Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Detour (1945)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Detour (1945)

In Edgar Ulmer's great B-film noir - a gritty, cheaply-made ("Poverty Row"), fatalistic, cultish crime film:

  • the almost non-stop, voice-over narration in the nightmarish flashbacks of the main protagonist, fatalistic, self-pitying, down-and-out, impoverished Al Roberts (Tom Neal)
  • the opening scene of Roberts seated in a tawdry diner in Reno, Nevada, and his statements about fate and destiny catching up with him: ("Did you ever want to forget anything? Did you ever want to cut away a piece of your memory or blot it out. You can't, you know, no matter how hard you try. You can change the scenery, but sooner or later, you'll get a whiff of perfume or somebody will say a certain phrase, or maybe hum something. Then you're licked again... Yes, fate or some mysterious force can put the finger on you or me for no good reason at all")
  • the foggy NY scene of Roberts, a piano player, walking with girlfriend/night-club singer Sue Harvey (Claudia Drake) and discussing their impossible future together - she would venture to Hollywood to pursue a career before he joined her
  • during his thumbing trek from NY to Los Angeles/Hollywood to join Sue, in Arizona, Roberts was picked up by ex-bookie turned businessman Charles Haskell (Edmund MacDonald) - with suspicious deep scratches on his right hand; Haskell described them: "Beauties, aren't they? They're gonna be scars someday. What an animal!...I was tusslin' with the Most Dangerous Animal in the World - a woman!...You know, there oughta be a law against dames with claws! I tossed her out of the car on her ear. Was I wrong? You give a lift to a tomato, you expect her to be nice, don't ya? After all, what kind of a dame thumbs rides? Sunday School teachers? The little witch. She must have thought she was ridin' with some kinda fall guy...I've known a million dames like her, two million" - a prophetic and fateful comment about the perpetrator
  • the scene of Haskell's ambiguous death - who passed out or suffered a heart attack and also fell out of the car (and his head struck a rock, when Roberts was putting up the convertible top in the rain); fearing that he would be blamed, Roberts hid the body, stole Haskell's car and adopted his identity
  • Roberts' fateful pick up of vulturous and despicable hitchhiker Vera (Ann Savage) - he described her: "She was facing straight ahead, so I couldn't see her eyes. But she was young, not more than 24. Man, she looked as if she'd just been thrown off the crummiest freight train in the world. Yet in spite of this, I got the impression of beauty. Not the beauty of a movie actress, mind you, or the beauty you dream about when you're with your wife, but a natural beauty. A beauty that's almost homely because it's so real"
  • Vera suddenly sat up and began to suspiciously question his true identity ("Where did you leave his body? Where did you leave the owner of this car? You're not fooling anyone. This buggy belongs to a guy named Haskell. That's not you, Mister!") - she was the one who had hitchhiked with Haskell, all the way from Shreveport, Louisiana, had tussled with him and left her mark; Roberts expressed his fateful feelings about the blackmailing, castrating and exploitative femme fatale con Vera: "That's life - which ever way you turn, Fate sticks out a foot to trip you up"
  • after accusing him of 'killing' Haskell ("What'd you do? Kiss him with a wrench?... You're a cheap crook and you killed him"), she held Roberts hostage to her wishes -- Vera's unrealistic, greedy plan was to sell the car and also to claim a substantial inheritance from Haskell's dying father (from bronchial pneumonia with only three weeks to live, described in a newspaper article), by having them pretend to be Mr. and Mrs. Haskell
  • the scene of their vicious argument in their cheap rented Hollywood apartment when the drunken Vera threatened to phone-call the police and turn him in: "You won't be dreamin' when the law taps you on the shoulder. There's a cute little gas chamber waitin' for you, Roberts, and I hear extradition to Arizona's a cinch...I'm gonna get even with you"
  • the sequence of her accidental strangulation with the telephone cord (wrapped around her neck) as he tugged on the cord through the closed bedroom door; when he burst through the door, he found her sprawled (in a mirror image) on her back and hanging off the bed. His voice-over continued: "The world is full of skeptics. I know. I'm one myself"
  • this was a second disastrous twist of fate for Roberts - signified by the in-and-out of focus shots from his deranged mental state and POV as he looked around the incriminating bedroom; he realized he could be identified by many witnesses: the landlady, the car dealer, the waitress in the drive-in, the girl in the dress shop, the guy in the liquor store: "I was cooked, done for. I had to get out of there...I was like a guy suffering from shock. Things were whirling around in my head. I couldn't make myself think right"
Final Sequence
Returning to The Present:
Back in the Diner
Al Imagining His Arrest by Highway Patrol Outside Diner
  • in the final sequence, as he left the diner, the voice-over continued with the film's final lines of dialogue: "I was in Bakersfield before I read that Vera's body was discovered, and that the police were looking for Haskell in connection with his wife's murder. Isn't that a laugh? Haskell got me into this mess, and Haskell was getting me out of it. The police were searching for a dead man. I keep trying to forget what happened, and wonder what my life might have been if that car of Haskell's hadn't stopped. But one thing I don't have to wonder about. I know, someday a car will stop to pick me up that I never thumbed. Yes, fate or some mysterious force can put the finger on you or me for no good reason at all" -- he imagined his arrest by the Highway Patrol outside the diner (to appease the Hays Code censors of the time)

Al Roberts (Tom Neal) - Flashbacked Story Told in Reno Diner

Al Picked Up by Charles Haskell - With Scars on Hand

Vicious Hitchhiker Vera (Ann Savage)

Vera's Greedy Plan to Pretend to be Mr. and Mrs. Haskell

Drunken Argument and Vera Threatening to Call Police - Behind Locked Bedroom Door

Lethal Accident - Vera's Strangulation in Bedroom (Behind Locked Door) with Phone Cord


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