There's one suborned every minute.
Above is a poster for Bait, which is a sort of a b-movie version of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, but produced with half the budget and talent. Hugo Haas plays a man who made a gold strike two years ago, then got caught in a snowstorm, almost died, and hasn't had been able to locate the mine again. To accomplish this he takes on a partner played by John Agar. Meanwhile Cleo Moore plays a fallen townie woman Haas impulsively marries, and from that point onward the trio live together in a one-room mountain cabin. Haas has no intention of splitting the gold, and the close quarters lodging is all according to his master plan. It's unclear at first what that is, but we eventually find out: induce Agar and Moore into committing the then-crime of adultery so he can legally kill them. And you'll think: Isn't there an easier way not to share gold?
This flick is pure cheeseball stuff, with a cautionary introduction by the Devil himself (played by Cedric Hardwicke), and lots of sinister voiceover and greed sweats, but since it's one of seven collaborations between director/writer/star Haas and his muse Moore, for fans it's probably worth seeing. Objectively, however, though some of those collaborations managed to rise above their meager budgets and dubious scripts to result in entertaining films, this one doesn't. It's a bit like a bad high school play. Also, not a film noir, no matter what IMDB claims. The American Film Institute calls it a drama. Our recommendation: don't take the Bait. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1954.
What happens next could be great or terrible, depending on how well you distinguish subtle shades of color.
Since we just saw Cleo Moore why not bring her right back? Here she is on the front of Carter Brown's Slaughter in Satin, 1954, from the Australian publisher Horwitz. We've long documented this publisher's usage of minor celebrities on its covers, and pondered whether it was copyright infringement. What caught our eye about this example, besides Moore, was the typesetting. Notice how the “s” in the title disappears into Moore's red jammies, so at first glance it reads as, “Laughter in Satin,” which is almost an opposite outcome from slaughter, like the difference between being lain or slain. Probably when the book was first printed the two shades of red stood out from each other more. Or maybe this visual trick was intentional. Or maybe it was a miscalculation that couldn't be repaired. We'll never know. See the other Moore here, and see the celeb Horwitz covers by clicking here and scrolling.
American femme fatale turns up down Rio way.
Okay, let's try this again. Last week we posted this book and thought it had Peggy Cummins on the cover, but after having a short nap we awoke and saw that this was clearly not Cummins. Thanks for the e-mails, by the way, but we beat you to it. Hah! Anyway, you know by now one of our favorite ways to highlight Hollywood actresses is to note their usage on foreign paperback covers. This cool example from Brazil's Edições de Ouro was made for Irving Le Roy's Berlim: Os Pecados de Bárbara, and that's none other than Cleo Moore—not Peggy Cummins—having a smoke and a look around. The image comes from her classic 1953 film noir One Girl's Confession, a movie we talked about a while ago. This book was first published in France as Aventure Est-Ouest by Éditions Fleuve Noir in 1956, so it represents a cross-pollination of a different type—we've seen material move from the U.S. to many countries, but from France to Brazil is a new one for us. Le Roy, by the way, was aka Robert Georges Debeurre, and we've shown you one of his books before, here. The above image came from the Brazilian Facebook page we pointed out not long ago.
Moore than just another flash in the pan.
We've done a lot on b-movie femme fatale Cleo Moore. Above you see her getting a-level treatment on a stunning promo poster made in Italy for her 1956 hard luck drama Over-Exposed, which for its Italian run was called L'arma del ricatto, or “the weapon of blackmail.” This is a masterpiece. It was painted by Manfredo Acerbo, who also painted an iconic poster for Gilda we showed you a long while back. We've been neglectful in not digging up more from this guy. But we'll remedy that. There's no Italian release date for Over-Exposed, but it probably played there in mid-1957. You can read more about it here.
Oh, you want Moore? Well I've got plenty.
You often hear about how the 1950s was an era of “real” women. People who say this usually mean women had more normal body shapes—i.e. larger than today. As we've noted before, that was only partly true. Some of the biggest stars were Monroesque or Lorenesque (including Monroe and Loren, of course), but the trend also ran toward thinness. Think Hepburn and Linda Darnell. American actress and b-movie icon Cleo Moore, who you see in two nice shots above, was once rudely referred to as “well fed” by one publication. We can only imagine it annoyed the hell out of her. Something else that might have annoyed her is her real first name. Cleo was a shortened version of it. You're thinking Cleo something like patra, right? Well, she wasn't that lucky. It was Cleouna. Gee, thanks, mom and dad. See more Moore here and here.
They say the truth will set you free, but it'll send her to prison.
Written, directed, produced by, and co-starring Hugo Haas, One Girl's Confession is a morality play that ponders the role of fate in people's lives. Imagine a man leaving his house and stopping for a few moments to help a boy retrieve a ball. Ten minutes later a flower pot falls from a highrise balcony and crushes his skull. If he hadn't stopped to help the boy the pot would have missed him by ten feet. Terrible luck. But at his work that day there's a natural gas explosion, which would have killed him anyway.
That's the type of idea Haas plays with. He has Cleo Moore in the lead role as a woman who steals $25,000, wants to use the money to get ahead, but various metaphorical flower pots keep landing on her head. Maybe wealth just isn't in the cards. On the other hand, it's possible the fault, as they say, is not in her stars, but in her self. Helene Stanton plays a crucial support role, tipping the balance of fate at just the right moment, and Glenn Langan plays Moore's love interest.
One Girl's Confession is just a b-movie, but it manages to elevate itself above its ilk thanks to a charismatic lead performer. A seventy-four minute running time doesn't hurt either, as the curtain falls just before as central idea begins to wear thin. You probably have worse movies in your queue, so adding this one can't hurt. Maybe it'll help you avoid a flower pot. One Girl's Confession premiered in the U.S. today in 1953.
There was a thirty chinchilla wrap, but I bought one made of twenty chinchillas. We all need to cut back to save the planet.
Above is a beautiful color promo photo starring b-movie femme fatale Cleo Moore looking like a Christmas wish come to life. The image was made for her 1956 crime drama Over-Exposed. We talked about it. Shorter version—clumsily moralistic but pretty fun. You can peruse our thoughts in more detail here, and see more Moore here.
Cleo Moore tries to picture a better life.
The drama Over-Exposed came with the mighty cool promotional poster you see above, and we think it perfectly captures the amoral, tabloid-style themes of the film. Cleo Moore plays a woman at loose ends who meets a kindly photographer and decides to learn his trade. She quickly shows a talent for camera work, moves to New York City, and schemes her way into increasingly better jobs in pursuit of money and fame. She gets plenty of both, and also scores a gig as the house photographer at Club Coco, a mobster backed watering hole where she eventually lands in a big kettle of red hot trouble.
There are aspects of Over-Exposed that play differently now than they would have even a dozen years ago. Richard Crenna as her love interest is bummed to be taking more and more of a back seat as Moore climbs the ladder. This friction is portrayed sympathetically toward Crenna, with Moore shown to be losing her soul, but modern viewers might find this sexist, and point out that ambitious women are nearly always treated shabbily—both in vintage cinema and modern life. So in that sense there's unintended feminist tension to the movie that makes it more complex than you'd expect going in.
You'll see Over-Exposed labeled a film noir in many places, but it's one of those movies that mostly doesn't fit the brief. It isn't until the climax that it has the look and feel of noir. This wasn't uncommon—numerous old movies spent eighty minutes as pure drama before turning to noir stylings to spice up their finales. The Time To Kill, which we talked about a while ago, is a prime example. So is Over-Exposed a film noir? Ultimately, we think not, but when borrowing from the genre it does so better than most. An improbable but enjoyable flick, it premiered this month in 1956.
A textbook case of pianist envy leads to serious trouble.
This poster was made for Strange Fascination, a film put together by triple threat Hugo Haas, who wrote the screenplay, directed, and starred. It premiered this month in 1952. Plotwise a rich widow traveling in Europe meets a brilliant pianist who wants to leave the continent to get away from its “recent misfortunes.” She sponsors him and brings him to New York City, where he has immediate success, but his head is soon turned by platinum blonde showgirl Cleo Moore. She's got show business ambitions but no avenues, so she hitches herself to the rising pianist and proceeds to make his career go limp.
Hugo Haas headlined scores of movies and accumulated more than forty credits directing and writing, so Strange Fascination was no vanity project. In fact we suspect it was uniquely important to him because of its autobiographical elements. For instance, like the pianist he plays Haas left eastern Europe—Brno, Austria-Hungary, which is now part of the Czech Republic—and became respected in his chosen industry. And his given name was Pavel Haas, while his lead character here is named Paul, the Anglicization of Pavel.
In Strange Fascination Haas crafted a solid movie but don't let the online reviews fool you—it isn't film noir. These days any movie that's mid-century, black and white, and dramatic gets the noir stamp on crowd sourced websites like IMDB and Wikipedia. Strange Fascination contains bits of noir iconography, but films of the period have no choice about that—after all, rain falls even in musicals and neon signs occur even in comedies. Strange Fascination is really a straight melodrama. Go into this little b-movie with that expectation and it may prove satisfying.
So when I sign this I'm giving you permission to turn my life into an unrelenting hell?
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1938—Alicante Is Bombed
During the Spanish Civil War, a squadron of Italian bombers sent by fascist dictator Benito Mussolini to support the insurgent Spanish Nationalists, bombs the town of Alicante, killing more than three-hundred people. Although less remembered internationally than the infamous Nazi bombing of Guernica the previous year, the death toll in Alicante is similar, if not higher.
1977—Star Wars Opens
George Lucas's sci-fi epic Star Wars premiers in the Unites States to rave reviews and packed movie houses. Produced on a budget of $11 million, the film goes on to earn $460 million in the U.S. and $337 million overseas, while spawning a franchise that would eventually earn billions and make Lucas a Hollywood icon.
1930—Amy Johnson Flies from England to Australia
English aviatrix Amy Johnson lands in Darwin, Northern Territory, becoming the first woman to fly from England to Australia. She had departed from Croydon on May 5 and flown 11,000 miles to complete the feat. Her storied career ends in January 1941 when, while flying a secret mission for Britain, she either bails out into the Thames estuary and drowns, or is mistakenly shot down by British fighter planes. The facts of her death remain clouded today.
1934—Bonnie and Clyde Are Shot To Death
Outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, who traveled the central United States during the Great Depression robbing banks, stores and gas stations, are ambushed and shot to death in Louisiana by a posse of six law officers. Officially, the autopsy report lists seventeen separate entrance wounds on Barrow and twenty-six on Parker, including several head shots on each. So numerous are the bullet holes that an undertaker claims to have difficulty embalming the bodies because they won't hold the embalming fluid.
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