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Hugo Haas Poster

Biography

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Overview (2)

Date of Birth 18 February 1901Brünn, Moravia, Austria-Hungary [now Brno, Czech Republic]
Date of Death 1 December 1968Vienna, Austria  (complications of asthma)

Mini Bio (2)

A portly, somewhat grubby and bohemian-looking character star, Hugo Haas was one of the most celebrated Czech actors back in the 30s, a comic star who only grew in stature as he delved creatively into writing, directing and producing. The Nazi invasion forced him to leave his beloved country and come to the United States. Like a fish out of water, he had to start small. Beginning as an announcer on US broadcasts to the Eastern Europe underground, he also offered his talents as a narrator of propaganda films.

After the war, Haas revitalized his acting career with flashy, thick-accented support roles, often as a slick, seedy villain in lavish costumers. He enjoyed a certain amount of popularity and with the money he made, he began financing his own independent films in the 50s, taking total creative control with almost a Svengali-like obsession.

This time around, however, there was little of the adulation he had reaped so easily back in his homeland. With such lurid titles as Pickup (1951), Thy Neighbor's Wife (1953), and Bait (1954), these vehicles smacked hard of sensationalism and he and his films were generally dismissed. Many were badly acted and obviously cheap and cheesy in production values. A recurring "Blue Angel"-styled theme appeared in many of Hugo's starring vehicle whereas an older respectable man was seduced and ruined by the charms of a much younger hussy (blonde, busty bombshells such as Cleo Moore, Beverly Michaels, and (former "Miss Universe") Carol Morris.

Haas' reputation was so tainted by these so-called vanity projects that he was quickly dubbed the "foreign Ed Wood", which was unfair given his earlier reputation. Haas was planning to return to his native land in 1968 when the Russians seized control. Profoundly disheartened and depressed by the current state of affairs in his country, the homesick actor, who also suffered from an asthmatic condition, died shortly after of heart failure. He should be better remembered today than he is. He is solid proof that Hollywood has a way of sometimes robbing a person of his artistic creativity or integrity.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Gary Brumburgh / gr-home@pacbell.net

After opposing, then ultimately fleeing the Nazis during the 1930s, Czech actor/director Hugo Haas was one of the European émigrés who invigorated Hollywood filmmaking during the postwar decades, making a name for himself as a character actor and acting teacher, but ultimately failing in his goal to re-establish his career as a major director in America.

Born to Jewish parents (his father a shoemaker), in Brünn (now Brno, Czech Republic), on Feb. 18, 1901, during the 1930s he became a star of Prague's National Theater and one of the most successful and critically acclaimed local film comedians/directors in movies he also wrote, such as the hit Ulicka v ráji (1936). In 1937 his adaptation of the Karel Capek play Skeleton on Horseback (1937) (aka "Skeleton on Horseback") was released to international acclaim. This fable about a ruthless dictatorship and a "white disease" spreading across Europe was a thinly disguised attack on the Nazi regime in Germany, analogous to Charles Chaplin's later satirical approach in The Great Dictator (1940). As Adolf Hitler's armies marched into the Sudetenland in 1938, Haas fled his native land. Arriving in America several years later, like a host of other talented Europeans including Felix Bressart, Vladimir Sokoloff and Sig Ruman, Haas began to get noticed in a number of distinctive character roles. His brother, composer Pavel Haas (who scored three of Hugo's films), was unable to escape and died at Auschwitz in 1944, a victim of the Nazis.

During WW II he co-starred in a film noir by fellow émigré Gustav Machatý, Jealousy (1945), and after the war worked regularly for MGM, Fox, Universal and Republic, getting juicy roles in The Private Affairs of Bel Ami (1947) and My Girl Tisa (1948), a sentimental vehicle for Lilli Palmer that had a rare screen appearance by legendary acting teacher Stella Adler. Haas also appeared in a short film adaptation by Joseph Losey of Bertolt Brecht's play "Galileo": Leben des Galilei (1947) starring Charles Laughton in his famous stage role. The peak of Haas' Hollywood acting career came with the release of MGM's big-budget remake of H. Rider Haggard's adventure staple King Solomon's Mines (1950). During this period he became a respected acting teacher in Hollywood, with students such as Gregory Peck benefiting from Haas' experience.

While the films made during Haas' heyday in the 1930s are still revived on television back home in the Czech Republic, his pioneering work in the 1950s as a unique hyphenate in Tinseltown has been generally forgotten or misunderstood. One of many European refugees unable to get assignments as a director in Hollywood, he bootstrapped himself back into the helmer's chair by becoming an autonomous independent producer, cranking out low-budget exploitation second features for distribution by nearly all of the major studios. His model was renaissance man Sacha Guitry, who had been writer/producer/director/star of dozens of films in France but who had kept working during the Occupation (ultimately tarnishing his reputation). During the '50s the only American doing what Haas was up to was Orson Welles, but Welles worked as an independent, unable to get major studio backing until his comeback classic of Touch of Evil (1958) for Universal. Minus the acting hat, Samuel Fuller was another notable triple-threat hyphenate making low-budget films during this period.

Most of Haas' work was in the film noir vein. Czech historian/journalist Pavel Taussig perceptively analyzed these films thusly: "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."

Haas gave breakthrough starring roles to starlets Beverly Michaels and Cleo Moore in these movies. Michaels later starred for her husband Russell Rouse in the minor classic Wicked Woman (1953), a film heavily influenced by her work with Haas and featuring a memorable turn by Percy Helton in the role normally reserved for Haas. Both Haas and Rouse often used the same cameraman, Eddie Fitzgerald. Moore ended up making seven films for Haas, while also working twice with similarly independent filmmaker Ida Lupino, but was never able to move on from her B movie origins to bigger projects.

The prototypical Haas/Moore film is The Other Woman (1954), in which Haas plays a movie director involved in a love triangle, who uses many moviecentric devices in order to commit "the perfect crime", including wearing the familiar white editor's gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints and constructing a film loop whose ever-repeating sound furnishes him with an alibi. This film-within-a-film effort even explicitly satirized the meager budget Haas was working with, and stands as a good introduction to his oeuvre.

Better-known titles from this period are Bait (1954) and Pickup (1951), the latter nominated by the Writers Guild of America in the (unfortunately no longer extant) category "Best Written American Low-Budget Film" for Haas' script, co-written with Arnold Lipp. Notably Haas employed some legendary Hollywood talent behind the camera, such as a cinematographer who had worked with Josef von Sternberg on The Shanghai Gesture (1941) and Erich von Stroheim on Greed (1924) and Queen Kelly (1929): Paul Ivano. Ivano photographed seven of Haas' movies, culminating in Lizzie (1957). That film, competitive with The Three Faces of Eve (1957) in the multiple-personalities sweepstakes, featured a notable Eleanor Parker performance and was the closest director Haas ever got to the big time, being an MGM release from Kirk Douglas' Bryna Productions, which Haas did not write or produce.

Towards the end of the '50s the inevitable decline of the B movie at the major studios put Haas out of business, and he ended his directing career working for independent producers, notably Albert Zugsmith for MGM with Night of the Quarter Moon (1959), a sensationalist Julie London vehicle about intermarriage. His final 1959 production "Stars in Your Backyard", failed to get distribution, finally released three years later as Paradise Alley (1962). This swan song was one of his most personal (and bitterest) films, about a European director who tries to cheer up his similarly retired industry veterans in the neighborhood by a project to "let's make our own film", only to betray them when they find out there's been no film in the camera all along. A similar indie production, Man in the Chair (2007) starring Christopher Plummer in the choice title role (and ironically themed to Orson Welles), sadly met a similar fate when its December 2007 launch in time for a deserved Plummer Oscar push failed to generate the hoped-for interest or bookings.

In the 1960s most of Haas' '50s films were revived in TV syndication packages (minus the 20th Century-Fox titles), bringing his work to a new audience. Ironically, in the current video era he has been almost completely forgotten, a victim of "falling between the cracks". While many directors' work released by indie distributors has become readily available via VHS and DVD reissues, the major studios are loath to revive their B movies in any form. A young generation to whom international low-budget helmers ranging from Joseph W. Sarno and Edward D. Wood Jr. to Jess Franco and Joe D'Amato have become household names, has never seen Haas' output, waiting in the vaults for some future reassessment.

He returned to Europe, taking up residence in Vienna in 1961, and worked there for Austrian TV. He died in December 1968, several months after the Russian invasion of his homeland, and is buried at the Jewish Cemetery in Brno.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Larry Cohn (qv's & corrections by A. Nonymous)

Spouse (1)

Maria Bibikov (27 September 1938 - ?) (divorced) (1 child)

Trivia (1)

Brother of composer Pavel Haas.

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