Friday, March 25, 2011

Cheapie Noir Czech Hugo Haas

Before the advent of cable TV, satellite TV and any other form of video entertainment the only way you could catch low-budget B-films and other cinematic obscurities was on The Late, Late Show, usually accessed on a local television channel every night after 2 am. It was a filmic No Man's Land of weird comedies, poorly dubbed foreign films (gladiators are standing by), and ultra-low budget noir movies. This is the universe that Actor-Producer-Director Hugo Haas inhabited.

Hugo Haas, Czech exile from the Nazi menace that destroyed Europe, came to the United States in 1940 playing Slavic Counts, Professors, Concert Pianists and even sidekicks in adventure films like "The Fighting Kentuckian" and "The Princess and The Pirate". By 1950 he turned to producing and directing a string of noir vehicles usually starring himself and boxy battleship blonde Cleo Moore.

While some people have quipped that "Once you've seen one Hugo Haas film, you've seen them all", I think they're being a little too harsh on the guy. I will say this, if you like James M. Cain's "Postman Always Rings Twice" you know the triad. Haas is the nice Slavic gas station/cafe owner/working stiff married to the conniving cheap blonde dying to bust out of her dreary surroundings (Cleo), and the hot young stud with the monkey wrench in his mitt aimed at the back of Haas' skull (a revolving cast of studs: John Agar, Vince Edwards, etc.). Haas riffs on "Postman Always Rings Twice" with enough clever variations so you don't mind the redundancy. Besides, in two films the wife is played by Beverly Michaels, no slouch in the golddigger department.

While I haven't seen every Haas movie ever made, the following is a list of the ones I have, most of them recommended:

Hit And Run (1957): Hugo runs a creepy auto-salvage yard symbolizing his ramshackle existence in a new country he's too unhip to fit into, meets cheap showgirl Cleo Moore who sizes up his assets and marries him. Vince Edwards recalls his role as the philandering hipster creep from "The Killing" by scheming with Haas' wife Cleo Moore in killing hubby (Hugo). They run him over on a darkened road, but to their horror receive a visit from Haas' twin brother...or is he??? Dolores Reed stops the show as a lusty lion tamer.

Strange Fascination (1952): Pretty dull affair where Haas plays a concert pianist who chases after a nightclub dancer (Cleo), one of the thickest I've seen since The Velvet Hammer in their heyday. The sets are over dressed and there isn't enough tension to make this a noir. It's more like a bad melodrama than anything.

One Girl's Confession (1953): The only Haas movie available on DVD and for good reason; it's the best Cleo performance I've seen. She plays a waterfront waitress who embezzles a big bundle from her father's ex-partner and hides the swag in the woods. Once she's freed from prison she gets a job working for hard-drinking and harder-gambling Hugo at his cafe. Sending him out to get her loot after losing his ass at cards, she assumes he ran off with her money and kills him. This movie has some dream-like images regarding redemption employing images of a Nun's Orphanage and the Pacific Ocean.

Bait (1954): This one is so Z-budget it looks like a Shemp-period Three Stooges short. Too bad it also has John Agar, Cedric Hardwicke(!) and Bruno Vesoto in it. There's a lot of hurly burly going on about gold mines, prospecting in the desert and Cleo being used as bait to exploit Agar. Slow and one-dimensional.

Pickup (1951): Haas is a station agent for the railroads and bags cheap Beverly Michaels who thinks he's got a fortune stashed away in the desert. Alan Nixon is his young assistant and Michaels races after him for some lust and larceny, plotting on the killing of Haas, discussing it out loud in front of him because he's lost his hearing with the most intense case of tinnitus in the history of the cinema. The movie also has a beatnik hobo buddy called The Professor. This is one of Hugo's best and reminded me a lot of pulpy Jim Thompson novels.

After his string of noir classics he made "Lizzie", a "Three Faces of Eve" type multiple-disorder movie, a detention girl film (1959) and three years later made his last film which starred Marie Windsor, Chester Conklin, Corrine Griffiths and a few other silent film stars.

While his movies weren't the kind to compete with Billy Wilder or Robert Siodmak noirs, there's an awesome dime-store crime novel vibe to all his films that makes them irresistable. Haas films are fun no matter how sleazy and its high time for a serious revival of these back door Late, Late, Late Show classics.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Fash Flash 2011

A lot has been happening on both the creative front and the retail front regarding fashion. Among the new creations is a terrific vintage silk charmeuse star shirt, which along with my striped tank top completes a great flag fetish look. Other creations have included a great pair of denim jeans with leather trim and belt loops, striped slacks with leather waistband and other inspired-cum-offbeat material combinations.

In addition to buying more Fluevog shoes I've gotten into a great shomeaker from England called H By Hudson. Some of their shoes can be purchased through Urban Outfitters online, among others, and they have their own site. Beware, some of their styles won't be sold to the United States, though, so hit up that cool Canadian friend if you can. :)

There has never been a better time to buy great mens fashions online at terrific prices, and I'll be happy to share some of these great sites with you. The two most popular at the present time are both exports from England, ASOS and Topman. I've bought a great cowl neck top ($65) and a beautiful pair of red metallic skinny pants ($37) from ASOS, and they design their own stuff as well as sell other designers. Topman is totally on the cutting edge of mens fashions, cost a wee bit more, but still dead cheap. I like their suit and coat selections, not as wild as Burbery Prorsum but definitely getting there.

Other great fashions sites for men:
Shopstyle - Not a designer per se, but a great shopping resource for men.

YOOX - Same as Shopstyle, a little pricey but no stone's left unturned in mens selections.

Everyguyed - More help than GQ at giving out good fashion advice in all things mens style, from formal clothes to grooming to what the proper cologne to wear morning, noon or night.

There's also sites like Polyvore which is more geared towards the ladies (there are ladies sections at ASOS and Yoox, too), but if you dig deep into the site you'll find a few cool mens items there, too.

The three best mens style magazines to follow are Essential Homme, VMan and W Menswear Magazine, all published quarterly. They keep you up to date on all the best designers like Simon Spurr, Paul Smith, Rick Owens, Andrew Buckler, John Varvatos, and the larger houses (Hugo Boss, Burberry, Calvin Klein, etc).

On the shopping front now is a good time to check out H&M since Lanvin's top mens designer is designing great things there. The quality of the pieces are surprisingly better than usual. I also recommend getting a few sunglasses from Oliver Peoples, who I think is the best eyewear designer for men. His frames and colored lenses are always exciting and fresh!

New designs in the works: more multi-material pants and way-out shirting. I'll post a progress report in the months to come. I leave you with my favorite pair of Fluevog boots: