Hugo Haas Films
One Girl’s Confession (1953) – 5.5/10
During the opening credits of this film there is a silhouette of a buxom
woman in profile languorously standing there in a pose to titillate. Well,
titillate for the early 1950's anyways. This was a common characteristic
of the films produced and directed by Hugo Haas during that decade. He seems
to have had a fixation on well-built blondes in bullet proof brassieres that
look like launching pads. If that fixation was personal or professional I
can't say. He was and is I guess for those who even remember him known for
his low budget morality films that use the promise of sleaze and endowed
women to bring in an audience. Later he was called the "foreign Ed Wood"
but at least from my first viewing of one of his films I would say that is
unfair. This is a well-made film but with no money and not very good actors
- except for him I should add. He often acted in his own films and is very
good in this.
That should come as no surprise considering his background. He came from
Czechoslovakia where he was one of their film industry's biggest stars in
the 1930's. Then Hitler invaded the country and Haas being Jewish and a critic
of Hitler got out and came to America. His brother did not and died in a
concentration camp. He didn't speak English but learned quickly and not having
the looks of a Charles Boyer ended up in character roles usually as one of
the bad guys. He was in a number of good films - King Solomon's Mines, The
Fighting Kentuckian, A Bell for Adano - but in the 50's decided to produce
his own films and distribute them through the studios. In this case Columbia.
His films never made much money and in the early 60's he moved back to Europe
always hoping to get back to his home country but it never happened. He died
The B blonde bombshell in this one is Cleo Moore who tried hard but never
quite made it in film other than appearing in a number of Haas's films. She
is sort of Marilyn Monroe like without the oomph. She was married at one
time to the son of Huey Kingfish Long, the legendary politician from Louisiana.
She was 15 at the time. This was Louisiana. After that failed she moved out
to California and tried out for the films. She left the business after 1957
and married rich.
In One Girl's Confession she is a waitress in a diner owned by a man who
took care of her since she was a child after he cheated her father out of
all his money. It is not a cordial relationship. In the diner the men try
handling her as much as their food but she will have no part of that. She
is a good girl but that doesn't stop her from stealing $25,000 from the owner
and then admitting it to the cops. $25,000 must have gone a lot further back
then because she is willing to go to jail knowing that the hidden money will
be waiting for her and she can start life all over again. When she gets out
early for good behavior she bides her time and gets another waitress job
in a diner run by Haas. Haas is great in this as a genial guy of ambiguous
morals. But nothing really happens in the film. You keep expecting noir to
creep in like a thief in the night and steal the movie but it becomes more
of a film about fate like an O'Henry story.
Strange Fascination (1952) – 6/10
Here is another film produced, written, directed and acted by Hugo Haas.
Was he a film auteur? I would think by most definitions he is. He was clearly
the creative force behind the series of films he made in the 1950's (13 films).
He was an independent producer scrounging up money to get his stories on
screen. They may have been low-budget and not very successful but he kept
trying with themes that explore slightly tawdry relationships with women
willing to go after what they want. Strong if somewhat devious women have
center stage in his films.
Strange Fascination appears to have a better budget than the other two films
of his I have seen - Pickup and One Girl's Confession - and though noir elements
are sprinkled about like seeds they never sprout to fruition. This is more
of a straight out drama that has echoes of Blue Angel around it but with
more of a cheerful outcome for all.
An older man and a young hot blonde. Combustible combination in film. And
more often than not in life. Haas plays a classical pianist in Europe who
is sponsored by a socialite (Mona Barrie) who brings him to America where
he is very successful. On a tour his fate is sealed when he goes into a hotel
bar and a blonde (Cleo Moore) is dancing professionally. She goes for him
like a kitty for catnip and though knowing he is too old he finally surrenders.
Then his career starts to dip but his fascination for her becomes obsessive.
Not so much the other way and it goes like these things often do.
As I mentioned in another review, Haas is often referred to as the "foreign
Ed Wood" but nothing could be further from the truth. The dialogue in his
scripts is well written and his directing is certainly competent if not imaginative
(though he likes giving the audience striking close-ups of his blonde starlets).
The acting in this from him and Barrie is quite good and even Cleo is passable
in a pleasing way. You know she is supposed to be a bit nastier but I just
don't think she is capable of expressing that emotion on screen.
Pickup (1951) – 5/10
This was the first film that Hugo Haas produced and directed once he moved
into that role with a series of low budget noir-ish films in the 1950's.
This one certainly has the femme fatale in spades but only crawls up to sip
at the dark pool of noir before stepping back. It is almost as if in this
and One Girl's Confessions that he is just too nice to go that one step further
Haas's buxom blonde in this one is Beverly Michaels who didn't get far in
her career but developed a decent snarl that she uses like a sledge hammer
in this film. As Betty Horak she has a heart of sandpaper and contempt dripping
from her mouth like a leaky sink. She has nothing but wants a lot and the
only skill she has is using her assets to attract men like rats to sweet
smelling poison. She meets up with an elderly widower (Haas) who has just
lost his dog and replaces it with a stick of dynamite. She picks him up like
a bottle cap that no one wants from the floor. He should know better but
old men and young blondes is like leading a pig to the slaughter house. Once
she sees he has a whopping $7,300 in savings, she fuels up the jets and marries
him. But she is bored living out by the railway tracks and his young handsome
co-worker looks like easy pickings.
The films certainly looks to be treading in The Postman Always Rings Twice
territory but there are a couple nifty change-ups that make the film swerve
away from expectations. Again, for a low budget badly acted film (other than
Haas again) it isn't bad at all. Michaels can't act a lick but she has attitude
- the kind that drowns puppies in their sleep.
The Other Woman (1954) - 6.0
This Hugo Haas directed/produced film begins with Walter Darman (Hugo Haas)
behind bars - but as the camera pulls back the viewer realizes that this
is just a movie set and Darman is the director. But this is noir and jails
and bars always mean something ominous or symbolic. By the time of this film
in 1954 Haas had already produced six B crime films and must have been wondering
where this was going. When would he be recognized as a fine director? None
of them were more than fillers in double features - he always had to find
money and then a studio to release it. But he persisted. After having been
a very successful comic actor back in the homeland, this must have been frustrating
and it shows here in his barbed remarks about Hollywood. "Movies. Take a
handful of sex, mix in some violence, some comedy relief and a happy ending"
is what he is advised, but he wants more than that. His own films had the
sex, violence and comedy but rarely had the happy ending. This film is one
long crawl towards bleakness.
On the set, Darman needs someone to come in and deliver three lines and picks
out a blonde extra. But she is terrible and so he moves on to another actress.
He doesn't realize it but his life just hit a truck. The blonde feels slighted
and insulted and puts into action an intricate plan to bring him down. Her
psychotic malevolence is bubbling like a cauldron.Everything is thought out
- the poor damsel in distress act, the sympathetic face, the you were wild
last night false claim after she gave him a mickey. Slowly Darman is sucked
into a dark hole as he tries to keep this away from the wife he loves and
the father-in-law who produces his films. But she just keeps pulling him
further into her spider web. It doesn't matter that he is totally innocent
- fate just doesn't care.
The blonde is Haas's favorite - Cleo Moore - who appeared in seven of his
films. She is femme fatale catnip and even in her non-Haas films she shows
up in films with titles like Over-Exposed, Women's Prison, On Dangerous Ground
and The Pace That Thrills. She was a B blonde bombshell but a little rough
looking around the edges and the kind of girl that if you met her, you would
check your wallet the second she left. But Haas had a strange fascination
for her but you can't help but wonder how much better his films would have
been with a budget and better actors - but we will never know. In looking
for some information about Haas I discovered that he has a real fan base
out there - maybe more now then back when he was making these films.