Paleo Retiree writes:
I really enjoyed this smart, well-paced little Italian road/horror movie from 1977, directed and co-written by Pasquale Festa Campanile from a novel by Peter Kane.
It’s partly low-budget exploitation sleaze, partly an exercise in austere, well-shaped literary cinema, and partly flamboyant Sam Shepard-style knockabout marital drama. Franco Nero and Corinne Clery are a feuding, stylish, impossibly good-looking Italian couple (with near-matching cats’ eyes!) driving thru the American Southwest, who pick up a hitcher (David Hess), who turns out to be a violent criminal on the run. I found the film to be a great mixture of tense moment-to-moment drama and shrewdly deployed plot turns, action bits and set pieces. Some well-integrated themes (mostly identity and the meaning of freedom) may merit a few seconds’ contemplation too — they at least add something to the film’s high-low texture. The cinematography is blazing, moody and laconic in a ’70s road-movie way that now feels “classic,” and the landscapes are overblown and a little off in ways that make the action feel otherworldly and mythic. (Though set in the U.S., the film was in fact shot in Italy.) If you can imagine a spaghetti-westernized version of something like “Joy Ride,” this is it. A juicy and excitable score by Ennio Morricone contributes a lot to the sinister, overresonant tone.
The actors chew the scenery with tons of sexy gusto. Hess does a reprise of his legendary “Last House on the Left,” downtown bad-boy actor thing; Clery isn’t just unbelievably pretty, she’s reactive, alive and real; and Franco Nero shows off a terse and telegraphic acting language that seems a wonderful expression of both hypermasculinity and vulnerability. There’s more than a little Fred C. Dobbs (of “Treasure of the Sierra Madre”) in Nero’s depiction of a man in desperate need of reclaiming his pride. Note to self: come up with a blog posting where you justify your conviction that Franco Nero is in a class with such other masters of masculinity as Lino Ventura and Humphrey Bogart.
And — at least for those of us with a taste for this sort of thing — the film is a supersatisfying wallow in ’70s art/entertainment values: violence, shaggy haircuts, pants (especially bellbottoms and Euro-tight blue jeans), cars in the desert, long takes, angry sex, nudity (both justified and gratuitous), and especially the threat of rape. (Trigger warning: I really, really miss the uninhibited, even lavish, way that ’70s movies so often made use of sex, rape and nudity.) “Hitch Hike” is like a cross between an Antonioni movie (“The Passenger” especially) and a Roger Corman quickie, and in a good way. The DVD — which Amazon is currently offering for $6.16 — includes a worth-a-look 20-minute-long doc consisting mainly of interviews with Nero, Clery and Hess about the making the film.