Friday, March 25, 2011
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 18, 2011
After the distress I was under I thought it would be choice to be around a lot of people at night and pick up some money at the same time. I went in for some night school modeling at Los Angeles Junior College. All I had to do was sit naked holding a stuffed raven while amateur artists and old codgers sketched away. Well, most of them did.
There was this one character in the back, not a day over 95 leering at me and pretending to be sketching, spending more time pinching his bait and tackle. Forty minutes into class, the instructor, Miss Summers finally let him know the jig was up when she picked up his sketch pad and said, “Henry, is this all you’ve done so far? Are you sure you’re here to draw?” I’ll tell you, Henry was sweating mildew, so mortified that after that he stuck to scrawling and less dinky dipping. Thanks, Teach!
Miss Summers spent most of the class strutting around inspecting everyone’s sketches and other half of the time pushing the stuck needle on a record player playing a very scratchy, battered copy of Edvard Grieg’s “Peer Gynt Suite”. The cold air in the class room made my nipples hard and pointy which made some of the men in the class sketch a little slower and scrutinize my pose a little carefully, like maybe too much. The things I do for money. What would Mister Bradley say?
“Henry, try touching the sketch pad more than your pants!” Everyone laughed.
After Miss Summers admonished him the funniest thing happened. The room slowly shook, tables rocked and the lights flickered for a moment. The older women started shrieking, especially this portly number, Mrs. Montgomery, a rich dame taking the class just “to keep busy”. Three cheers for art.
“Now, everyone, it’s just a mild earthquake, please stay seated!” Miss Summers wasn’t fooling anyone, she looked jittery after that shaker.
Mrs. Montgomery bleated, “I just remembered, I have a pressing engagement to attend to, I forgot about it, please forgive me, Miss Summers”, racing out of her stool, almost leaving her sketch pad behind.
“Oh hell", Miss Summers cussed, “Class dismissed!”
You never saw so many people file out of a class room so quickly after. Those clucks didn’t need to be told twice. I wrapped a smock over my cold body and quickly slipped on my heels. I always feel naked without them on. I lit up a cigarette and sat on a stool.
“Hey kid, you got an extra butt?” Miss Summers turned to me.
“Yeah, here ya go”, I lit her up.
“What a way to make a living. I’m trying to get a show together but I have to do this malarkey just to get by. If I had a rich guy I wouldn’t have to mess with these Sunday painters”.
“Look, Miss Summers, you seem okay so I’ll give you a number to a sculptor who makes good and can give you some square leads. His name’s Wechter, he’s a kook but if you tell him Miss Angelus sent you he’ll set you on the straight and narrow”.
“Gee, thanks, Lois, you’re alright”.
The evening was far from over. As I walked out towards the street I saw a galoot from art class, a heavy-set, sweaty cluck with thick glasses waiting in front smoking a cigarette, looking like he was waiting for me.
“Hi, what a coincidence, both of us from the same class, standing out here, which way are you headed?” he stammered nervously.
“Well, wherever you’re headed, I’m going the other way, see?”
“Gee, don’t be that way, I think you’re swell, you’re the stuff, you know what I mean?”
“Oh, Norman”, Miss Summers appeared from out of nowhere, “Don’t you ever give up? First me and now the model? Go home to your wife, she needs your help tucking the kids in to bed. Miss Angelus already knows how to get to bed!”
Norman turned beet red. Thanks again, Teach!
I walked down a few blocks, the streets getting increasingly quieter and darker. As I crossed the street I saw a seagull walking towards me, his beak open, waddling very slowly and carefully.
“Hey, little fella, aren’t you a long ways from the beach?”
The seagull waddled slowly some more and stopped.
“Wouldn’t you rather be feasting on some crab or lobster instead of hanging around the city?”
The bird looked up at me and waddled away. Funny.
There was only one cab waiting at the stand. It was weird. It was like he was just sitting there waiting for me. I got in and saw a very kind, old man behind the wheel, white haired, moustache, small and thin. I have to remember details better since my meeting with Lieutenant Sparta.
“Good evening, ma’am, where are we headed to tonight?”
“Hollywood and La Brea, please”.
“My favorite neighborhood, coming right up!” He klunked down his flag and sped off. I slumped down in my seat and stared up at the looming office buildings in the dark, some still lit up and some dark like ravens in the velvet draped night. I found myself drifting off to sleep until I felt a huge bump and the taxi began limping like a crippled horse.
“Well I’ll be hanged, of all the times to get a flat tire! In the middle of a fare, it couldn’t happen any other time”, he cursed and stopped the car. “I’ll get the tire fixed in no time, Miss”.
I got out of the car while Pops was changing the tire. I drifted a little further away than I thought, the hack's voice in the background imploring, “Don’t go too far, Miss, I’ll have this tire fixed in a jiffy! We’ll be on our way in no time!”
I turned the corner and wandered down the block, the hack’s voice getting fainter and fainter as I walked. The business street was dark and silent.
I walked by darkened shadows of telephone poles and power lines, bookends to the towering buildings with enormous windows of pebbled glass, latticed window frames, stenciled company names of varying shapes and sizes. I saw shadows of gargoyles looming above, making me nervous. Each building was larger and more gothic than the next, funny for a city that was draped in Spanish tile. Everything was closed and dark, from the diners to the gas stations to the drug stores. It was later than I thought.
I passed an alleyway and the quiet was broken by several footsteps and the sound of a man’s muffled screams. I leaned into a wall to get a better look at what I was hearing. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
A man dressed in an expensive suit was bound and gagged and being dragged down the alley by five men. The five men wore shabby farm clothes, overalls, work boots, filthy dungarees all wearing dirty, torn hats. They wore heavy gardener’s gloves, but the part that spooked me the most were their faces. They wore crudely marked up sack cloth masks with slanted eye holes and no mouths, just like scarecrows. My eyes widened at the sight of them.
“Dang, this bastard’s heavier than I thought!”
“Shit, these city people eat like pigs”.
“Let’s gut him like a hawg, Buff!” The bound businessman twisted and struggled against his bonds and moaned through the gag tied around his mouth.
“Nix, we hang him like we hung the others. I’m the boss, don’t fergit that!”
“He’s fat, he’ll hang really good!”
“Fergus, watch the street, see if the coast is clear”.
A cat knocked over a garbage can right by me, making the scarecrows turn in my direction. “What the hell’s that?”
I tiptoed slowly away from the direction they were looking at, almost home free until I tripped over a garbage can lid, falling flat on my face.
“I knew it! I knew it! There’s someone here!”
Getting up on my knees a scarecrow pulled me up by the arms and shoved me towards them.
“Damn, it’s a city woman. What do ya make of that?”
“These city folk are like rats, crawling around in the dark. Ya sure there aren’t some more crawling around here?”
“Nah, just this skinny Minnie”. I struggled but the man’s grip was too strong. He had my arms in a strange twist.
“Let’s have some fun with her, Shep”.
“Nah, she’s all skin and bones, this heifer’ll break like a twig before we even start”.
“Dang, ya cuss, we never have any fun”.
The head guy, Shep, walked over to me and drawled, “Now, Ma’am, you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. We’re gonna have to, like, marry you off. Do you know what a shotgun wedding is?”
Buff kicked me hard to answer. I wanted to scream but there was no one around for miles. “Yeah, I know”.
“We’re gonna marry you and Uncle Moneybags here. It’s gonna be a double wedding, both of you hanging from the tallest trees in Westlake Park!”
“What’s the matter, you run out of sailors to kill?”
“I knew it, I knew it, Shep, it’s that dame from the bar!”
“Shut up!” Shep yelled. “Okay, let’s go, enough patter!”
The scarecrow named Fergus lifted me up and pulled me over his shoulder, letting go of me long enough so I could pull a long, pearl tipped hat pin I had on my coat lapel. I twisted around him and shoved the hat pin straight into his mask, striking through what felt like the cartilage in his nose. Fergus screamed at the top of his lungs and fell to the ground on his knees. Just to make sure he’ll remember me I took my fist and punched the pin all the way through the mask, which was now soaked with blood, anguished screams tearing through it.
Another scarecrow ran over, breathing heavily and stopped me from running, lifting me up by my breasts. “Don’t you go away from me now! Whoo-ya!” he hooted.
“So you think you’re a scarecrow? Do you know what crows do best?” I yelled. I dug my fingernails through the eye sockets in his mask until I found eyeballs and tore my newly sharpened fingernails into them.
He screamed just like the last one and fell down, still screaming until I finally let go of his eyeballs. I think I struck some optical jelly because there was creamy mush in my fingers.
The scarecrow pulled off his mask to reveal a thin, stubbly face turning every shade of purple in the color wheel, his bloody eyes shut tight.
Shep and Buff, the other two scarecrows picked up their two partners and ran off. They had dropped the bound and gagged businessman who now lay still, and for good reason. He was dead, no doubt, from a heart attack. I took my heels off, undid his gag and bonds and pulled out a beauty mirror set to his face. No breath.
I limped over to a street light looking for a phone booth when Pops pulled up in his taxicab.
“Great Scott, where have you been? You look like you just fought off the Foreign Legion”.
“Worse. Scarecrows. Call the police before you take me home”. I didn’t tell him about the corpse. Let the police earn their money.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
It wasn’t quite breakfast time when I was already standing on a tiny platform at Paramount Studios, standing erect as pins were being jammed into the material of the fancy dress I was swathed in. The pins went in farther and farther, just barely missing the flesh of my arms, my hips and my thighs. If these pins come any closer I’m going to bleed over the fabric. Lois Angelus, Hollywood fit model was being treated more like a voodoo doll than a mannequin.
King Vivian, the costume designer for this picture told his assistant, “The seam on the waist needs to be pinned more to the right, otherwise we’ll have an unsightly pucker”, and “Pull out that pin and lower it half-an-inch lower”. The outfit being fitted was for a costume epic, “The Fall of The Roman Empire”. Warren William’s stand-in was waiting impatiently for his chance to be fitted, occasionally glaring at me, holding me personally responsible somehow for his long wait. As if moviegoers will spend more time looking at Warren William’s outfit instead of Constance Bennett’s. Well, too bad. Men’s costuming always came after women’s.
King Vivian consulted his design sketches the way an architect looks over his floor plan, glancing from the sketch to the assistants carefully pinning the material around me. “What do you think, Mr. Vivian?” a production assistant asked him.
“We have the wrong girl, she’s so tall and Miss Bennett is so short. Why did they send her here? We’ll just have to scale everything down. She’s got perfect legs, perfect breasts and the tiniest hips but not really the size we want. Oh well, we’ll just have to work with it”.
Warren William's stand-in began pacing in circles harrumphing and cartoon coughing, making his disgust quite vocal. King Vivian’s seamstress, a little Prussian woman finally ran up to him and yelled, “Go in other room and sit down – will call for you”. The stand-in looked visibly hurt!
I had a lunchtime date with my agent Miss Lillywhite, who promised to offer me moral support when I’ll go to the Hollywood Precinct station to report everything I know about my night with the late Darby Wells. Miss Lillywhite was a mystery to us models; nobody knew her first name or even knew if she was really a “Miss” or once a “Mrs.”. All we knew was that she was proud of her friendship with Hemingway, old Gertrude Stein and Picasso. She hated F. Scott Fitzgerald though, calling him an alcoholic cry-baby. “And what a pain in the ass that wife was! Even my models never gave me that much trouble!” Although she was getting fed up with Vi from Norway.
“We’ll call you next week for the Hepburn fitting”, King Vivian smiled before he dismissed me so he could deal with the William fitting.
I had time to kill so I walked down Hollywood Boulevard in my sunglasses, slowly perusing the penny arcade seductively inviting me. I walked into a cacophony of explosive sounds and flashing lights. There was Harry The Drunken Clown, laughing and dancing for you, Los Tres Mariachis, Mexican marionettes playing weepy music, old pinball games of chance, little peep show machines “French Dames Say Oui-Oui, Grown-Ups Only”, guys eyeing me and then looking into their peep scopes. The juke box in the corner was playing hot jazz very loudly, too loudly.
A fortune teller machine loomed above me with a huge mannequin of an exotic old gypsy witch with a veil and a deck of Tarot cards in front of her. Madame Hindou.
The sign above her head promised in large golden script, “MADAME HINDOU PEDICTS YOUR FATE AND FORTUNE FOR ONLY A NICKEL. DO YOU DARE TO LOOK DESTINY IN THE EYE? MADAME HINDOU TELLS ALL!”
I stood back and lowered my sunglasses to get a better look at her. “Okay, Madame Hindou, I guess it’s just you and me. Let’s both look destiny in the eye, shall we?”
I plunked down my hard-earned nickel (earned working for geniuses like King Vivian, thank you). The light above Madame Hindou’s head glowed and the theme from “Scheherazade” played, her eyes robotically blinked a few times, her wrinkled hands mechanically hovering around the cards below her, The Hanged Man, The Lovers, The Tower, Temperance and all the rest. In less than a minute a small ticket spat out of a slot below the fortune teller.
“The stairway to the stars is cloudy – be careful”. I frowned at this silly message, and spat, “Nuts!”
A woman laughed uproariously behind me. “Did you get taken for a nickel by that brazen gypsy? Well, serves you right!” Miss Lillywhite smiled. “Getting your advice from dummies now, are you? Well you know what they say about girls that do that, don’t you?”
I gave her a sheepish grin. “I was just killing time before our meeting at the police station”.
“Too late. It looks like you’ve already been robbed!”
“Psst!” Miss Lillywhite hissed. “Stop biting your nails!”
“Well, you won’t let me smoke!” I hissed back.
“You can smoke later, shhh! Here he comes!”
We were seated in Lieutenant Sparta’s office when he bounded over to his desk and plopped his burly frame down.
“Good afternoon ladies”, he shuffled a handful of paperwork, “You called in yesterday saying you had some inside information about the sailor that was found dead in the park a few miles away from a bar called….”
“…The Screen Test”.
“The Screen Test, yes, of course, okay, so tell me what you know”.
“Do we need a stenographer?”
“Not yet. I need to hear what you’ve got first, then we’ll see if it’s worth recording”.
“Oh, okay. Well, I met Darby Wells at The Screen Test, we had a few drinks and talked for awhile”.
“What time was this?”
“Around 9 pm, and –“
“How long were you with him?”
“Well, about half an hour, more like forty-five minutes, actually”.
“I see, Sailor Wells was found dead around midnight, so you left him about two hours before his body was discovered. Hmmmm, that’s not much to go on”.
He pulled out a pipe shaped like a bulldog, got a pouch of cherry-smelling tobacco on his desk and tamped some of it in the bowl of his pipe. I could tell he was starting to get bored.
“But it’s like this, Lt. Sparta, he seemed pretty agitated. I saw him argue with two guys at the bar before we talked, and he kept looking over at them like they were just staring at him all night”.
Sparta put his pipe down. “Now we’re getting somewhere. Did you get a look at these mugs?”
“Well, yes, but –“ I stammered, frozen and mute.
“- But? Yes??? Give me a description, hair color, eye color, were they thin, heavy set, something/anything?”
“I, uh, well, they were, uh-“
“Come on, Lois, try to remember”, Miss Lillywhite urged.
“Well, it’s hard. The club was so dark, and all I saw were shabby clothes…they were kind of thin…with their shabby clothes they looked like scarecrows”.
“Scarecrows? That’s it?”
“That’s what they reminded me of. Scarecrows”.
“Oh, I see”, he picked up his pipe and lit it. “Two scarecrows walk into a bar and then they kill a sailor much, much later”.
“I know it sounds crazy, but-“
“Well, it’s not much to go on. I’ll tell you what, we’ll send a detective down to The Screen Test to check things out. Leave your address with my secretary and he’ll probably want to talk to you, too”. He waved us away. I was so mad I could have kicked him. I’d like to see him identify two skinny bums in a dark bar sometime, the big oaf. Damn his fat ass.
Miss Lillywhite felt bad for me so she treated me to a phosphate at the Rexall Drugs soda fountain. I felt like a kid getting consoled after playing a bum piano recital at the Third Grade Talent Show. Damn it.
“Drink up, dear, Picasso loved Cherry Phosphates, now you’ll have something in common with him”.
“After that abstract deposition we have a few things in common”.
“Well, maybe you’ll remember a few more details later on. Don’t be so hard on yourself”.
“Did you see the way he waved us off? I could have kicked his big bu-“
“I get the picture, child, you don’t need to elaborate. Never forget you’re a lady”.
“Let’s go, I can’t drink this stuff, it’ll burn a hole through my stomach”.
She paid up and we walked through the cosmetics counter giggling over the cheap grease the store was pawning off to the customers as serious beauty product. I turned around, and crashed right into an elderly, tall man with the largest head, barely supported by his incredibly thin frame. A short woman as old as him was holding his arm tightly.
“Oops, sorry”, I said, my eyes widening at the sight of this strange, dapper man.
“No, please excuse us”, the small woman said, smiling gently.
“A sunflower that talks, Maria, amazing. Most extraordinary!” The Tall Man beamed broadly, staring at me happily. “Why her hair, so yellow, so tall, it’s a human sunflower”.
“I know who you are”, Miss Lillywhite stepped up, “You’re Augustus Scrimm, the famous English writer”.
“You have to excuse Augustus, he’s conducting a social experiment. He’s studying social patterns in Hollywood utilizing ancient tribal minerals”.
“Oh! My! How fascinating! I must tell Miss Stein, she will find this most stimulating! Is it marijuana?”
“No, rather it’s flora from the desert of the New Mexico natives”.
“I can feel sounds, car horns sounds so lovely, but the loveliest sight of all is this tall, beautiful sunflower”.
“Thank you, Mr. Scrimm! You’re too kind.”
“May I touch your blonde petals?”
“He means your hair, dear”.
“Oh, uh, okay, but just the hair”, I giggled.
His eyes had a glaze over them, he squinted hard, and then gently touched my hair, fondling each strand as if they all had a separate personality.
“The flower petals are talking to me, they’re sending me a message”.
“Oh, yeah, I’ll bite, what are they saying?”
“Oh my…the stairway to the stars is cloudy. Please, please be careful!”
I ran out of the drug store screaming.
Friday, March 4, 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: