Friday, February 08, 2013

NOIR CITY 11: THE OTHER WOMAN (1954)—Eddie Muller Introduction

"Who doesn't love a bad girl?" Bill Arney—the "Voice of Noir"—asked his Thursday night Noir City audience, "even when there's a hell of a price to pay? Have you really lived if you haven't lost your heart, your mind and your pocketbook to a bad girl?"

When Eddie Muller asked Miss Noir City Audra Wolfmann if she had a definition for "bad girl", Audra arched her eyebrow and retorted, "Men! You can't live with them and you can't skin them and make expensive handbags."

Muller was thrilled to introduce Hugo Haas' The Other Woman (1954) because of its pristine 35mm print, courtesy of Schawn Belston and 20th Century Fox. Belston wasn't even sure if the print had ever been through a projector. As fortunate as that was for Noir City, it reflected sadly, if indirectly, on the troubles Hugo Haas had with distribution. "Bad Girls" night at Noir City has, in recent years, become Hugo Haas night. Haas, in effect, made a career out of bad girl movies. He was a poor man's Orson Welles; a Czechoslovakian émigré who came to the United States, primarily as an actor who had a great theatrical background in Czechoslovakia, but who soon discovered when he came to Hollywood that the way to make it was to control his own product, so he would produce, write, direct and star in his own movies. "He made the same movie over and over and over," Muller joked. "They were all derivations of The Blue Angel in some way, in which a middle-aged Czechoslovakian émigré was tortured and browbeaten by some buxom, blonde bombshell. Not a bad way to make a living, I suppose. As long as he didn't spend too much money, they let him keep making the same movie."

Obviously, in the 1950s, Haas was relegated to the scrap heap—he was tasteless and no good—but, actually, his films have a lot of merit to them. They are a subset of noir and, thereby, have achieved status as a fascinating footnote in film history. The Other Woman is of particular interest because—not only was it perfect for "Bad Girls" night—but, it could easily have been slotted as the bookend to Sunset Blvd. on Noir City's program of Showbiz Noir. The Other Woman is about a director courting deals in Hollywood and the tragedy of his own making in many ways.

Of related interest is the off-the-presses publication of the fifth edition of the Noir City Annual, wherein Milan Hain has contributed a sympathetic profile of Hugo Haas. There is enthusiasm in (the former) Czechoslovakia regarding Hugo Haas being rediscovered in the U.S. and his films resurrected, primarily through Noir City festivals. This has led to a renewed appreciation of his work in his homeland. In his essay, Hain argues eloquently: "Haas was always working in the interstices between Czechoslovakia and the USA; between the center (as actor in the 1940s) and the edges of the Hollywood film industry (as producer/director in the 1950s); between dependence (on distributors and audiences) and independence; between entertainment and serious art; between fiction and autobiography; between ambition and reality. Those hybrid qualities made his work obscure and easy to dismiss. A reexamination of his work reveals, however, that these very qualities are what make Haas' films rich, interesting, and worthy of our attention as objects of both entertainment and serious study. While he is clearly not Fritz Lang or Billy Wilder, Hugo Haas was much more than a B-movie hack. In his haunted, often shambling way, he is proof that at least a portion of the auteur theory is a valid lens for examining film production." (Noir City Annual, 2013:104)

As for The Other Woman, Hain writes: "The Other Woman is Haas' most ambitious film, with many themes and motifs mirroring his own career: life in exile characterized by disillusionment and entrapment, loss of one's identity and social status, hopeless struggle with the Hollywood machinery, and the impossibility of fully realizing one's artistic visions." (Noir City Annual, 2013:101)

Cleo Moore has, perhaps, never looked so delectably curvaceous in outfits that emphasize her hourglass figure, captured affectionately by cinematographer Eddie Fitzgerald. Readers of The Evening Class might recall my earlier appreciation of "The Queen of the B-Movie Bad Girls" from Noir City 8, accompanied by a magazine rack gallery, and her swimsuit collection. Recently, watching Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty) bid for the role of Marilyn Monroe in the T.V. series Smash, it occurred to me she would be perfectly cast in a biopic on Cleo Moore. I can dream, can't I?

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