Hugo Haas and PICKUP: an old fool and his young blonde…

Beverly Michaels and Hugo Haas in PICKUP
Beverly Michaels and Hugo Haas in PICKUP

In Pickup, a lively and cynical low budget indie from 1951,  the writer/director Hugo Haas stars as the middle aged sap in the thrall of a young hottie (Beverly Michaels).  He’s putty in her hands, but she’s really just trying to take him for everything he’s worth.

After Pickup, Haas essentially remade it six more times in the 1950s, mostly with Cleo Moore as the femme fataleThe Girl on the Bridge, Strange Fascination, One Girl’s Confession, Bait, The Other Woman and Hit and Run.  Haas was absolutely free of vanity, and happily portrayed unattractive, foolish, pathetic and victimized men in all these movies.  In every one, the younger woman is blonde and CURVY and seeks to take his money, cuckold him and/or worse.  (The plot in One Girl’s Confession varies slightly in that he’s her boss, not her husband, and that there’s a misunderstanding as well as straight-ahead greed).

Two things make Pickup an absolute howl. First, Haas’s character loses his hearing; when he unexpectedly recovers his hearing, he doesn’t let on that he can hear his trashy young wife and her beau plot to kill him for his money. Second, Beverly Michaels plays the femme fatale so broadly, creating one of the most unashamedly selfish characters in screen history – a floozy totally devoid of empathy. Only Ann Savage in Detour was a nastier noir villainess.

Fleeing from the Nazis, Haas left what is now the Czech Republic and re-invented himself as that rarity in 1950s Hollywood – an independent filmmaker.  He wrote, produced, directed and starred in all of his Bad Girl noirs.  These movies also all feature the same wry humor.  Haas didn’t take himself or these movies too seriously, and they’re pretty funny.

Haas finally got to directed an adapted novel with big stars in 1957. Lizzie was an Eleanor Parker vehicle with a sensationalistic multiple-personalty story (one of the personalities, of course, was a murderous nympho).  Lizzie also featured Richard Boone, a 51-year-old Joan Blondell and a 29-year-old Marian Ross.   Johnny Mathis has a cameo, and Haas himself plays a supporting role.  Lizzie’s trailer can be viewed on the Turner Classic Movies website.

Haas films are hard to find.  I’ve seen several at the glorious Noir City film festival in San Francisco.  Bootlegged versions of Pickup, The Other Woman and Hit and Run can be found in their entirety on YouTube.

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