Ulmer's masterpiece is 1945's noir classic Detour, a hard-bitten tale of a terminally unlucky man spiked with B-movie moments and the telltale signs of a nonexistent budget: few sets, few actors, few scenes on location, and a few slow pans across a map to supplant a cross-country road trip. The hero is a good guy so thoroughly screwed that his case would be heartbreaking if he hadn't been preparing for it all his life. "Whichever way you turn, fate sticks out a foot to trip you," he says at the end, unsurprised. The noir imagery is so thick it's nearly comical -- smudgelike characters on New York's dark and rainy streets, close-ups of the main character's haunted eyes, a tight zoom on a coffee cup until it fills the screen. In a lesson to strike hope (or fear) into indie filmmakers, Ulmer shot the entire movie in three days. At Friday's screening, co-star and femme fatale extraordinaire Ann Savage makes an appearance.
Two highlights of Ulmer's "ethnic period" also run this week -- Moon Over Harlem, with its all-black cast, and Green Fields, a Yiddish classic. And sci-fi fans won't want to miss The Man from Planet X, which features a special low-budget treat: sets left over from Joan of Arc.