Detour – The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray Review)

Not too dissimilar from when the Criterion Collection finally produced a spectacular release for Night of the Living Dead, Detour’s status as an acclaimed film noir that’s remained in the public domain has made the Edgar G. Ulmer classic an ideal movie deserving of special treatment. Thanks to a substantial amount of work, detailed in one of this release’s supplements, audiences can now take in this wonderfully atmospheric feature in a whole new way. Even those who know this film well may feel they’ll be seeing an all-new version, given the care done to restore the film. That’s not a bad thing for a movie that lasts barely over an hour, yet does everything needed to work as an essential entry among the many great noir movies out there.


The story concerns a down-on-his-luck piano player (Tom Neal), who has already hit rock bottom, only to sink further. In his attempts to hitchhike across the country, he eventually finds himself stuck with a dead body. Making matters worse is the arrival of another drifter, Vera (Ann Savage), one of the more vicious femme fatale characters to exist in this genre. As the two travel together, with one holding power over the other, Detour knows how to emphasize the true hard-boiled nature of its story, delivering a story that only moves into darker territory.

For all the big studio films that existed in the 1940s, it’s impressive to look at Detour’s history and see how it went from a low-budget B-movie to one deemed worthy of being a part of the National Film Registry. Made with no-name stars, low-quality production value, and a director who would help inspire the work ethic of folks like Roger Corman and Joe Dante, Detour could have easily been no more than a true B-movie, the film that played second at a double feature and wasn’t thought of again. Instead, it has held up as a beautiful exploration of paranoia, guilt, and what it is to be doomed.

It’s all in the atmosphere, as we see Neal’s Al Roberts stuck in limbo, whether it’s alongside a road in the heat or stuck at night, in the rain. Even when indoors, we watch Al quietly contemplate his situation, fueled by either anger or desperation. He’s a great anti-hero to follow, and the predicaments this film places him in do an excellent job of epitomizing his fatalist point of view.

At the same time, Savage’s Very is a real piece of work. Unlike the characters portrayed by Barbara Stanwyck, Gene Tierney, or Joan Crawford, among others, there is little to draw a viewer to Savage as a character you either want to support in some way or understand that a trap is in place. With Vera, you are just stuck with a monstrous, conniving person, who’s only causing problems. It speaks to the time and where these people are in their lives, but given the seediness of the film, it only makes sense to have a guy so downtrodden deal with such an unlikable villain.

Like many noirs deserving of praise, Detour is not about focusing on how deliberate the plot contrivances are or even how it works on a technical level in the traditional sense. Instead, one can take in the efforts put in to build a lot out of a little. Ulmer’s skills as a director (who claims to have shot this film in six days) are put to work here, relying on some clever framing, focus pulls, and other staging techniques to make this piece of pulp fiction shine. It’s impressive to say the least, as the film uses every bit of its sixty-eight-minute runtime to deliver on the established mood.

By the time the film reaches its conclusion, featuring a final shot that works in a haunting way, one will see just how great Detour continues to be. Serving as an excellent example of film noir taken to the extreme, without pushing limits in the way some neo-noir do to recapture a particular feeling, Detour is an excellent piece of work.


Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1

Details: This new 4K digital restoration was made possible by the collaboration of several museums and archivists. The new digital transfer was created from multiple 35 mm and 16 mm film nitrates, with many duplication and compositing techniques utilized to develop an astonishing new print of the film. The supplements can do an even better job of showing just how amazing this film looks compared to what has been seen for the past several decades.

Clarity/Detail: The black and white image is terrific. Presented in its original aspect ratio, there are areas where the work to restore the picture shows, but it only serves as a highlight for just how fantastic it looks as a whole. The picture is immaculate, with an exceptional level of detail to be seen throughout. Having a sense of fluidity is also vital, as we can take in so much of what’s happening on screen in a manner that feels so clear thanks to what’s been done to clear up any anomalies.

Depth: A proper handle on character spacing keeps the image from ever feeling flat. The intricate work done with this restoration does such an excellent job of showing the distance between characters that it is easy to look at some key sequences such as the diner or a hotel room and take in emphasis on depth.

Black Levels: The black levels are outstanding. Contrast stands strong as we observe the various times of day and take in details defined by the black and white imagery. The black levels are deep and inky, with no signs of crushing at all.

Color Reproduction: N/A

Flesh Tones: The detail level seen in the actual characters is impressive. Despite being a low-budget film, the actors all look great with this presentation for the most part.

Noise/Artifacts: With so much work to deliver a strong new transfer of this film, there is nothing to complain about here. There is a consistent level of grain that is to be expected, but this film is basically spotless, as all the dirt, damage, stains, etc. has been cleaned up.



Audio Format(s): English LPCM 1.0

Subtitles: English SDH

Details: The original monaural soundtrack was restored from the various prints used to develop the new digital transfer.

Dynamics: For a mono track, there is not much to complain about. The track plays clean and clear with no real audible issues to speak of. There’s no distortion, the range is at an appropriate level, and I never felt like I wasn’t getting the impact I would expect for this film.

Low-Frequency Extension: N/A

Surround Sound Presentation: N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Everyone sounds clear.



There are only a few extras, but they are indeed worthwhile. I would have expected a film historian commentary, but I’m quite happy with the documentary placed in this set.

Features Include:

  • Edgar G. Ulmer: The Man Off-Screen (SD, 1:15:36) – This terrific documentary from 2004 features interviews with Roger Corman, Joe Dante, Peter Bogdanovich, John Landis, Wim Wenders, Ann Savage, and others. All of them have plenty to say about Ulmer, his films, the time, the nature of noir, and more.
  • Noah Isenberg (HD, 21:11) – Isenberg is the author of Edgar G. Ulmer: A Filmmaker at the Margins, and he discusses Detour and the director.
  • Restoring Detour (HD, 11:02) – This is a fascinating look at the work that went into creating the new restoration, including the challenges presented, and comparisons between the different prints utilized.
  • Trailer (HD, 1:32) – A new trailer produced for the 4K restoration of Detour.
  • PLUS – An essay by critic and poet Robert Polito



This release is another example of how much good can come out of devotion to restoring classic films, allowing a new generation to experience an influential feature, and being able to see it looking and sounding better than ever. It helps that Detour is easily gripping, full of great aspects all over in terms of what film noir can offer, and barely over an hour long. It’s an easy watch, but the film will stick with you. Having such a beautiful technical presentation and some substantial extras only help matters further.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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