The Hitch-Hiker (19

By Gwendolyn Audrey Foster.

To Part 1.

While Dorothy Arzner’s Craig’s Wife (1936) revolves around a pathological female who is undone by her desperate attempts to conform to the norms of patriarchy during the depression era, Ida Lupino’s The Hitch-Hiker (1953) presents us with a male serial killer, another malignant narcissist in Emmett Myers (William Talman) who is similarly desperate to prove his identity and gender through sadistic and sociopathic homicidal behavior. Talman, as Myers, spends most of the movie terrorizing two World War II veterans, Gilbert Bowen (Frank Lovejoy) and Roy Collins (Edmond O’Brien). He is a serial killer with a chip on his shoulder; he likes to verbally abuse men, keeping them alive just to taunt them. He is not a veteran, and doesn’t have the baggage of a family, or the debts that the men have to support the suburban lifestyle, as he constantly reminds them, but that’s because he lives entirely outside society, preying on it, rather than participating in it.

The key to understanding The Hitch-Hiker is simply asking ourselves why Myers doesn’t just kill the men off at the earliest opportunity. At first he uses them as drivers and he uses them to get food, but as we learn from radio broadcasts, the law has no idea where he is for most of the movie so Myers doesn’t really need these men to survive. Of course it adds to the suspense that he can simply kill them at any time but oddly, he doesn’t kill them. Perhaps he wants them around to admire him and obey him and fulfill his needs as a narcissist? Myers could simply take the car and move on to the next victim, but he actually appears to enjoy trying to come between these two war veterans who themselves are close companions and prefer one another’s company over the company of their wives. Myers may be a serial killer, but he clearly enjoys the company of men. They bring him pleasure.

Talman Holds GunThough it may often be a tense atmosphere, it is a homosocial atmosphere, and perhaps this pleases Myers more than at surface value. He laughs and smiles when the men speak to him and he smiles flirtatiously when he commands their obedience with his threatening phallic gun. Myers says at several points that he wants little to do with women. He brags that he hates woman and has no use for marriage or society. Myers clearly prefers the company of men, and he gets his sick kicks out of torturing the two men he holds hostage. As David Greven perceptively comments in his article “Ida Lupino’s American Psycho: The Hitch-Hiker (1953),” which examines fifties psychos and homosocial behavior, “the queerness of the film emerges from the spectacle of anarchic masculinity that is always offered in contrast to average masculinity” (Greven 2014).

Myers actually has Bowen and Collins shoot at one another while holding a can, in a very sick twisted variation of the game of Russian roulette that seems to go on forever. Myers’ sociopathology is not just wrapped up in malignant narcissism, but it is also easy enough to see as clearly malevolently queer. Perhaps Myers appears to suffer from a castration complex, which is made abundantly clear with his vise-like grip of his phallic weapon. The men even tell him that he is nothing without his gun. He is a man who suffers from penis envy, homophobia, closeted queer desire and a narcissist. As Greven notes:

“In The Hitch-Hiker, Lupino offers an unusually sustained visual examination of the average male body that is then contrasted against the anarchic body of the Psycho. Myers is often shown from a low angle, perched on the car, looking down at the men as he taunts them, the spider savoring the anxious prey. At the same time, Myers demonstrates an onanistic fascination with his own gun, which he frequently and lingeringly looks down at.” (Ibid.)

This forced intimacy with Myers, coupled with the threat of death and the atmosphere of homophobia is such that one gets the distinct feeling that were it not for censorship, Myers would make the men fuck one another in his presence merely for his voyeuristic pleasure. Having the men shoot at one another is clearly a metaphor for fucking one another. Myers obviously prefers looking at the two men. He never looks at the passing scenery of the desert; he never takes his eyes off his captives. He sits in the back seat staring at Collins and Bowen in anticipation of something, and he’s effectively sitting in the front seat with them too, frequently gazing at himself in the rear-view mirror.

Hitchhiker Interior CarMyers’ continual surveillance of the men is both menacing and predatory. He never takes his eyes off the two men but he never puts the moves on them. There is ample evidence that Myers is a narcissistic homophobe, and quite likely a repressed self-loathing homosexual. He dresses the part of a queer outsider, in his leather jacket and he is easy to read as a narcissist. He has no Echo, no female love interest, and if he ever did he has killed her or anyone who has tried to get close to him. Like most narcissists, and like Harriet Craig Myers despises being touched by the men.

Myers in some way conjures the image of Narcissus as rendered by Caravaggio’s in his Baroque painting Narcissus (painted sometime between 1597 and 1599). Though Caravaggio’s young man is beautiful, and Myers is physically scarred and difficult to look at, one can easily see that both figures are in a close engagement with their own self, both in terms of death and in terms of sexuality. Caravaggio’s rendering of Narcissus in tenebroso lighting differs significantly from that of John William Waterhouse’s Echo and Narcissus (also discussed in Part 1).

Waterhouse’s work is highly romanticized, and the tragic figure of the loving Echo being ignored by Narcissus is prominent in the Waterhouse version. But the female figure of Echo is completely absent in Caravaggio’s painting. Instead, in Caravaggio’s painting, we see the lone figure of a youthful homoeroticized Narcissus, looking into a deathly mirror of the underworld abyss. This could easily be read as a homicidal and repressed homosexual mirror, as suggested and coded in the Lupino film.

Narcissus, Caravaggio (1597-99)
Narcissus, Caravaggio (1597-99)

As art historian Avigdor W. G Posèq notes in his study of Caravaggio’s Narcissus, Italian Humanists were fascinated by Ovid’s myth; artists and writers of the period were particularly interested in the delusional nature of the self-love of Narcissus (1991: 21). During the Baroque period, the myth of Narcissus was closely associated with death as well as the obsessive and destructive nature of self-absorption. Even after death, when Narcissus is crossing the river Styx, and he is reaching the underworld, Narcissus cannot refrain from gazing at himself. Caravaggio’s version is more of a close-up in terms of shot composition in comparison with the Waterhouse Narcissus, and Caravaggio’s painting “most effectively conveys his emotional bond with his shadowy double” (Ibid.: 21).

Interestingly enough, tenebroso lighting is very much like film noir and horror film lighting. Tenebroso lighting emphasizes darkness over light, frequently employs spotlight effects, is dependent on heavy chiaroscuro, and violently contrasts light and dark. This accurately describes the lighting and psychology of The Hitch-Hiker. Tenebrism had an influence on Romanticism, including the works of the Pre-Raphaelites such as John William Waterhouse and most certainly influenced one of the greatest noir painters of light in film history, Nick Musuraca, the Italian cinematographer who lit and shot The Hitch-Hiker.

Though German Expressionism certainly had an enormous influence on noir lighting and shot composition, it is worth noting that Italian Tenebrism also had a considerable influence on these films as well. The dark, moody camerawork by the gifted RKO veteran Nick Musuraca brings this home forcefully to the viewer; Musuraca also shot such classic noirs as Out of the Past (1947), The Whip Hand (1951), and Born to be Bad (1950), and knew how to work fast and efficiently. His chiaroscuro lighting is nothing short of brilliant in terms of capturing phantasmal images of expressionism, angst, desperation, and paranoia. In an interesting co-incidence, the screenplay for The Hitch-Hiker was based on a story of Daniel Mainwaring, who wrote Out of The Past, but was then blacklisted within the industry, and thus did not receive screen credit on Lupino’s film, which was publicly assigned to Lupino, Robert L. Joseph, and Collier Young.

Lupino is not interested in making an escapist film; she tortures the viewer through both frightening scenes and a very discomforting use of sound. In one sequence, for example, a car horn blares for what feels like ten minutes as we squirm in our seats, assaulted by its incessant noise. In another equally unsettling scene, Myers may or may not be watching the men sleep by the shadows of a campfire.

Billy Cook
Billy Cook

To make the film, Talman actually had one of his eyes surgically sewn open so that it couldn’t close, giving him the impassive gaze of the living dead; as he notes, “you can’t tell if I’m awake or asleep – bum peeper.” Since the film is based on an actual serial killer, one Billy Cook, who went on a similarly murderous rampage, and also had a deformed eye as the result of a birth defect, the scarred eye serves both as a link to the real events of the case, as well as a visual manifestation of a narcissistic wound or a subconscious reminder of castration anxiety, which is often a source of pain and the wrath of the homicidal maniac and serial killer.

Malignant narcissism and pathological grandiosity are found in serial killers. Serial killers are used in film and literature to connote not just the threat of the serial killer, but to invoke a larger metaphor, American narcissistic personality disorder and capitalist lack of empathy for other human beings. As Arzner had done before her in Craig’s Wife, Ida Lupino demonstrates that enforced heterosexuality, enforced domesticity, and enforced consumption are what castrate men and women and turn them into narcissistic maniacs.

But in The Hitch-Hiker, Lupino takes it a step further in implicating the viewer and indicting us for upholding forced consensus by making us identify with both the gun and the narcissistic homophobe behind the gun. She accomplishes this through her visuals. The opening shot is a gun. As audience participants we frequently become the gun, when Lupino forces us to look in through the eyes of a serial killer and through the machinery of the phallic weapon as it is turned around and pointed at the victims. It is uncanny, radical, and experimental, and it works.

Talman CloseupWhile the men try to rest, the camera settles in on a gruesome close-up of Myers’ open eye. Neither we nor the captives know if he is awake and watching them, or if his eye is simply open as he sleeps. It becomes obvious as the film moves along that there is a root cause for Myers’ sociopathic behavior. He has been metaphorically castrated at a young age. He admits that he was terrorized and abandoned by his parents, and he had to spend most of his life alone and living by his wits. He is the outcast, and represents all the figures that American society refused to embrace or nurture in the 1950s, he is metaphorically representative of anyone who is queer, African American, a bum, a subversive, an outsider, a Jew, a bachelor, any man who did not fight in the war, anyone who is labeled an outsider.

Myers is anyone who refuses to go along with the forced consensus of the 1950s, bent on a perpetual vengeance trip. He has developed a brutal, survivalist personality to cover up his own frail nature and insecurities, but the film is concerned with the broader picture of postwar America, a country that celebrated atomic weaponry, a country that tried to send women back to the kitchen, a country lacking in empathy and a country that felt it owned the world and the world was for the taking. There is no way to miss the fact that Lupino is absolutely leveling the American Dream with The Hitch-Hiker but she is taking prisoners, as is Myers. As audience members we are just as much hostages as Roy Collins and Gilbert Bowen, but we are also the perpetrator in this hellish nightmare, the tenth circle of hell as rendered by Ida Lupino.

Ironically, the two veterans who stumble into the serial killer are simply trying to escape the fatigue of marriage, and find a homosocial space in the public sphere. Myers, the hitch hiker serial killer who kills and tortures for kicks, never tires of teasing Collins and Bowen about the fact that they are “suckers” for living by the rules of society and being bossed around by women. He constantly badgers them about the fact that they are so henpecked at home that they have to actually lie to their wives and tell them they are going on a “fishing trip” in order to get away from suburban hell. Narcissists are boastful, and Myers continually boasts that he has no debt, no baggage, no home and no nagging wife. He is free, white, and homicidal.

Myers shrewdly taunts his male captives, continually bringing up their lie about a supposed fishing trip. As he reminds them, if they hadn’t lied, their wives might be looking for them. But evil is everywhere they travel, simply because their entire trip is built on deception. As Wheeler Winston Dixon notes in an essay on Lupino’s career in Senses of Cinema, “there is an atmosphere of real violence in the film – not only in the subject matter, but also in Lupino’s relentless pacing, hyperkinetic camera set-ups, and her intense use of oppressive close-ups to heighten the film’s suspense.”

Both Collins and Bowen look guilty and sheepish every time Myers mentions this because it not only insinuates that the men are unhappily married, but it exposes exactly why the men got themselves into this mess. As Rabinovitz notes, they are actually very jealous of the freedom of the lone killer, and they “seek flight from the normal world.” Emmett Myers is a mirror of their own desires, and as Rabinovitz notes, Myers as an outsider, summons “what they fear most – their own desire to revolt” (1995: 92). By offering an alternative lifestyle, one free from the domestic sphere and the fiscal burdens of masculinity, Myers forces the men to confront their own conformity and emasculation and their desire to revolt.

The Hitch Hiker (24)Rabinovitz makes an extremely important point when she asserts that the film questions the notion of what is normal. Post war domesticated masculinity, indeed, “normality” itself “comes under scrutiny and investigation” in the film (Ibid.: 92). Myers brilliantly uses his cruel psychological sadism to confuse these men as to what is right and what is wrong. Their friendship, which had been as close as a Boston marriage, starts to decay as they eventually begin behaving like an old unhappily married couple, they bicker and are of little use to one another. They miss every opportunity to escape because they have lost the ability to work together. They fall apart at a psychological level. Myers effectively castrates and thoroughly emasculates the men, largely through verbal abuse, using strategies typical of the sadistic narcissist. The men wished to escape the confines of the home, looking for some male bonding time together, a few days of freedom away from the pressures of consumption and the considerable demands of being husbands in the fifties. They may well even enjoy, and quite possibly desire homosexual pleasure with one another at a subconscious level, but that is not what is most significant and pronounced here.

What seems most significant here, and what relates back to Arzner’s film is that Lupino posits that for men, as for women, the home is a prison, a prison of gender, of consumption, and a prison that holds men and women hostage to norms of patriarchal capitalism, as it is depicted in these two films. Though many critics have examined The Hitch-Hiker as a film noir, a road movie, and one of the first serial killer docudramas, few have noticed that the only reason these two men are subjected to several days of torture at the hands of a madman is that they are deeply unhappy with the post-war American dream of a home and a job and a wife and kids. It is their rejection of these norms that puts them in harm’s way to begin with. And few, with the exception of David Greven, have seen the obvious homophobia and queer panic in the behavior of Emmett Myers.

One of the queerest moments comes when Myers insists on swapping clothing with one of the men. He watches him undress, he does not look away for a second, and he repeatedly notes that since they wear the same size, they could easily be one another. In other words, any of us could be a repellent homophobic sadist or a narcissistic serial killer. Lupino summons the notion of the interchangeable aspect of human beings, our facelessness in the modern world of consumption and she throws it right in our face. Myers is much like Harriet Craig in his taking up of space in the frame and sauntering around with confidence as he continually boasts and hectors those around him. Male or female, queer or straight, according to the logic of this bleak film, we are all capable of horrific behavior and Lupino will not let us off the hook any more than Emmett Myers.

William TalmanLike Craig’s Wife, The Hitch-Hiker does not strictly adhere to the confines of genre. It behaves a lot more like a horror film than a film noir. Many elements of the film noir are completely missing: a femme fatale is replaced by a homme fatale, much of the movie takes place in the overly lit vast desert or is captured through the moving car window. Nobody wakes up in a pool of his own blood to be framed for murder. There are no urban sets or urban fast talking smart ass crooks and molls. There is no good girl to save or to marry at the end. The film lacks the plot twists we have come to associate with noir.

The Hitch-Hiker thus seems suspended in time and space, and has an unbroken sense of menace and fear, which is never punctuated by even the slightest trace of humor or any break in the suspense. It is an unremittingly dark film, with every second infused with the specter of death, just as the home in Craig’s Wife is an incessantly dark and deeply uncomfortable house from which there is little hope of escape, with the possible exception of female friendship and community.

Watching The Hitch-Hiker is such a harrowing experience that one notices that it feels relentless and sadistic even towards the viewer. It is at times very realistic (the use of actual locations and non actors adds veracity), but it also feels like a horrible dream, a brooding nightmare, a poetic, almost mystical rendering of a dread-filled hellscape, a mise en abyme, a nightmare that is the repressed collective nightmare of post-war masculinity in America. Even the desert itself is a character, its’ ever shifting shadows casting self doubt on the audience and the protagonists. The road is another character in the film; because the desert seems to change very little, we feel completely disoriented by the road, but it keeps coming under us and it never seems to end.

As viewers, we are in a sense buried alive as much as the protagonists, who know that Myers will almost certainly just kill them, or us, on a whim. The pointlessness of war and killing and violent masculinity wears down the viewer as much as it does the fatigued onscreen veterans. There are so many elements in The Hitch-Hiker that add to the feeling that we are dreaming, and so are the captured veterans; we are collectively having a paranoid nightmare on a road trip to hell, yet this is America, and this is how we treat our veterans. This is post war America from the front seat of a car, with a serial killer staring at us in the rear view mirror.

hitch-2shot1This is post-war America, when veterans are onscreen lit like phantoms with a flashlight, giant terrified heads in close-up in a car with a stranger intent on senseless violence. The menace is America, the menace is gender roles, the menace is the rise of consumer culture and the battle of the sexes. The menace, as Lupino understands, is not the lone terrorist, it is the memory of the killing fields, the use of the atomic bomb, and so much more that was in the air and the subconscious of post war culture. The menace is everything repressed in post war American society, a culture that is often misremembered or misperceived as a culture of pop music, poodle skirts and endlessly happy cherubic faces opening packages.

That Lupino is able to access the repressed and bring it out in the open is an act of courage, especially in the age of repression and the blacklist. While many women were being badgered into submission in the Eisenhower era 1950s, forced out of their war jobs to go back home and transform themselves into happy homemakers, Lupino was busy building an independent studio that made films about taboo subjects such as rape, polio, bigamy, having children out of wedlock, and for her to choose to make an all male film based upon a real life serial killer strikes me as wildly ahead of her time and progressive.

For Lupino to take us into the mind of a crazed narcissistic killer, and also to criticize America in a time of rigorous enforced consensus, strikes me as entirely in keeping with the character of Lupino. She was always doing things women were not supposed to do. She drank and cursed and behaved as she pleased, she dressed as femme as she liked, and she admitted that she was not all that thrilled about having children. Her films stand as a testament to a woman who would not and could not make herself fit into societal norms.

One cannot help but notice that Lupino accesses the subconscious through lighting and cinematography and the other dreamy elements of the film. It would not be out of line to posit that The Hitch-Hiker is a precursor to Scorsese’s one true masterpiece: Taxi Driver (1976). Both films conjure up a world that is a hellish nightmare; both offer a narrative from which there is no escape; both films offer no humor, no future and no happy ending; no Eros, only Thanatos; and both films render the viewer helpless, even powerless, and yet somehow complicit. Both films explore masculinity as a trap, and both films feature a prominent sadistic narcissist who is defined by his weapon and violent nature. When Myers’ gun is taken away from him, he is reduced to nothing, just as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, stripped of his weapon, becomes a passive non-entity.

nRVqyWlrr4ldGcfuCVhAw8urkGYLupino understands the ideology of masculinity of the kind that is defined by guns. The phallic weaponry is a pathetic way for the emasculated narcissist to feel well in control, and in some cases, guns are used to overcompensate for sexual inadequacy or feelings of psychological castration. Most significantly though, Lupino is to be credited for creating America as a narcissistic serial killer completely lacking in empathy. Talman’s portrayal of Myers is the epitome of the bully that America became during the cold war era. We are a country lacking in empathy, of boastful narcissists who endlessly consume and threaten other countries. Again, in her vision of a society in collapse, Lupino was ahead of her time.

As an audience member, safe in our seats, being in the grip of a sadist has its thrills, but there are breathtaking moments that demonstrate a lack of empathy in Craig’s Wife as there are in The Hitch-Hiker. (The scene in which Harriet coldly leaves her sister in the hospital to die comes to mind.) As Harriet Craig is narcissistically defined by her Greek urn, her many mirrors and, of course, her house as tomb, so are these men defined by the gun, the automobile, the road, and the harsh deserted landscape of America as they are tortured by America, a sadistic narcissist.

The fact that these two war buddies feel pressured enough to actually flat out lie to their wives in order to spend some time together speaks volumes about post-war hostility between the sexes. How often do they lie in order to survive marriage and suburban life in post-war consumer America? How often do they lie at work? Are they even faithful to their wives? Don’t we all have to constantly lie to conform to gender, to pretend that all marriages are perfect? How much did Americans have to lie to survive the fifties? How many lies were told, or truths suppressed during the height of the Cold War and the McCarthy era?

thehitchhiker0028obHow much did we have to suppress our sexual appetites, whether they were same-sex desires, or simply not part of the dream of the nuclear family? Why do these men feel the need to see strippers and hookers? Are happily married people ever really “happily married?” And what of the completely absent wives, the women we never even meet in the film? Lupino never cuts to scenes of the wives worried about their husbands, nor do the wives show up at the end of the film to suggest happy marital unions and give the audience the expected happy ending. The almost complete absence of women is profound. Other than a few hookers and strippers that we can barely see, the only female in the film is a completely innocent Mexican child who has no idea that her father, a small goods store owner, is dealing with a homicidal gringo maniac.

Lupino successfully uses what is the unspoken in The Hitch-Hiker to tell us much about these men and their relationship to one another, their relationship to their wives, and myriad grim subconscious post-war anxieties about the American dream. Their lives at home must be a living nightmare, we can only conclude, because they would prefer to go back to the war years when world wide conflict allowed men to spend time together away from women and away from the pressures of familial demands and the home. Psychologically, the war has never really ended for Collins and Bowen, or even for Myers, who is still at war with the world.

The road is Collins and Bowen’s chosen heaven (or hell); they climb into a car in which they will spend several intimate and harrowing days together driving aimlessly amid the vast harsh landscape of the desert, ordered around by a maniac with a gun who conjures up not only the image of the enemy in World War II, but also the phantasmal presence of the McCarthy blacklist in America, especially since so many people who worked on the film, whom Lupino supported and hired, had themselves been blacklisted.

For Lupino, American masculinity in the early 1950s is in crisis. Before they meet Emmett Myers, Bowen and Collins are desperate for some fleeting pleasure, some cheap thrills, some kicks that will take them away from their boring lives as breadwinners and husbands. They are not interested in fishing. They are interested in doing some serious drinking and gambling. They go to Mexico to look for strippers and hookers and to spend some time with one another.

0022181.jpgCompared to the various Mexican citizens they meet on the road, Collins and Bowen are poor examples of men. The Mexican men actually seem to love their families, and Lupino has them speak Spanish with no subtitles. The Mexican people are clearly superior on a moral level to any Americans in the film. They are responsible and care enough to look for and find the two victims; significantly, it is the Mexican authorities who eventually capture Myers, and release Collins and Bowen who stumble into the darkness. Indeed, Mexico in the 1950s is presented as a better place to live than the United States. Families gather together for meals and to take care of their small farms; they are almost completely disinterested in money and consumption, even though many are obviously poor. If there are any true heroes in The Hitch-Hiker, it is the Mexicans who value human life enough to save these two men, and thwart Myers’ reign of terror.

In contrast, both Collins and Bowen are fairly selfish men, lacking true heroism. Beaten down by the war and the pressures of the post-war economy, they seem uninterested in life and not all that driven to survive. If anything, their near death experience brings them a little excitement, some momentary escape from their humdrum existence. They are as emotionally dead as Harriet Craig. They bring home with them the horror of the war, and the bottomless depression experienced by most returning war veterans. Indeed, Lupino knew first hand what happened to men who returned from the war – how damaged they were, and how fragile.

Lupino’s husband during that time, the actor Louis Hayward, was a Marine combat cinematographer who served in the Pacific. His work during the invasion of the Japanese-held island of Tarawa during World War II earned him a Bronze Star for courage under fire, but he returned from the war entirely changed; a man who suffered what was then known as war fatigue, but is now recognized as post traumatic stress disorder.

Billy Cook arrested in Mexico
Billy Cook arrested in Mexico.

Emotionally destroyed by the war, he begged Lupino for a divorce, realizing that he could no longer connect to “normal” society – he’d simply seen too much horror and death. Lupino was devastated by the collapse of her marriage, but it gave her a window into the psyche of the returning war veteran which she drew upon to create the hellish Expressionist nightmare that is The Hitch-Hiker, one of the darkest and most hopeless visions of America ever rendered on film. Even when the men are released at the end, there is no happy music. The nightmare simply ends, but it will inevitably recur.

Viewing Craig’s Wife and The Hitch-Hiker as philosophical inquiries into the pathologies of narcissism and seeing them as larger metaphors for America and its institutions allows us to fully view the remarkable work of Arzner and Lupino, two women who could not be silenced, two women who spoke back to power, and two women who made both entertaining and philosophically ambitious artistic films that beg for deeper investigations and a revisionary look at narcissism onscreen and off. Craig’s Wife and The Hitch Hiker are two seemingly very different films, but upon closer inspection, they both “queer” America, in every sense of the word, and both reveal the cracks and fissures in conventional American society, then and now.

To Part 1.

Gwendolyn Audrey Foster is a Professor of Film Studies in the Department of English, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and Co-Editor of the book series New Perspectives on World Cinema from Anthem Press, London. Her many books include 21st Century Hollywood: Movies in the Era of Transformation (2011) and the second, revised edition of A Short History of Film (2013), both co-authored with Wheeler Winston Dixon; as well as Class-Passing: Social Mobility in Film and Popular Culture (2005), Identity and Memory: The Films of Chantal Akerman (2003), and Women Filmmakers of the African and Asian Diaspora: Decolonizing the Gaze, Locating Subjectivity (1997).

Works Cited and Consulted

Dixon, Wheeler Winston (2009), “Ida Lupino”, Senses of Cinema, issue 50, April. Accessed 28 February, 2014.

Dyer, Richard (1977) “Homosexuality and Film Noir”, Jump Cut, no. 16, pp. 18 – 21. Rept, (2005). from Jump Cut, no. 16, 1977, pp. 18-21. Accessed 9 March 2014.

Foster, Gwendolyn Audrey (1995), Women Film Directors: An International Bio-Critical Dictionary, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Greven, David (2014), “Ida Lupino’s American Psycho: The Hitch-Hiker (1953)”Bright Lights After Dark, 27 February. Accessed 9 March 2014.

Heck-Rabi, Louise (1984), Women Filmmakers: A Critical Reception, Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow.

Landy, Marcia (2006), “Movies and the Fate of Genre,” in American Cinema of the 1940s, ed. Wheeler Winston Dixon, Piscataway, NJ:  Rutgers UP, pp. 222-44.

Mayne, Judith (1994) Directed by Dorothy Arzner, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Mulvey, Laura (1991), “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” in Issues in Feminist Film Criticism, ed. Patricia Erens, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Ovid, The Metamorphoses, Books 1 through 5, edited by William S. Anderson, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Posèq, Avigdor W. G (1991), “The Allegorical Content of Caravaggio’s Narcissus,” Source: Notes in the History of Art, 10.3, Spring, pp 21-31.

Rabinovitz, Lauren (1995), “The Hitch Hiker” in Annette Kuhn (ed.), Queen of the B’s: Ida Lupino Behind the Camera, Westport CT: Praeger, pp. 90-102.

9 thoughts on “The Narcissistic Sociopathology of Gender: Craig’s Wife and The Hitch-Hiker, Part 2”

  1. Great article, Gwendolyn! Though it wouldn’t have occurred to me to pair them, the parallels between Craig’s Wife and The Hitch-Hiker are startling and significant. I found particularly useful your suggestion that, under the surface, they are horror films that queer American patriarchy. Well done!

  2. Thank you, Chris and Ian!

    These films are easily queered and indeed invite further exploration. What I find particularly difficult, though, is articulating how these two films expose the personality disorder that is capitalist postwar America; a grotesque self-involved empire; one lacking in empathy. One that not only supports the commodification of the individual, the corporatization of gender, all the pathologies of patriarchy and capitalism, and the repression of all things “Other,” including homosexuality and much more; all while destroying, colonizing and polluting the rest of the world with our toxic waste & toxic pathologies such as our endless war mongering, which is itself as deeply related to our ideologies of enforced masculinity, domesticity, and sexuality as it is our depraved arrogance as a nation of smug Narcissistic xenophobic bullies.

    Yes, I do see both films as horror movies. But I also see American history and American politics as something of a horror show. I love how Arzner and Lupino exploit the confines of genre to express things otherwise confined to whispers.

    Both films capture their own era, but what I find surprising is their prescience. Craig’s Wife and The Hitch Hiker also capture our current state of affairs as horrifying nightmares. What a horror show indeed. We indeed are reflected in the Caravaggio Narcissus, staring into the abyss of our own making– but only able to see a superficial beauty reflected back at us. Likewise, we are acutely well rendered as the Narcissus figure in the Waterhouse painting; totally rejecting love and empathy in the form of Eros; while busy worshiping our self reflection. Thanatos mesmerizes & seduces us in our dark mirror of the abyss, as the great Herbert Marcuse might himself have noted.

  3. The similarities between The Hitch-Hiker and Craig’s Wife are indeed remarkable … from a psychological perspective. I found it interesting that Lupino had personal insight into the mind of a war veteran, and how it completely changes them after going through a Hell that you can’t possibly know unless you experienced it yourself. Devastating as her [eventual ex] husband’s experience was, I wonder if the film would have been a bit different had she not had this insight.

  4. I strongly suspect that Lupino would not have even made this film were it not for her experience with her husband’s post war trauma. As an independent, she chose her material. She never fully recovered from the break-up of her marriage to Louis Hayward. In a way then, she goes beyond evoking post war veteran trauma here. The absence of women is also a powerful presence. As a director, she speaks for so many spouses who desperately try to reach their partners – those who return from war entirely changed by the experience. This is a powerful legacy.

  5. Being based on a true story, The Hitch-Hiker is even more gruesome and vindictive. I have enjoyed both films but I never actually connected Harriet Craig and Emmett Myers. They’re both sociopaths and we follow them deeper and deeper in these mind numbing stories that portray two fanatical characters trying to play their own game.

  6. Super old movie but one of the best! I remember watching this with my father. The whole movie is very interesting.

  7. Hey, Kirk! It is always nice to hear that young people remember the experience of watching certain films with their family. It gives us a special personal relationship with a film that is not often talked about in film criticism. I remember watching a lot of war films, and films of the forties and fifties with my Grandmother, who raised me. I got a wide film education from watching films with my Grandmother on a tiny black and white TV. I am sure this is true for a lot of film scholars who fondly remember times spent with their parents or grandparents watching older movies. The Hitch-Hiker scared the heck out of me and it still holds up. My students say it “disturbs” them, even today. What a harrowing & noirish film about bullying. Emmett Myers is ultimately a pathetic bully, but bullies still exist so it is good to be aware of their sociopathology.

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