Directed by Edgar Ulmer and written by Martin Goldsmith, Detour (1946) runs for only a hour and eight minutes. There isn’t much to it; it’s like a pulp-fiction short story (not a novel).
A musician (Tom Neal), hitchhiking, is picked up by a man who soon dies of an illness. Al Roberts—Neal’s character—is afraid the police will accuse him of having killed the man, hence he decides to assume the deceased gent’s identity. However, Vera (Ann Savage), a cynical ne’er-do-well, knows the dead man, and knows that Al is driving his car, and begins to blackmail the scheming musician. From the film’s beginning, Al has retained an acceptable goal for his life but circumstance, and his own choices, pull him further and further away from the goal.
One senses that Goldsmith wanted Detour to be even darker than it is. His plotting is not fully credible, but it is very involving. Neal is serviceable as an ordinary man who will tolerate being a milquetoast for only so long. Savage never lets up on her wounded, hard-bitten attitude, and it’s something to behold.