Un-Redacted Redacted · True Crime Questions Answered
Plus: Another Noirvember review
For today’s Noirvember review, Margaret Howie tackles The Hitch-Hiker. As previously discussed, Margaret is serving up a weekly review of a noir classic inspired by real-life events for paid Best Evidence subscribers, as part of the month-long celebration of film noir launched by Marya E. Gates in 2010.
This week’s film is about spree killer Billy Cook, whose Wikipedia entry makes a clear case for why he was worthy of a big-screen take. His story has everything, I say in my best Stefon voice: kids dumped in abandoned mine, a Texas gun acquisition, a shitty motel in a shitty California town, and motherfucking Alcatraz. Reading this thing, I am floored that The Hitch-Hiker is the only onscreen property about this guy. We get two Candys, and only one Billy Cook — and that adaptation is 70 years old! Someone get on this, but first, read Margaret’s review. — EB
Also! Margaret’s Noirvember series is only possible due to the support of Best Evidence readers. Paid subscribers are why we’re able to keep this publication going and to bring in voices like hers. As the holidays approach, please remember that BE makes a great gift — and that if you’re not an ongoing member, upgrading will be the greatest gift you can offer your BE scribes. — EB
“I’m going to live by the gun and roam.” That was what 21-year-old Billy “Cockeyed” Cook said shortly after leaving prison in 1950, and that is what he did. After working at a diner just long enough to buy a gun, he took to the road and in three weeks became one of the most notorious killers of the decade.
After his first kidnap victim got loose, Cook caught a lift with a family of five, whom he forced to drive for three days before killing them and dropping their bodies in a Missouri mine. Cook went on to abduct and assault two more drivers, killing one. As a manhunt was launched, Cook held two men hostage on his way over the Mexican border.
Spotted by Mexican police, Cook was arrested and literally thrown back over the border. He remained defiant on death row, refusing to talk to the prison chaplain or warden, but did meet with movie star Ida Lupino, who got him to sign a release to adapt his life story.
Lupino had directed four “women’s issues” movies before 1953’s The Hitch-Hiker, which was made as part of her production company’s contract with RKO Studios. Lupino had made low-budget, often shocking pictures, but The Hitch-Hiker is the closest she made to classic film noir. It doesn’t have big stars (Lupino rarely cast herself in roles: “I can’t afford my salary”), and was produced quickly between June and July of 1952.