Combustible Celluloid
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With: Lawrence Tierney, Ted North, Nan Leslie, Betty Lawford, Andrew Tombes, Harry Shannon, Glen Vernon, Marian Carr, William Gould, Josephine Whittell, Phil Warren, Robert Malcolm
Written by: Felix E. Feist, based on a novel by Robert C. DuSoe
Directed by: Felix E. Feist
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 62
Date: 02/20/1947

The Devil Thumbs a Ride (1947)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Last Ditch Hitch

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Lawrence Tierney's particular brand of sinister menace makes this "B" film one of the most jaw-dropping, startling examples of film noir I've ever seen. Tierney stars as a forger and a murderer named Steve Morgan who hitches a ride with a slightly tipsy salesman, Jimmy 'Fergie' Ferguson (Ted North), on his way home to his loving little wife. Before long the two men have picked up two hitchhiking dames, the pretty, demure Carol Demming (Nan Leslie), and the older, wisecracking Agnes Smith (Betty Lawford). When the cops get too close, Steve coaxes the travelers to cool off for a while at the empty summer home belonging to one of Fergie's pals. Once there, Steve craftily manipulates things to look as if everyone else except him is guilty. Meanwhile, a card-playing police detective (Harry Shannon) and a sharp-eyed gas station attendant (Glen Vernon) are hot on the trail. Felix E. Feist directed this 62-minute wonder without a wasted shot or wasted breath; it's tense and sharp and compact from start to stop. But Tierney, with his boxer's bulk and dark charm, moves the film into something even more interesting. (The tagline read: NOT EVEN HER KISSES COULD HALT HIS FURY...when his evil brain cried "KILL!")

The Devil Thumbs a Ride will be playing this week at the Roxie Theater as part of the "I Wake Up Screaming" film noir fest. It's playing with John Reinhardt's The Guilty (1947), a story of good and evil twins based on a story by Cornell Woolrich. (The movie is so cheap it can only afford one shot of the two girls at the same time.) One of the girls is killed and her boyfriend is blamed. But the boyfriend's roommate, Mike Carr (Don Castle), who is also mixed up with the girls, knows that something else is up. The whole thing is told in flashback to a bartender. The movie cuts every corner, but it's effective. As a bonus, the festival's programmer, Elliot Lavine, will be showing his own 1981 film noir short film Blind Alley. Other films in the series include Anthony Mann's Railroaded and Raw Deal, Ben Hecht's The Specter of the Rose, Don Siegel's Private Hell 36, Phil Karlson's Wife Wanted, Edward Dein's Shack Out on 101, and many others. See here for complete schedule and information.

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