The girl by the side of the road. You've seen her standing there. Thumb out. Smiling. There are thousands like her all over America. And you've heard about what happens to some of them when they get in the wrong car. This movie is about one of these kids. And about her family. But it could be about your family. Where is your daughter tonight?
Here's a cautionary TV movie about a social problem that doesn't really exist anymore: From the time I started driving more than twenty years ago now, I have NEVER seen a woman hitchhiking by herself, yet this movie would have you believe it was out-of-control epidemic. The titular teenage hitchhiker "Julie" (played by Charlene Hilton) is the kind of girl who has her name emblazoned on her shirt, presumably so she won't forget it. She's actually a terrible hitchhiker, kind of putting a slightly extended thumb just under her chin and wriggling it. She continues thumbing rides in this manner even after one friend is beaten and raped while hitchhiking and another is killed in a high-speed chase doing the same. She doesn't do this, however, because she's rebellious or self-destructive, but because she's an insufferable goody-two-shoes who wants to get to her job, but won't let her concerned parents buy her a frickin' car.
The sexy female hitchhiker movie was practically its own genre in the 1970's (.e. "The Hitchikers", "Thumb Tripping","Girls on the Road"), but obviously, since this was a TV movie, it's a lot less exploitative--and a lot less entertaining--than most. There's obviously no sex (aside from some scanty cladding), and potentially scary scenes involving an ominous black Mercedes are pretty ham-handedly executed. Which leaves character development--lots and lots of character development. "Julie" meets a wealthy, older architect who is so incredibly nice that he doesn't mind that she won't put out, or that she dresses and acts like the the most matronly 17 year old ever witnessed in the 1970s. You see he genuinely believes she's a talented sculptress and wants to encourage her "artistic talent"--none of which exactly advances the plot too much. The movie has an ending that is nice and ominous, but doesn't really fit the rest of the movie, which alternates between meandering and cloying.
Besides Charleen "Dallas" Tilton, this movie features any number of 70's TV actors like Dick "Eight is Enough" Van Patten, Katherine "Soap" Helmond, Christoper "Peter Brady" Knight, and even the guy who played "Les Nessman" on "WKRP in Cincinatti". The actor who really stands out though and showed the most promise for a real career outside of network television is Dominique Dunne, who plays a pregnant, ill-fated friend of "Julie's". Tragically, this actress (who was later in "Poltergeist") was actually murdered in real-life, not by a stranger in a black Mercedes, but by her former boyfriend. It's hard to not think about that now watching this ridiculous, alarmist TV movie.
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