Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Pickup (1951) Low Budget Noir

The "foreign Ed Wood," of Film Noir.

Hugo Haas was a big comic star in pre-WWII Czechoslovakian films during the thirties. He also delved into writing and directing. He fled, like many who could, the rise of Third Reich. Ending up in Hollywood he at first helped to narrate propaganda films and to broadcast to the Eastern European underground resistance fighters. He also took on bit parts in many costume dramas frequently playing the villain. With that money he  began to independently produce, direct, write and star in low budget films, many of them quite noir-ish and dubbed "Fate and Irony" films.

Pickup (1951), Strange Fascination (1952), Thy Neighbor's Wife (1953),  Bait (1954), The Other Woman (1954), Edge of Hell (1956), and Hit and Run (1957) all have shoestring budgets and cheap production values.

Southern Pacific RR

The Professor (Chamberlain) and Jan (Haas)
The film was lensed by cinematographer Paul Ivano (The Shanghai Gesture (1941), Black Angel (1946), The Gangster (1947), the music was by Harold Byrns.

The film stars Hugo Haas as Jan 'Hunky' Horak, Beverly Michaels (Wicked Woman (1953), Betrayed Women (1955)) as Betty Horak, Allan Nixon (Dragnet (1947)), as Steve Kowalski, Howland Chamberlain (Force of Evil (1948), Thieves' Highway (1949), House by the River (1950), Edge of Doom (1950), No Questions Asked (1951), The Racket (1951), The Big Night (1951), Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)) as 'The Professor', a tramp, Jo-Carroll Dennison as Irma, Betty's friend, and Bernard Gorcey as the Peddler with Dog. Gorcey appeared in 55 movies, 44 of them Bowery Boys films with his sons Leo and David, Bernard always played the part of Louie Dumbrowsky the owner of Louie's Sweet Shop (at 3rd Ave (actually The Bowery), and & Canal St.).

Jan Horak (Haas) is a railroad section man a "track-walker." He maintains daily, a section of track that includes signals, a water tank, a tunnel and a bridge. Washouts, rockfalls, broken track, watching for hot boxes on passing trains etc., etc., are part of his daily routine. The Tank 47 section house is miles out of town on a desolate section of track. Jan's wife died two years ago, his dog a few days ago. His only human companions at the section house are a hobo/tramp The Professor (Chamberlain), and the various personnel of the train crews that take siding or stop for water.

Haas and Gorcey
The Professor suggests that he can steal Jan a new dog. Jan insists on buying one at the local carnival. A dog vendor carny (Gorcey) wants too much money. Jan passes on the puppy.

Betty (Michaels)

We next see floozy Betty (Michaels) who is pretty much a small time B-Girl/ hooker down to her last dime. She is riding side saddle on a merry-go-round displaying a fair amount of legs to an audience of gawkers. Betty spots Jan sitting at a outdoor carny food stand. Jan is picked up by Betty who practically has to use a cattle prod to do it. She figures that something is better than nothing and she seduces Jan. Betty is after the 7,000 dollars Jan has in his bank account. After they marry, Betty begins working on Jan's days off substitute Steve Kowalski (Nixon).

Betty and Steve (Nixon)
Jan one day while walking the tracks suffers a sudden hearing loss. The loss is aurally displayed by Haas to the audience stylistically as a tonal sound until fading into complete silence. Because of his disability Betty convinces Jan to try and take an early retirement from the railroad, and get out of the middle of nowhere.

Hearing loss

no sound

I can't hear!
While Jan is deaf, Betty begins to seduce Steve. Steve is now sleeping in a railroad shanty across from the section house. He is in training to take over the section when Jan retires. Betty sneaks out of the house while Jan is sleeping to play hide the sausage with Steve.

On a routine trip to the railroad doctor with The Professor driving, Jan accidentally steps out in front of car and is knocked to the ground. His hearing returns but he really wants to make Betty happy and move to town. When he goes into the division to get his retirement he does not reveal that his hearing is restored. It all goes Noirsville when Jan gets home and overhears Betty and Steve plotting against him.


section house

The film is an interesting piece of "every-man" film noir, there are no detectives or gun battles, heists, murders, etc., etc. Michaels is a very low rent femme fatale, Haas plays a schmo. I chuckle every time I see her with a tar bar dangling from her lower lip. Chamberlain is good as the intellectual tramp, he is a sort of sounding board and adviser to Jan. This Haas character is a sort of blueprint for his next Noirs to come. In a recurring theme he always plays the lonely older man seduced by younger blond floozies. In a succession of films he plays against besides Beverly Michaels, Cleo Moore, and Carol Morris.

"Czech historian/journalist Pavel Taussig perceptively analyzed these films thus-ly: "Most of the characters he played later on were old men who were all alone and who nobody was interested in. These characters usually fell for a younger woman, but their love would invariably turn out to be nothing but a false illusion and they quickly ended up having to face the harsh reality of their situation. These scenarios pretty much tied in with Haas' own personal feelings about living abroad and the melancholy of his exile."" from IMDb Mini Biography By: Larry Cohn

The only other director-writer-actors working in the 1950s were Samuel Fuller, and Orson Welles.

Café au lait Noir 6/10 Screen caps are from a copy of a "Scream" release/airing (honestly don't know which) from online streaming service.