In Detour, Tom Neal’s Al is the masochist, a lounge piano player with Carnegie Hall ambitions, a man of exceptional self-pity, born to frown and whine and pout over the continual kicks ‘fate’ will send his way.
Hitchhiking from New York to California to see his girlfriend, Al gets a ride with a self-aggrandizing gambler, who has a heart attack and then falls out of the car and hits his head on a conveniently placed rock. Life’s whipping boy Al assumes he’ll be charged with murder, so he hides the body, then rides off in the dead man’s car.
At an Arizona gas station, lucky Al spots a female hitchhiker, Vera (played by the appropriately named Ann Savage). There’s something about Vera:
She was young - not more than 24. Man, she looked like she had been thrown off the crummiest freight train in the world! Yet in spite of that, I got the impression of beauty, not the beauty of a movie actress, mind you, or the beauty you dream about with your wife, but a natural beauty, a beauty that's almost homely, because it's so real.
That’s Al’s description of Vera. The key line: not the beauty of a movie actress, mind you, or the beauty you dream about with your wife. Ha. That’s 1940s speak for the kind of dirty girl you don’t marry, but pick up, finger and then throw in the gutter. But our boy Al is no match for Vera, a snarling sadist the like of which has never been seen on the screen before or since. As it turns out, she knows about Al and the gambler, and quickly has Al under her greasy thumb, and friend, Al doesn’t really protest too much, or try too hard to get away from her.
Ann Savage’s Vera is the wildest, most over-the-top femme fatale in all of Film Noir. She’s got dirty hair and a dirtier mouth and an even dirtier mind. And it’s all very tempting to our boy Al. If you watch this thing and break the 1940s code, you can almost hear Al begging for Vera to piss on him. . .
A cheap, absurd little film, barely an hour long, yet a grimy masterpiece of human baseness. Lit up by Ann Savage’s crazy star turn, it will shine forever in the B-movie firmament.