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‘The Devil Thumbs a Ride’ ***** Movie Review 060707
The Work = *****
Lawrence Tierney is probably best recognized today as the lug of a boss that puts together the ‘Reservoir Dogs’ in Quentin Tarantino’s film of the same name but he had been acting for many, many years. In the 1940’s and 50’s Tierney had a bunch of roles as tough, mean, hoods (even Dillinger, see my review HERE). In ‘The Devil Thumbs a Ride’ Tierney plays Steve Morgan, an ex-con who in less than 5 minutes of screen time, shoots and robs a man. Morgan is a mean son-of-a-gun who plows through people like most people mow the lawn.
As grim as it could have been, there is a string of dark comedy woven through ‘The Devil Thumbs a Ride’ that was quite unexpected. The dark humor plays at odds to the violence and yet somehow the whole thing works together. Morgan is on the run from his recent crimes and gets picked up as a hitchhiker by Jimmie ‘Fergie’ Ferguson (Ted North). Poor Fergie, seems as though he had a bit too much to drink (it is his wedding anniversary and birthday) and really shouldn’t be driving. Picking up someone looking like Morgan on a dark road is evidence enough of Fergie’s inebriation but letting Morgan drive really shows how clouded the man’s judgment was. Not only does Morgan take over driving but he picks up Carol Demming (Nan Leslie) and Agnes (Betty Lawford). The ladies are desperate enough for rides to accept the offer and soon the four are on their way.
‘The Devil Thumbs a Ride’ is a dirt cheap crime drama written and directed by Felix E. Feist that clocks in at right around an hour. Feist keeps things moving along and Tierney keeps viewers glued to the film with his villainous portrayal of Morgan. I have heard that Tierney was not fond of his villainous roles but watching the film here you would never know it. There seems to be a dark glee behind every motion Morgan makes. For her part, Lawford in her supporting role, shines as the more street wise of the two ladies.
Paralleling Morgan’s flee from justice is the pursuit of the police, helped along by Jack (Glen Vernon), a plucky gas station attendant who recognized Morgan. He calls into the police and soon is paired up with Detective Owens (Harry Shannon). Meanwhile, across the state, routes of escape close off from Morgan as roadblocks are set and the police close in. Jack's newfound friendship with Owens works as a sort of flipside to the forced friendship between Fergie and Morgan. There is something about Fergie that seems to appeal to Morgan. Maybe it is his oblivious nature. When Fergie gets steamed up he has a stand off with Morgan and the chief reason Morgan doesn’t kill the smaller man would seem to be amusement (and maybe convenience too).
As of the writing of this review ‘The Devil Thumbs a Ride’ is still not available on a home video format. Since DVDs have given rise to a resurgence in Film Noir I would think this movie would be a prime candidate for a special edition. I would love to see a release from Warner Brothers or Criterion. ‘The Devil Thumbs a Ride’ is a dirt cheap flic’ (filmmakers seemingly could not even afford to film a crash and instead had to settle for sound effects alone) that moves by at a quick pace and thanks to its short run time, does not overstay its welcome. It is a very enjoyable Film Noir and I can’t recommend it enough. While my review may not make it seem that remarkable, I say give it a chance if you have the opportunity to see it. The film just grabbed me and I loved every second of it (and tried not to give anything away in my review). Feist, his crew and the cast (especially Tierney and Lawford) all shine in this low budget gem. Check it out.
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