Fascinating True Stories From the Flip Side of History

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Bad Apples #2 – The Hitch-Hiker – Podcast #149

Note: The following is an automated transcription of the podcast. As a result, it may contain errors.

Steve: As I mentioned in my last podcast, which is titled Bad Man Billy, there was a movie made based on the life of Billy Cook and it was titled The Hitchhiker and it came out in 1953.  And my wife, Mary Jane is here again to join us to review that movie. So, say hello.

Mary Jane: Hello everybody.

Steve: Thanks for joining us. If you didn’t listen to that last podcast, I encourage you to go back and listen to that first. So go back, listen to that and then listen to this review that we do of the movie. So that way you can compare the two. And as we go through our review of the movie, we are going to compare the real events to how it was portrayed in the movie. 

The movie is titled The Hitch-Hiker and it’s two words, Hitch, hyphen, Hiker and as I said, it’s from 1953. It’s a black and white movie and it runs just 70 minutes. It’s a very, very short movie. 

So, the movie begins with the following text on the screen and I’ll read it to you: “This is the true story of a man and a gun. The gun belonged to the man. The car might have been yours or that young couple across the aisle. What you will see in the next 70 minutes could happen to you for the facts are actual. And, as we go through this, you’re going to see that they’re not really that actual, but we’ll compare it with the true story as we go through the story. 

Right after that, you see a hitchhiker being picked up by a couple. They have a convertible car, they pick them up, and then you’ll note that the license plate says Illinois, which is the same as the Carl Mosser family that I mentioned in the podcast, the previous podcast. And, of course, the hitchhiker kills them. None of that brutality is shown. Basically, you’ll see the woman’s purse and personal belongings fall out of the car and then a police officer comes up and of course, finds the husband or the boyfriend slumped against the wheel. Now, in real life, five people were killed, the couple, the Carl Mosser couple, and their three children. But they only showed two here. I don’t know if you came across this in your research, but apparently, they were just concerned about the movie being overly violent, so they decided to limit the number of people that were killed. 

Mary Jane: Yeah. I read that. I think that… It seemed like they were overly strict and I don’t know if it had anything to do with the fact that the director was Ida Lupino. I know we’re going to talk a lot about her. 

Steve: Right.  Yeah, I don’t know. Anyway, and then of course there are headlines as a nationwide manhunt for days and then he goes on – and this is only the third minute of the movie – he kills a second person.  And later on in the movie, they identify the person as William Johnson. Now all the names in the movie are fictitious, so William Johnson in real life would have been Robert Dewey, the salesman from Portland, who was the last person that Billy Cook killed. And this is where the movie actually gets going. The hitchhiker, whose name is Emmett Myers in the movie who is played by William Talman, is picked up by two buddies who are going to San Felipe, at least of how they say it in the movie. Mary Jane, my Spanish-speaking wife, how is it really pronounced? 

Mary Jane: Well, you would pronounce all the letters, so it would be San Felipe.

Steve: Okay. I’m learning something every day. Anyway, they’re supposedly going to San Felipe to fish. In real life, they were going to hunt. In fact, there’s really only three main characters in this movie. In fact, Mary Jane, how many women were in this movie? 

Mary Jane: In a sense, there were no women. There was just a small girl and she had a very small part. 

Steve: Yeah, in reality the cast is very small. I mean you have these three main characters we’re going to mention and then a few other peripheral characters. But, there’s no women in this movie at all, and we’ll talk about the director in a minute.

Mary Jane: Sure, that would be great.

Steve: Yeah. So anyway, the two guys in the car, these two guys who were going fishing, they are Gilbert or Gil Bowen, who is played by Frank Lovejoy. And he’s married with kids and he’s just the passenger in the car. Driving is Roy Collins who is played by Edmund O’Brien and he’s a mechanic. And their lives are about to change. That’s when they pick up the hitchhiker, who in real life is Billy Cook. In the movie, he is called Emmett Myers and he’s played by William Talman, who I recognized on the screen, but I couldn’t quite place him. We later learned after we watched the movie he was in Perry Mason and I haven’t seen that series since I was a kid. Yet, I still remembered his face. 

Gilbert Bowen (Frank Lovejoy), Emmett Myers (William Talman), and Roy Collins (Edmund O'Brien).
Left to right: Gilbert Bowen (Frank Lovejoy), Emmett Myers (William Talman), and Roy Collins (Edmund O’Brien).

Mary Jane: Yes, yes. I do remember us talking about that. Yeah. 

Steve: Now the movie was directed by Ida Lupino who wrote the script with her husband Collier Young. Mary Jane, you wanted to talk a little bit about Ida Lupino. So why don’t you tell everyone about her.

Mary Jane: Sure. She was a very accomplished actress and she not only directed this movie, but she directed many TV episodes. And some of them you may be familiar with Gilligan’s Island, The Untouchables, Bewitched. And she also wrote short stories and composed music. She was just very versatile.

Steve: Yeah. She directed one of, I wouldn’t say one of my favorite episodes of the Twilight Zone. I’m a big fan of the Twilight Zone and she did one of the last episodes and the last few episodes of the Twilight Zone are pretty bad, but the one she did, which is called The Mass, is actually quite excellent. Just to give you an idea of what happened in this show is that this man is dying. And, of course, his children and grandchildren want all his money and everything he’s leaving to them, and therefore he gives each one a mask to wear on Mardi Gras and it reflects their personality. You know greed and things like that. Then he dies and they take off their masks and their faces have assumed the shape of the mask and it’s permanently imprinted on their faces. So, it’s a very memorable Twilight Zone. 

Mary Jane: Right. 

Steve: And it’s very well filmed. And clearly, that’s because she was an accomplished director. 

Mary Jane: Yes, I mean, I don’t think I’ve seen that particular episode. But even just the movie that we’re talking about right now, she, I thought she did a great job directing.  

Steve: Yeah. Let me read a quote from the April 23, 1953 San Francisco Examiner. This is a review of the movie The Hitch-Hiker. “That a woman directed this picture is something to consider, not that I underestimate the potentiality of any woman director. But this is so definitely a man’s story that the results are amazing. Ida Lupino deserves high praise for an intelligent drama that is sound in every detail.”

Mary Jane: So, I know the critic meant that comment as a compliment to the director, but when you think about it, men have been telling women’s stories forever and nobody’s ever shocked by that ability, whereas with her they were surprised that she could actually manage to do that. 

Steve: So true. Which leads me to my Question of the Day. How many women were directing movies in Hollywood in the early 1950s? And Mary Jane, do you know the answer? 

Mary Jane: I most certainly do. 

Steve: You’re supposed to say you don’t know. Now I’m just kidding. I actually know you know the answer. So, what we’ll do is we’ll wait to the end of the podcast and I will let everyone else know what the answer is.

Mary Jane: OK. So, I did want to make some comments just about the style of her directing. I felt that. with the dialogues that the timing was very good. At one point, there was a conversation just between the two buddies in the car. And it seemed like real people having a just small talk conversation, and I think you have to be a good director to make that seem that realistic. 

Steve: Yeah, I, I thought the movie was very well… A) It was very well written, very well acted, and whoever did the editing, and I assume she had a big part in that, it was very, very well edited. I wouldn’t say the movie was perfect. There are a few scenes where the I thought maybe, you know, they were throwing punches and you could see they were just missing each other so the camera angle wasn’t exactly right. But you kind of get the impression because really this is just a movie of them driving through Mexico being held hostage. These two guys being held hostage by the hitchhiker and you kind of get the impression this is a fairly low-budget movie. 

Mary Jane: It’s a very low-budget movie. We commented on the fact that there’s Spanish being spoken and there’s no subtitles. 

Steve: Yeah. 

Mary Jane: It may not have been necessary, but typically in a movie with that much dialogue in another language, you would probably have subtitles. 

Steve: Yeah, now I have to tell you I don’t speak Spanish. I mean I know a little bit of Spanish. But I really didn’t find it to be a problem. There was one spot where I asked you what were they talking about and you had to translate for me, but overall I had no problem. You kind of knew what the police were talking about, the investigators. 

Mary Jane: Right. It was very visual. You kind of had an idea so, but there are other ways that they tried to save money. For example, they used the same landscape again and again. The car driving in kind of the same area. 

Steve: Right. 

Mary Jane: She didn’t have to pay for set rental because of that. Right? And so there are ways that she definitely had to, you know, be careful with the money. Right? 

Steve: Yeah, even the police car. There was one police car and there’s no sirens or there’s no lights on top. It just says Policia across the side of it. It’s like someone just put a decal on. Now we’ve got a police car. You know? And, in reality, I don’t think there are more than three vehicles in the whole movie.

Mary Jane: Right.

Steve: There was one scene where a helicopter went by, but you kind of got the impression they were really filming this on the cheap, you know? 

Mary Jane: Yes. Yeah. It was definitely a B movie. It was short. I mean 70 minutes. All the signs of a B movie. 

Steve: Yeah. But, overall, I thought it was pulled together very well. For what she had to work with I thought she did a really nice job.

Mary Jane: Yeah. I mean, as you said, she co-wrote the script and everything. And that was good. The storyline wasn’t so rich unfortunately though, but I think they were really trying very hard to stick to some of the facts of what happened with Billy Cook. So you pay a little on the other end because the story doesn’t have as much action and much going on. 

Steve: Right. I think the movie would have been better if they didn’t just stick to the portion where he’s taking these two men hostage in Mexico. Because, honestly, there’s very little known about that period of time. They didn’t focus on any of the preliminary stuff where most of his crimes occur. They didn’t, you know, that was all glossed over in the first three minutes of the movie. I think it would have been, as you said, a richer movie if they had expanded on it. 

Mary Jane: Yes. Perhaps she wanted to avoid the violence. You know that was all taken care of in the first few minutes. It was always offscreen. Maybe that was her choice. I don’t know.

Steve: It would have been interesting like the hunt for the bodies. And you know, because they were found in a well. Now, there were little hints of the true story sprinkled throughout. As they are driving through Mexico, what did they encounter? 

Mary Jane: Well, in the desert they saw a well, so there’s kind of a reference to that situation, but it didn’t matter if this happened. 

Steve: Yeah, and they’re kind of hinting that, you know, if these two men get out of line, they’re going to end up at the bottom of this mineshaft or well, which is of course what happened to the real family in real life. 

Mary Jane: Right, Right. 

Steve: I have to say that William Talman was perfect as Emmett Myers. You know, the Billy Cook character. I mean, he looked mean, and he acted mean. He really, really fit this role. 

Mary Jane: Well, actually she did go visit him and interview him in prison. So, that was the person she met, you know, but from your podcast, we actually know that he was very much a broken person because of his childhood. Right? We learned that his mother died at five. That his family was so destitute he had to, that the whole family had to live in a cave for a while, and then he was, you know, shuffled around in different foster homes. So, it kind of explains better the character, but in the movie we don’t see that. We just see the person she met in that prison who was clearly a very angry young man who had committed a lot of, you know, murders. 

Steve: Yeah, and I should mention this movie came out four months after he was executed. So really the public’s image of him was this really, really evil man. And that is the way he’s portrayed in the movie. 

Mary Jane: Right. That’s all people really knew about him. They didn’t know that much about his childhood, actually. 

Steve: Now, she does hint at one point that he did have a difficult life, so let’s take a listen to that clip. 

Mary Jane: Yes. Okay. 

You guys are soft. You know what makes you that way? You’re up to your necks in IOUs. They’re suckers. They’re scared to get out on your own. You always had it good so you’re soft. Well not me. Nobody ever gave me anything. So, I don’t owe nobody. My folks were tough. When I was born, they took one look at this puss of mine and told me to get lost. I didn’t need ‘em. I didn’t need any of ‘em. Got what I wanted my own way. When you get to know how and a few bucks in your pocket, you can buy anything or anybody. Especially if you got ‘em at the point of a gun. That really scares them.” 

Mary Jane: So, I just wanted to say with that little excerpt that when he talked about, you know you have too many IOUs that really means that people have helped you in life along the way and no one ever helped him. So I think that’s really referring to his real life. Yeah. 

Steve: I should mention I didn’t like the ending of this movie. Now the real-life ending was even worse, but it was totally uneventful. I mean, basically, the Tijuana police chief, you know, followed Billy Cook into a restaurant and arrested him right there. 

Mary Jane: Very anticlimactic. 

Steve: There was no… Anticlimactic, so they created a fictional ending for the movie, but honestly, for a piece of fiction, I didn’t think it was very exciting. I think they could come up with something a little bit better. 

Mary Jane: I agree. You probably could have had a more dramatic, interesting ending, but I do think that the director had a bit of a message at the end. When you have the two characters supporting each other as they walk away. I mean literally and figuratively because the Cook character had taunted them a few times that they were being too supportive of each other and they should have tried to just escape separately, and they could have done it many times. And I think her message was these guys because they stuck together they kind of survived the situation. 

Steve: I agree, but I still think the ending wasn’t very good. It kind of builds up and builds up and then there’s a big letdown at the end. And, you know, you want a good ending to a movie, especially if you’re just going to write a fictional one, you know. 

Mary Jane: Yes, well I guess it is unfortunate they didn’t fabricate a little more exciting ending, but that’s what they came up with. 

Steve: I mean, knowing really what happened, it’s pretty clear they deviated quite a bit from the story. You know, clearly Billy Cook in real life you know kidnapped these two men and they drove around and whatever, but I don’t think they really know what happened and therefore they create all this dialogue and they’re driving around through the desert and trying to hide from the police. Because in real life we know they hit out in an opal mine, but that’s not even shown. And I think something like that may have added a little bit more interest to the story than just driving back and forth. It seemed like they’re going in circles for a while in the desert.

Mary Jane: Right. But we do have to remember that it was a low-budget movie. Right? And a lot of times that they were driving around, probably in the very same area for a number of hours just trying to make it look like they were traveling right through Mexico. 

Steve: Yeah. I’ll just ask you this. I mean, the movie ran 70 minutes, which is a pretty short movie. But at a certain point, it just seemed like it was getting repetitious. 

Mary Jane: It was. Yeah, it did. You know I was kind of like where are we going with this? I mean, besides traveling a lot. 

Steve: I mean basically they drive for a bit, then they’d stop, you know, sleep and you know have a meal and you know be a little bit more dialogue than they get in the car and drive and it just seemed to repeat itself over and over again. Where I think if they had stuck a little bit more to the real-life story, there would be a little bit more variation there, but as you said, it is a low-budget movie, so they probably just chose a small locale, and that’s where they filmed. 

Mary Jane: Yes. There’s very few people in the movie. It’s clearly a very low-budget film. 

Steve: Yeah. So Mary Jane, why don’t you read the quote that you have there? 

Mary Jane: Okay. This is the Kansas City Star from May 6, 1953. “Talman as the murderous fugitive, and Lovejoy and O’Brien as the imperiled men are in almost every minute of the footage of this generally gripping but somewhat repetitious film. All three performed excellently.” So, this critic also believed that it was rather repetitious. I don’t think I’d agree with the comment about it being gripping for today’s standards for movies. It wasn’t that suspenseful, but. 

Steve: Yeah, I would say there was no point in the movie that I was on the edge of my seat. Movies today have become much more violent and much more realistic in what they portray. So, probably in 1953 it probably came across that way as a very edge of your seat movie. 

Mary Jane: Absolutely. And, as one Boston Globe critic from February 21, 1953, had to say, he said, “Don’t take any children to see The Hitch-Hiker. And he went on also to say, “And if anyone who sees the film ever picks up a hitchhiker again, he’ll deserve what may happen.”

Steve: Of course, you got to keep in mind this is right after he was executed. After Billy Cook was executed. So people, even though you know the names are changed and a lot of the events are kind of fictionalized, they knew on the screen who they were watching. They knew what Billy Cook had done.

Mary Jane: Yeah, who they were referring to, sure. 

Steve: He had been a hitchhiker, he picked up these people, and he killed them. So it was probably a lot scarier because it was, you know, fresh in people’s minds. 

Mary Jane: Right. It was a horrific event that everybody knew about. Yes. 

Steve: Now this movie is typically referred to as a film noir, but I didn’t really see it as being the classic film noir. There were certain parts of the movie that seemed very claustrophobic. Wherever they are in the car it’s dark and, you know, very tight scene. On the other hand, you have these big, expansive, bright desert scenes. Which is not typical film noir movies. 

Mary Jane: Uhm, you know I don’t know if I agree with that just because the landscape was very kind of desolate. And then there was something kind of lonely and desolate about that, that that you might equate with film noir. I don’t consider the movie a quintessentially, you know, film noir just because there’s no femme fatale.  And usually, you have a kind of a detective or a main character that as much as … Unfortunately, he’s down on his luck but the spectators really kind of root for that person, and you certainly weren’t rooting for this, you know, killer in any way you know. 

Steve: Right. I do want to add that there was one character in the movie that really didn’t fit and that was the inspector or the detective or whatever he was from the United States. He’s all dressed in a nice suit and he just didn’t fit in with the movie and I’m not even sure. His part was so minuscule. Why, you know, why they even put him in there? 

Mary Jane: He could have been a good friend. I mean, if you’ve read on these low-budget movies, sometimes they just grab somebody. I know that Ida Lupino directed another film and she just had her doctor play the doctor in the movie that she was directing. So, who knows? 

Steve: Sure. Yeah, he’s the only character in the movie that just didn’t seem to fit. 

Mary Jane: Right. 

Steve: Now I thought after the last review that we did, you know, we’re calling this Bad Apples because we’re both teachers, and it seemed like a humorous title and we chose a score of 1 to 10 for the movies. 

Mary Jane: Right. 

Steve: But really, we’re teachers, so it should be out of 100. So out of 100, how would you rate this movie? 

Mary Jane: Wow. You know, I think. Storyline, I wouldn’t rate it very high. I might rate it as a 65. Directing was quite good though. I mean, I thought the directing was good. So maybe I’d give that in 85. 

Steve: Yeah, so overall for the movie you’re saying like a 75. 

Mary Jane: I guess it would average out to somewhere in the 70-75. 

Steve: Yeah, I put it in the same range. I mean, would you recommend that someone go out of their way to see this movie? 

Mary Jane: In most cases, no. If the person was interested in women studies, for example, to see some of the work done by Ida Lupino. Yes, or if they wanted to study cinema, you know, to kind of see how to make a low-budget movie maybe. But I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t recommend it to the average person, Yeah. 

Steve: Yeah, I would recommend it if you just had some spare time. It’s only 70 minutes. The movie is totally free. It’s all over the Internet. Yeah. I mean, you can find it on YouTube, archive.org. I think the Library of Congress has a copy of it. So, you know, it’s not a bad movie, it’s just I don’t think it holds up well to today’s standards. And part of it is, you know my bias and that is that I know the real story and knowing the real story, I can see how much she deviated from it and that kind of doesn’t sit well with me, but… 

Mary Jane: Well, I saw it before you really had talked about your podcast so I can. I know it’s considered a very good movie as far as cinematic history, you know, for the time period, but yeah, I guess it’s all right. 

Steve: Yeah, so what I would say is if you have an hour to kill, you know it’s a Sunday afternoon and you can’t think of what to put on. It’s well worth watching, but on the other hand, I wouldn’t go out of your way to see it. 

Mary Jane: Right right, I would have to agree. 

Steve: So earlier in the podcast I asked you a question of how many other women in Hollywood were directing movies at this time, and I know you know the answer. Now I have to tell you I haven’t really fact-checked this. I just read this in numerous places. I’m going to go on the basis that other people have done their research. What is the answer? How many other women were directing movies? In Hollywood. In the early 1950s. 

Mary Jane: The answer is there were no other women except Ida Lupino. Yeah. 

Steve: Yeah, she was the only one according to what I read and you read this. You read other articles.

Mary Jane: There many articles. Yeah.

Steve: Yeah, we didn’t read the same things. We were just doing our own research. So, assuming everybody else has done their research right, she was the only one at the time. 

Mary Jane: I also wanted to add that they tend to rave about one of the other movies that she not only directed but acted in, and that was The Polygamist. And I think we ought to try to see it sometime. I heard some good stuff about it, yeah? 

Steve: We’ll have to check that out. Yeah, add it to our list. We have a long list of movies that we could watch. 

Mary Jane: Yes, she’s an impressive woman. You really need to kind of look up her, the different movies that she did. Not only that, she directed in, but also acted in. Yeah, very impressive. 

Steve: Yeah. I was impressed by what I read also. Anyway, I guess we should bring this to a close. I think we’ve talked longer than the movie is. No.

Mary Jane: Oh dear. 

Steve: Again, thanks for being on the podcast.

Mary Jane: No problem Steve.

Steve: Yes, and I know I know you’re getting into final exams. It’s going to be a very busy time for you. This has actually been a tough school year with a lot of teaching from home and then back in person and so on. 

Mary Jane: Yeah. Zooming in person back and forth, kind of like ping pong. 

Steve: Yeah, so it’s been kind of hard to get you aside to do this, but I do appreciate that you took the time to do it. Again, I encourage people if you have nothing to do, go watch the movie. It is available online. Just type in Hitch-Hiker. It’s not one word. It’s two words with a hyphen in the middle, and it’s available for free. And free is always good in my book. Anyway, I’ll be back I guess in a couple of weeks with a new story. Take care everyone. Bye! 

Mary Jane: Okay. Bye-bye. 

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