Pickup (Hugo Haas / U.S., 1951):

Cinema is the measure separating Renoir’s trains (La Bête Humaine) and Lang’s (Human Desire), in between is the forgotten Hugo Haas with walrus nobility and Eastern European wryness, telling his little tale by a railroad somewhere just outside of Hollywood. The first words are from "My Brother’s Keeper," the widowed trackwalker (Haas) waves them off; he’s in mourning, his dog has died and he’s about to venture into town for a puppy, his new assistant (Allan Nixon) gives him a strenuous wink ("Sharp as a sponge!"). At the fair, the camera is positioned low as the blonde giantess (Beverly Michaels) advertises herself for male eyes at the carousel; Haas is taken with her, Michaels is openly derisive of his farmhouse until she spots his finance booklet. Haas works with scraps, still his filmmaking is utterly lucid -- a dissolve from the woman’s determined face to the discarded wedding cake ornament in the old immigrant’s living room sets up the intrigue, the train whistle heard in the distance as Nixon lights Michaels’ cig gives it a new direction. The protagonist’s severe dizzy spells segue into deafness in a sequence that shows Haas has seen Gance’s Un Grand Amour de Beethoven. His hearing is restored just as capriciously but he keeps up the charade after learning of his wife’s scheme with the assistant. An unusually blunt masochism colors the film’s Poverty Row noir aesthetic -- Michaels laughs at Haas’ face ("Ya sucker!"), he laughs back ("It’s a lot of fun, eh?") before letting his face go ominously slack. Despite all, the auteur remains fond of his tramp and spares her a femme fatale’s demise: she just sticks out her tongue at Fate and heads out to The Girl on the Bridge. With Howard Chamberlain, and Jo-Carroll Dennison. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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