The Devil Thumbs a Ride (1947)

The Devil Thumbs a Ride (1947) is a psycho bad guy ill-fated pick-up robbery and murder fraud and cop crunching road and beach house thriller from the high era of stranger danger handsome sociopathic lone killer pictures.

Lawrence Tierney shines as he rides down a cop in this wonder-a-minute fast moving loose livin and wild ride of a sizeable slab of American underbelly, thrilling with multiple characters on a road ride to the beach house bar of doom.

Cigarette flickin mean as can be mutha of the night Lawrence Tierney serves up almost at times a solo show of evil forties noir, although more the ably supported by Nan Leslie and Betty Lawford with superstar contrastin actin roles, way into this long night of very noir film noir.

Although everyone loves a bad boy, Lawrence Tierney as Steve Morgan is dead set to test the bounds of badness tonight, in this film noir from the edge of the highway, the highway of ill fated choices which leads down the road to disaster and marital, personal and professional failure. People will die. 

NOT EVEN HER KISSES COULD HALT HIS FURY...when his evil brain cried "KILL!"

He'll Kill until he Dies!

Felix Feist, though relatively obscure today, has left his mark through two B films:  The Devil Thumbs a Ride  and  The Threat , both released two years apart. As a Southern Californian, I find more glee in recognizing his name than other viewers might. It’s a perk that comes with the territory.

These second-bill features hit the ground running, and stylistically, they evoke a bygone era. Feist not only directed but also scripted  The Devil Thumbs a Ride.  The film could be described as a Hitchhiker’s Guide to Hell, courtesy of the garble-mouthed tough guy, Lawrence Tierney. Tierney’s scowling, unrepentant demeanor adds a cloaked menace to the picture.

 From the look of those ears she’s gonna be able to fly before she can walk! 

 Keep the change, buy something nice for your kid ….  Yeah a parachute! 

Lawrence Tierney’s portrayal in  The Devil Thumbs a Ride  is a testament to mean chops almighty. His performance is so natural that it blurs the line between acting and reality. It is true and Ai did not write that! The casting choice was spot on, as Tierney brings a nuanced complexity to his character. 

He’s not a typical villain indulging in violence for pleasure; instead, he’s a manipulator who preys on the vulnerabilities of others, using psychological tactics to intimidate and control.

Tierney’s character is fascinating because he embodies a mix of charm, intelligence, and amorality. This combination captivates audiences, despite his reprehensible actions. Initially, there’s a grudging admiration for his cunning, but as his crimes escalate, the desire for justice grows. His actions serve as a cautionary tale about the dangers of misplaced trust and the risks of aiding strangers.

The film itself is a classic example of a hard-boiled noir, characterized by suspense rather than relentless violence. The tension is palpable, with most of the action unfolding at night, confined to the intimate settings of a car and a beach house. 

The cast delivers grounded performances, avoiding melodrama and creating believable characters that steer clear of clichés. Felix Feist’s direction and writing, adapted from a novel, are commendable for their ability to craft such a gripping narrative without resorting to over-the-top theatrics. The film stands out for its subtlety and the strength of its ensemble, making it a memorable piece of cinema.

Andrew Tombes in The Devil Thumbs a Ride (1947)

The story follows a forger-turned-bank robber who’s now on the lam from the authorities. By some twist of fate or cinematic force, he ends up in the car of a happy sap—a devoted family man named Ted North—fresh from a joint birthday/anniversary celebration with his buddies in San Diego. The contrast between the two is immediate, yet they develop an easy-going rapport that cancels each other out.

Harry Shannon and Glen Vernon in The Devil Thumbs a Ride (1947)

The concept of B-movies was already established before the 1930s. Studios like Universal categorized their productions based on cost, with lines such as Red Feather (low-budget) and Butterfly (midrange). These films underwent disciplined production and marketing processes.

Paramount Pictures also created its own low-budget brand, Realart Studio, with stars like Bebe Daniels and Marguerite Clark. Realart Studio films were attractive to exhibitors due to lower rental fees1.

As Hollywood studios transitioned to sound film in the late 1920s, independent exhibitors adopted the double feature format. B-movies occupied the bottom half of the program, accompanying more prominent films.

B movies constituted the majority of Hollywood production during the Golden Age, making them a reliable staple1

The Devil Thumbs a Ride fits the B-movie mold: relatively short, inexpensive, and designed for double features. It capitalized on the popularity of this presentation model.

Hoovering up the evidence - vacuum cleaners in film noir - The Devil Thumbs a Ride (1947)

Like other B-movies, it balanced elements of drama, crime, and suspense. Lawrence Tierney’s menacing presence added to its appeal.

While some B-movies felt mediocre, they offered modest delights for audiences intrigued by post-war time capsule filmmaking.

During a pit stop at a gas station, our protagonist, nicknamed  Fergie,  calls his adoring wife, instructing her to synchronize her watch for  3 hours and 26 minutes and 42 seconds.  The mundane aspects of life in 1947—the telephone, radio music, and the gas station attendant’s attire—add authenticity to the film. These details resonate with me, even though they’re far removed from my own world.

Morgan, with calculated malice, attempts to use Ferguson’s car to mow down a traffic officer. He justifies his actions to his passengers with a tale of woe about his childhood in reform school and a deep-seated animosity towards police officers, claiming the mere sight of them sends a chill through his veins.

Handsome Devil - Lawrence Tierney in The Devil Thumbs a Ride (1947)

As the group settles into the beach house in Newport, Morgan slips out for a breath of fresh air and a cigarette, and surreptitiously deflates Ferguson’s car tires—perhaps as a precaution against any sudden departures.

Carol Demming, portrayed by Nan Leslie, plays a significant role in the unfolding events of  The Devil Thumbs a Ride.  As the aspiring Hollywood seeker with a secret troubled past, Carol becomes one of the passengers picked up by the sociopathic killer, Steve Morgan (played by Lawrence Tierney), and unsuspecting driver Jimmy ‘Fergie’ Ferguson (portrayed by Ted North). 

Her presence adds tension and complexity to the story as the police close in and the true nature of Morgan’s actions is revealed.

Chipper Glen Vernon in The Devil Thumbs a Ride (1947)

Ferguson’s determination to seek alternative transport leads to Morgan stealthily disconnecting the phone, ensuring no outside contact. Ferguson’s repeated exclamations of his own name underscore his frustration and disbelief at the unfolding events.

The arrival of the local night watchman doesn’t perturb Morgan; instead, he welcomes the man, offering him drinks until he’s no longer capable of performing his duties. Morgan’s behavior is erratic: one moment he’s spinning fanciful tales to Carol about his Hollywood connections, the next he’s aggressively kissing her and resorting to violence.

The climax of Morgan’s deceit comes when he steals Ferguson’s wallet, renders him unconscious, and then cunningly deceives the sheriff. Posing as Ferguson, he concocts a story about inviting the real Ferguson for a drink, only for him to become belligerently drunk—a tale the sheriff readily accepts.

As the journey continues, they pick up two dames seeking a lift: a husky-voiced blonde (Betty Lawford) and a diffident brunette (Nan Leslie). The story unfolds as they travel up the California coast, hitting local hot spots like Oceanside, San Clemente, and Newport Beach. Roadblocks are set up, and the police, led by a veteran detective (Harry Shannon), close in on the criminal.

The Devil Thumbs a Ride  balances near-screwball antics with thriller elements. Tierney’s minacious countenance and the film’s shoddy dialogue create an odd tone. The family man faces trouble with his wife due to the conniving blonde, while the devilish Tierney keeps his eyes on the other girl. As the cops close in, explosive events seem inevitable. 

Outlaws, cornered and agitated, lash out in desperate struggles for survival.

While the film may feel mediocre overall, it offers modest delights for those intrigued by Lawrence Tierney or interested in post-war time capsule filmmaking. In its 62 minutes,  The Devil Thumbs a Ride maintains itself as a modest slice of a slice of massively entertaining cinematic psychopathic, anarchic and sociopathicly harmful history.

The Devil Thumbs a Ride (1947)

Directed by Felix Feist / Felix E. Feist

Genres - Thriller  |   Sub-Genres - Crime Thriller, Film Noir  |   Release Date - Feb 20, 1947 (USA - Unknown), Feb 20, 1947 (USA)  |   Run Time - 63 min. | The Devil Thumbs A Ride (1947) at Wikipedia

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