making films like The Black Cat for Universal and slid into making poverty row films, occasionally turning out a gem like this one. Detour benefits from its casting, with working actress Ann Savage playing the meanest, roughest, most hateful femme fatale of all time. Neal, too, is perfectly cast, generically handsome and bland but with an unwholesome undercurrent, which brings us to the reason Detour is the Movie of the Day.
Although Neal appeared in 180 films, he never achieved stardom, starring in B-movies and appearing in supporting roles in films like The Flying Tigers. Neal got into trouble in 1951 for giving star Franchot Tone a concussion after a fight over starlet Barbara Payton. Neal’s acting career ended and he moved to Palm Springs, setting up a successful landscaping business. Then, in 1965 Neal killed his wife on April Fool’s Day during a domestic argument that turned into a struggle over a gun. Neal was convicted of manslaughter and served six years in prison, dying just a year after his release. Neal’s real story adds to the film’s haunted dread of fate.