Friday, April 2, 2010


Hugo Haas first came to my attention in The Psychotronic Encylcopedia of Film, in which Michael Weldon included quite a few of the movies starring and produced, written and directed by him. From the descriptions, he seemed an unlikely candidate for psychotronic status. The films were melodramas, it seemed, in which Haas often cast himself as a victim, a dupe or a cuckolded husband. He was obviously an auteur of some sort, and Weldon professed to be entertained by most of his movies, but it looked like Haas was in the book because he was a "bad" filmmaker on some level.

I finally saw my first Haas movie this week. One Girl's Confession stars his main muse Cleo Moore, and is one of three Moore movies in Sony Pictures Home Entertainment's Bad Girls of Film Noir Vol. 2 collection. Sony is pitching these films as camp, crediting Moore with "earnest, if stilted, portrayals of dim-witted gals who can't catch a break." The "can't catch a break" part promises at least a noirishness to her vehicles, and Confession arguably is a noir. Something doesn't quite seem right about it, though -- but see for yourself.

Haas meets his cheesecake quote straight away by opening with Moore in a swimsuit sunning herself on a soundstage beach. She rises from her reverie to resume her miserable job as Mary Adams, a waitress in a waterfront dive run by her late father's business partner, who she feels has conned her out of an inheritance. Sick and tired of it all, she conceives a master plan. She steals her boss's strongbox, which he keeps under his pillow, hides the money somewhere offscreen, and confesses her crime the moment the cops arrive. Her idea is that, so long as she never divulges the location of the money, she'll be able to recover it and keep it once she finishes her sentence.

It's a little unrealistic, I thought, for the law not to be constantly pressuring her to reveal where the money is, or for fellow prisoners not to try and find out from her. I'd think that they wouldn't even think of an early release until she shows them the money, but once she proves a model prisoner, away she goes. Back on the waterfront, she finds the old dive under new management. Determined to lie low and not make a quick move for the money, in case anyone's watching her, she goes back to work as a waitress for Dragomir Damitroff (Haas), a gregarious gambler of a man with hair that's somehow artificial (color or texture) and a girlfriend constantly trying to skim off his winnings. While she's more romantically attracted to fisherman Johnny (Glenn Langan),whom some suspect of being an undercover cop, Mary likes Dragomir, and when he loses his shirt and his business in an all-night card game, she decides to bail him out before a bad check bounces him to prison.

Hugo Haas counts his winnings as Ellen Stansbury in her only film role looks on. As a director, Haas makes a decent effort at composition in depth here and in reverse shots from Cleo Moore's table (background).
Here Cleo Moore enters the pantheon of dumb blondes. She has a secret stash of loot and wants to help out a boss who's proven himself reckless with money. Would you:

a) Go recover the loot and give Dragomir some of it
b) Give Dragomir directions and let him find it.

The movie won't go much further, alas, if your answer isn't (b). So off Dragomir goes while Mary anxiously waits out the night. He returns in the morning, dirty from digging -- without the money. He accuses her of changing her mind and somehow getting there ahead of him and moving the moolah. She denies this as he throws her out.

Understandably, Mary's perplexed. She's more perplexed when she goes back to the dive to find that Dragomir hasn't lost the place, but has abruptly decided to go on a long vacation after somehow striking it rich. He's staying at a swank hotel where he parties all day while Mary does a slow burn outside. At night, after his guests go home, she sneaks in and confronts him. Half-unconscious from booze, he wraps his arms around her neck and presses her head against his chest. It takes the careful application of a wine bottle to his skull to free her. The bottle doesn't break, but maybe his skull did. So Mary thinks as she flees the scene.

At last we see where Mary buried her money, and where Dragomir dug in vain. Will she find the money (there's a clue in a prison flashback)? What will she do with it? Pay for what she did to Dragomir? I leave these questions open because One Girl's Confession is a pretty entertaining film in spite of, or because of its laborious plot twists and reversals. Hugo Haas, on this small evidence, is a very manipulative moviemaker, determined to convince you of one thing and say "psyche!" the next. But I found him an amiable personality and a halfway decent actor in his own right, while Cleo Moore is endearing as one of film's most hapless femmes fatales. The film looks as good as it ever did, I suspect, and Haas's heavy reliance on loud music and voiceovers to cover Moore's emotive limitations only add to the film's charm. Its oddball narrative hints at an idiosyncrasy to Haas's work that may justify his place in the psychotronic canon after all.

Another example of nice Columbia title-card artwork. This one makes Cleo Moore look a littlemore fatale than she actually is.

1 comment:

Dana said...

Ellen Stansbury also used the stage name Helene Stanton, which was given to her by famed Hollywood columnist, Louella Parsons. Helene made several other films including The Big Combo and New Orleans Uncensored. Her first love was singing, so she continued performing on stage after her film career.