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The movie BAIT is remembered, if for anything, for Cleo Moore's
"kissing" incident while on a promo tour for the film. While being
interviewed on live television in Chicago, the host quizzed Cleo about
movie kisses and the subject somehow got around to how short they
usually are. The host (no fool he!!) then suggested to Cleo that they
go for a record smooch over live television to which the always
publicity savvy La Moore agreed and they enjoyed a fairly chaste smooch
that ran for several minutes and made national headlines. Too bad the
film Cleo was promoting was not as interesting. BAIT is definitely not
one of the better Cleo Moore/Hugo Haas collaborations and undoubtedly
quite a few fans of the blonde sex-bomb will not be pleased to see she
spends quite a bit of the film with her hair up and wearing jeans and a
non-tucked in flannel shirt, not exactly pinup glamour. The movie does
have it's moments though, notably the intriguing introduction by Sir
Cleo stars as a cashier in a little dump of a mom-and-pop store, despised because she is an apparently unwed mother. Nasty old gold prospector Hugo Haas looks on her as trash but his partner John Agar is clearly attracted to the luckless blonde. When the men actually discover gold, greedy Haas tries to think of a way to have it all for himself and decides to marry Cleo, certain that in their secluded corner of the world Agar won't be able to resist Cleo's sex appeal, thus allowing Haas to shoot and kill him and get away with it via "the unwritten law".
The best thing about the film is the natural chemistry between Cleo Moore and John Agar. Hugo Haas makes a much better villain than sympathetic leading man so he's well cast and gives a good performance although his direction is generally uninspired. This one used to play on late shows in the 1980's fairly often but is somewhat elusive in recent years, hopefully Sony will be releasing it in their custom line of "made to order" titles following their recent success of the boxed set of "bad girls" mostly starring Cleo Moore.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Renowned for frequently casting himself as aging innocents seduced and
destroyed by conniving younger women, Haas slightly alters the formula
here by casting himself as the aging schemer who uses a young tart as
"bait" for his gold mining pardner in a decidedly convoluted scheme.
Part TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE, part romantic tragicomedy, and all
cheese, BAIT has to be one of the weaker neo noir films in the canon.
Without delving too deeply, the nonsensical plot implodes early and often under the weight of illogical motivations, misguided interactions and a trio of miscast leads. Haas' unlikely sham quickie marriage to a girl his partner likes is the first in a series of unintentionally uproarious plot mis-steps. Does Haas really think he can manipulate his much younger, stronger partner into an affair, justifying Haas' shooting of him? Isn't it more likely his questionable partner will kill Haas and claim the girl (or take the girl and Haas' gold?) More to the point, by marrying the girl, isn't Haas adding another partner with a stake in the gold when his sole goal is to possess the gold all by himself?
The wacky ensuing close quarters love triangle interactions are painful to watch. Particularly poor is John Agar, who has a nice head of hair, but no discernible acting ability. Cleo Moore's one note performance matches the plot silliness (agreeing to marry a man and go live in a shack in the wilderness in the dead of winter for no other reason than to give her daughter a daddy (a man who hates her.) That Haas' acting is competent is high praise indeed for this film.
Suffice to say that from here things don't improve. Cheap set pieces (the cabin and wilderness are obviously a studio soundstage), weak dialogue and bad pacing all conspire to make this a colossal bore. Also, this isn't one of those "so bad that it's good" movies. Do yourself a favor and check out Haas' much better written, acted and produced PICKUP, which features a dynamite femme fatale and a much more coherent plot.
There is A-noir, B-noir and then there is C-noir, which isn't disaster but does leave you shaking your head. "Bait" is C-noir. The films of Hugo Haas are not always this problematic, not at all. I rated "Hit and Run" 6.0, and the "Girl on the Bridge" got a 5 from me. "The Other Woman" and "One Girl's Confession" I remember as being pretty good, but I have to see them again before reviewing them. "Bait" has the central problem of not being believable. There are three main players, Haas, John Agar and Cleo Moore, all of whom give the old college try to sell the scenario. But it's extremely hard to buy into the scenario. Haas is a gold prospector who found a big strike but then lost track of where it was. He corrals Agar into becoming his partner to hunt for it, 50-50. Moore is a widowed mother, her very young son in a boarding school while she toils and fends off the lecherous men who think she's easy. In a prologue in which Cedric Hardwicke plays Lucifer, we get the idea that evil is afoot. Haas marries Moore, whom Agar is crazy about, so as to push the two of them together so that he can commit a justifiable homicide and get all the gold. Each actor has scenes where they are convincing, but these are undermined by stretches where the evil planning, the romance and the awkwardness of the three of them living in a small cabin, in separate bunk beds, strain all credulity. Moore calls her husband "Mr. Marco" continually and he refuses even to kiss her, much less sleep with her. There is almost no tension in the directing of Haas in this one. The final sequence and resolution also doesn't rope us in emotionally or rationally. The picture is a misfire. What saves it from utter disaster is the likability of all concerned, their humanity and a certain feeling we have of pity at their predicaments and traps. Its noir character is slight, residing mainly in the plot hatched by Haas, which reminds one of an inverted "Postman Always Rings Twice".
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
****MAJOR SPOILERS**** The usually abused, mostly by sexy women, but
somewhat lovable Hugo Hass plays a real skunk here as a gold obsessed
prospector who uses everyone he can get his hands on to first find this
gold mine in the Rockie Mountains he forgot to chart and then off them
to keep the yellow & glittering medal all for himself. This isn't
something new with Marko in him pulling off the same stunt with a
previous partner of his only to forget, in his haste, to write out a
map of where the gold mine was! Getting a young farm hand Ray Brighton,
John Agar, to help him locate the mine which he did Marko then plans to
off him like his previous partner and keep all the gold for himself.
That by him making Brighton's murder look like an accident!
In the case of the naive in what he planning for him Brighton the scheming Marko goes so far as getting local unwed mom and diner waitress Peggy, Cleo Moore, to marry him and then set her and Brighton up in a sizzling affair. With Marko acting as being the cheated on husband and finding them in bed together he'll then blast them in a righteous rage on his part: Only the great Hugo Hass can come up with a story like that! In a case like that, a husband catching his wife & lover in bed together, Marko knows that no jury on earth would ever convict him of murder. That's the plan on Marko's part but it's, no pun intended, execution turns out to be in it being the perfect murder far from being perfect!
***SPOILERS*** It doesn't take long for Brighton to figurer Marko out in how he's trying to set him and Peggy up in playing the abused and cheated upon husband. Marko doesn't show any love for his wife Peggy at all and the only love he does show is that for the gold that's being mined. The rat like Marko even goes so far as killing Brigton's loyal dog Mike when he sniffed out what he was up to and tried to alert his master, Ray Brighton, about it! Making believe that he's going into town some ten miles away to get supplies Marko plans to find Brighton and Peggy in a compromising position, that he plans to get them into, and end up killing them. The plan soon falls apart with not only Brighton being on to him but a major snow storm rolling in that's to foil his escape plans! Actor director Hugo Hass drops his usual abused and screwed over husband & boyfriend act here and does a good job playing a murderous villain. The only problem that Hass has is in convincing anyone, but his love starved wife Peggy, what a phony he really is and what his devious plans really are!
Another in the long line of the Trials-and-Tribulations (compounded by Misery and Irony) offerings from Hugo Haas. This time out his character, Marko, is searching for a lost gold mine with his young partner Ray Brighton and, despite the fact that Haas appears no more at home playing a prospector than Raymond Hatton would playing a Bulgarian diplomat, they find the mine. But Marko decides he doesn't want to share with his partner and figures out a devious and complicated scheme to get rid of him. (Shooting him in the head and burying him in the desert is far too simple a solution in a Haas film.) So, Marko ups and marries buxom young Peggy as a marriage of convenience, even though past experience would indicate any involvement with a character played by Cleo Moore would not be described as anything close to convenience. Rikor figures that after the three of them spend the winter together in a shack far from civilization, he will sooner or later catch them in adultery, and he can use the "unwritten law" to kill Brighton and thus escape punishment from the law. But "Murphy's Law" rears its ugly head.
Sir Cedric Hardwicke had the self satisfied look of a man whose check
from Harry Cohn had just cleared as he narrates the beginning of Bait.
He's playing none other than old Scratch himself as he tells how the
devil can make people do wicked things.
I think old Scratch had a head start with Hugo Haas who was definitely short a whole suit in his deck of cards. Haas is a crazy old prospector who lost both a mine and a partner in the Rockies and he'd like to find the former again. But he's getting on in years and he needs a younger partner for the heavy lifting.
Enter John Agar and they do find the old mine, but he's not looking to split with a new partner. So the fiendish Haas hatches a scheme whereby he marries sluttish Cleo Moore who's a better girl than she let's on and brings her back to their cabin. I would think that curvaceous Cleo might have gotten the hint that something was amiss when Haas not only doesn't pay attention to her, but encourages her to be in Agar's company at every opportunity.
This turgid drama is as stupid as it sounds. Need I say more.
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