As if borrowing a page from Hitchcock’s television show or Karloff’s Thriller, this black and white “B” predates the intros to those shows with Sir Cedric Hardwicke delivering a tongue in cheek intro to this tale of greed and lust. Sir Cedric will introduce himself as the Devil prior to the opening credits and informs us that at times he takes human form. He even notes, “Well for this special occasion I borrowed an actor’s face. Rather a good one in my opinion.”
That little insider’s joke curled my lips into a big smile. “Bravo sir.”
Actor-director-producer, Hugo Haas, was the man behind this tale of greed that plays like a warped take on Sierra Madre and had me recalling The Brain From Planet Arous. Let me clarify that. Haas employs John Agar in this gold digging venture and it’s rather obvious to 50’s sci-fi fans it’s been filmed in Bronson Canyon. Secondly, just wait till Agar gets a look at the gold mine rich with ore. His eyes glaze over and his face gets that pie eating grin he’d employ when he’s taken over by the Brain in the cult favorite of 1957 filmed in the same Bronson Canyon.
With Cedric pulling the strings via occasional narration, Agar joins Haas in looking for a long lost gold mine that has become a local myth. The story goes that Haas had found it 15 years earlier but through a harsh winter lost his way to it’s location and worse still, left a partner to die in the freezing cold. Was it Murder? No one could ever prove it and Agar doesn’t believe the old wives tales.
On the way to the location shoot in Bronson Canyon, the pair will stop at a general store where we’re introduced to blonde bombshell, Cleo Moore. Don’t recall seeing anyone like her in Sierra Madre. Agar goes into his leading man act and instantly begins to flirt with the lovely lass like a puppy dog as he and his partner stock up on supplies. This all leads to an exchange that caught me off guard for a 1954 prodcution.
Haas tells Agar, “She’s got a baby already and was never married.” Strong stuff and of course it taints the reputation of our lovely blonde haired beauty.
Moving on to the mountains and canyons the pair will have little luck locating the lost mine. It’s after settling in an abandoned shack that Agar will stumble into the boarded up mine shaft behind a growth of brush. It’s a good thing too because the pair were getting a bit stir crazy and tempers were flaring at their lack of success. In just a matter of screen seconds, Agar, has the “Bogie” fever and here comes that glazed over look I loved so much when he met that Brain in 1957.
Considering this movie’s title is Bait, it’s time to see just what that reference refers to. With a little nudge from Sir Cedric, Haas, heads into town for supplies and shows some compassion to Miss Cleo. She’ll soon discover that he’s dead serious when he offers to marry her and give her child his name. She’ll take him up on the offer and though we never see the child who is being raised elsewhere, she joins Haas and Agar in the secluded mountain cabin. Yes the blonde babe is the “bait” and Agar is the fish that Haas is looking to hook.
Now that all three are living in a single room dwelling the temperature is rising and not surprisingly, Agar, has gone from gold fever to blonde fever. The gold nuggets are plentiful and once it’s decided to remain there through the winter to continue their mining operation, Agar and Cleo, are naturally drawn to each other and it becomes evident that’s exactly what Haas has been planning. But to what end?
I’m not saying but I like the justice dealt out in the final reel of this 80 minute black and white “B.”
On one hand it may seem rather ridiculous that Cleo Moore takes the elderly Haas up on his sudden proposal of marriage but I will say I like the fact that she was portraying a very strong willed character with both a set of morals and a backbone when faced with temptations of her own. Don’t believe everything you hear in the early stages of the film about a child out of wedlock. Moore who retired from the screen at just 33 years of age in 1957 was a regular in Hugo Haas directed films. Beginning with 1952’s Strange Fascination, she appeared in two 1953 flicks, One Girl’s Confession and Thy Neighbours Wife, two again in ’54, Bait and The Other Woman, Hold Back Tomorrow with John Agar again in ’56 and her final film, Hit and Run in ’57. Aside from Hold Back Tomorrow, Haas, also co-starred with her in each film.
I haven’t seen any of these titles so feel free to make recommendations if you have come across them.
John Agar who had a run of costarring roles in some superior late 40’s films for John Ford opposite Duke, seemed to be running out of steam by this point but was about to sign on with Universal-International for their run of 50’s sci-fi efforts that would gaurantee the leading man a place in the hearts of cult film fans for generations to come. Among his more famous cult titles are The Mole People, Tarantula and Revenge of the Creature. Oh, and yes of course, The Brain From Planet Arous.
For a bit of trivial trivia, I have to wonder of Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer kicked a few dollars Haas’ way to get the movie produced. There’s a very clear example of product placement in the film which again caught me off guard. Not something I see that often in films dating back this far.
Looking to see this one? It’s one of 9 titles released by Mill Creek in a Noir Collection worthy of your attention. And it’s a three volume set!