It's been hailed as one of the great B films. With its grim story of a guy whose life takes a deadly turn, when he chances to meet a bad-to-the-bone dame, the 1946 "Detour" is also a classic exercise in film noir .
And now, Tom Neal Jr.--whose father starred in the original--is going to star in the "Detour" remake.
(In the case of Neal Sr., real life loosely paralleled what happened on the screen: Convicted of involuntary manslaughter for the 1965 shooting death of his second wife, Neal served six years in prison. He was released in December of 1971 and died of heart failure 18 months later. It was son Tom Jr. who found the body.)
But remake "isn't the right term," insists first-time director Wade Williams. "This is a re-adaptation of Martin Goldsmith's novel."
Based in Kansas City, Williams is a longtime film buff/scholar who owns the rights to old TV classics like "Space Patrol" and about 40 feature films from the '40s and '50s, including "Detour."
Producer of a trio of films (he was associate producer on the "Invaders From Mars" remake), Williams claims to know "every frame from every scene of the original 'Detour.' "
So what makes him think he can direct another version of what some critics have called the best B-movie ever?
"I don't think I can do it--I know I can," claimed Williams. "I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't think I could pull it off. I don't want to be known as the man who ruined 'Detour.' "
To begin principal photography in November, the "re-adaptation" is going to include elements of the novel not seen in the original film, which was shot in six days for $23,000 by B-king Edgar G. Ulmer. Ulmer's version used only 70 pages of an original 167-page script by novelist Goldsmith.
Williams' remake--to be set in 1946 and filmed for under $2 million--will "fill in the blanks" left by the original, he said. The original, which focused primarily on Al Roberts (the senior Neal's character) and his ill-fated encounter with the unrelentingly man-hating Vera (Ann Savage), had only brief scenes involving Al's girlfriend Sue. In the new "Detour," she will be a major character.
As director Williams explained, "The novel was about all three of them. It paralleled what happened to both Al and Sue when they each went West. We're going to do the same."
To film on locations in Arizona, New Mexico and California, and on a sound stage in Kansas, Williams' "Detour" will have a sepia-toned opening (with an Al Roberts' narrative). Then, as Roberts tells his sad tale, it will go to muted color tones for a '40s film look.
Now 31--the same age that his father was when he played the part of down-on-his-luck Al Roberts--Neal Jr. bears an sharp resemblance to his father.
(By the way, Neal Jr. isn't the only player from the new "Detour" who resembles a player from the original: His leading ladies were also cast, in part, because they look like their earlier counterparts.)
Neal Jr.'s background: stints in the Navy, off-and-on efforts to land acting jobs (he's appeared in several short films and done some L.A. stage work) and, most recently, "regular jobs--you know, not related to show business."
Asked to assess the appeal of the original, he said: "It doesn't pull any punches. It reduces life to its lowest common denominator. Al Roberts isn't a loser in the classic sense--he's a guy in a jam. And once he gets there, there's no getting out.
"There's something about that that strikes a chord. . . ."