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 in 1968.

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 into blackness.

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.