Thursday, 15 September 2016

Strange Fascination - Hugo Haas

Hugo Haas, brother of the composer Pavel Haas, about both of whom there's a lot on this website if you search.  Please read my piece here: Strange Afterlives: Hugo and Pavel Haas.  In their native Czechoslovakia, Hugo was a megastar, acting and directing in movies like White Plague (more here), a very explicit protest against the Nazis.  Knowing he'd ge targetted, he got out quick. Pavel, with a much lower profile, died in Terezin.  In Hollywood, Hugo had to start all over from scratch, but was too independent minded and too arty to be a success with the big studios.  So he made B movies, but low-budget movies with high standards, like The Other Woman, Hit and Run  and Pickup. The closest he came to commercial success was Strange Fascination (1952|) which was marketed as unadulterated schlock and probably sold because it flattered downmarket stereotypes about Europe. But like most of Haas's postwar work, it deals with the dilemma of exiles uprooted from Europe, trying to find a new life in America. "I feel like a displaced person" says Haas,quietly.

In Strange Fascination, Haas plays Paul Marvan.  "He's considered the finest exponent of Chopin in Europe, you know,"  gasps wealthy society matron Diana, who lionizes celebrity. Her friends snap back, acidly: "Strange that in America, he's completely unknown".  Her kids hate him. "He's  a stranger, you can't talk to him about baseball, or movies" (delicious irony!). Inadvertently he upsets Margo a nightclub singer who goes to his concert the next night hoping to heckle but is moved "by that stuff you play".  Margo's played by Cleo Moore, who starred in most of Haas's late films.  She wiggles her way into his life and they marry,  Rich Diana isn't pleased and drops Paul, whose career doesn't flourish in America.  The pianist who "plays" for him isn't very good. Financial worries:  Paul has to sell his tuxedo and play mixed programmes in variety clubs  He won't let Margo go back to show business.  Diana won't help - she's jealous because Paul loves Margo.  Desperate, Paul tries to cash in on his insurance by throwing his hand into a printing press. The insurance company won't pay out because it wasn't an accident. Paul comes home to find that Margo's left him.  Paul is reduced to knocking out tunes in a shelter for homeless men. "Say, why can't you play something gay, you bum!" Quietly Paul beats out a boogie woogie with his remaining hand.  Strange fascination isn't a particularly good movie compared with Haas's other woirk but it's a story that no doubt was lived by many. who didn't find fame or fortune.

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