I was familiar with director Edgar G. Ulmer’s 1945 bleak noir “Detour” in name only. The film was from PRC, a poverty row studio that specialized in low-budget, bargain basement B-films. “Poverty Row” is a term used for studios of the classic Hollywood era that did just that—low-budgets with no name stars. As with most movies released by PRC, “Detour” is in the public domain, which is why I’ve seen the title in the countless budget bin DVD releases of Noir films that people have gifted me over the years—often with prints that were rough to watch and missing frames.
However, that changes with a new blu-ray edition of “Detour” from The Criterion Collection that features a stunning 4K digital restoration of the film made by The Motion Picture Academy and The Film Foundation, with funding from The George Lucas Family Foundation. The film looks stunning, and I was especially happy to see one of the bonus features showing the years-long effort into restoring the film.
“Detour” is one the darkest and bleakest film noirs I’ve ever seen, it’s so rooted deep in the most basic, stripped down elements of Noir that it could almost seem like a parody of the genre. A broke nightclub piano player from New York heads to Los Angeles to meet up with his girl—a singer who ditched the club sometime earlier to find fame out West. Being broke, our key tickler begins to hitch his way across the country, winding up taking a ride with a bookie headed out West.
To go any more into specifics would be to spoil “Detour” and I always try to not do so. So let’s just say that before our man of 88 keys can hit the coast, he winds up with a dead body on his hands, then picks up a drifter named Vera—which might be the most poison-laced femme fatale in all of Noir. To call “Detour” dark is an understatement, this film, where a somewhat innocent man finds himself screwed over by his own luck and circumstance is downright dire. This is like taking a shot of Film Noir distilled into 99% proof.
The original camera negative for “Detour” is missing, this restoration utilized three different sources: a 35mm Nitrate composite print—with French and Flemish subtitles baked in, a 35mm safety duplicate negative, and a 35mm safety composite print. Using digital technology, and in some cases having someone hand paint the subtitles out, these three elements have been combined to create an amazing looking version of “Detour”—perhaps the best it will ever look, unless the camera negative should turn up one day.
The stunning restoration of “Detour”—something fans of the film have been excited about—is the star of the disc, but aside from that Criterion wouldn’t be Criterion without adding another set of wonderful additional features. To begin is a 2004 documentary “Edgar G. Ulmer: The Man Off-Screen” this doc itself runs longer than the brisk 69 minute running time of “Detour,” but is a look at Ulmer’s life and career. This is followed by an interview with scholar Noah Isenberg, author of a book on Ulmer, that aforementioned featurette about the restoration, and the new release trailer for the 4K restoration from Janus Films as well.
This is another great job from Criterion on a film many buffs have only seen in damaged, faded prints. For those of you who love your Noir pitch black, this one is highly recommended. See you next week.