Bait

Released February 24, 1954: BAIT, starring Cleo Moore, Hugo Haas, and John Agar.  Directed by Hugo Haas (Pickup, One Girl’s Confession, Hit and Run). Co-written, acted, and directed by Hugo Haas, a self-made auteur who was never able to transcend B-film mediocrity, Bait is an odd little film that barely qualifies as film noir.  baitHaas plays an old prospector searching for a gold mine that he lost several years prior, when he and his partner were caught in a severe snowstorm and his partner died.  Every summer, Haas ventures back into the mountains in search of his mine, often taking a partner for assistance.  This time, he’s convinced young John Agar to accompany him with the promise of splitting whatever gold they find 50/50.  Once in the mountains, Agar and Haas make a home for themselves in a small abandoned cabin, and it doesn’t take long for them to stumble onto the lost mine and begin digging for gold.  Intoxicated by the abundance of gold they collect, both men are stricken with gold fever.  Haas wants to renege on his 50/50 deal, while Agar becomes feverishly obsessed with the lustrous gold dust.  At this point, the story is poised for some profound drama and intense conflict.  But what we get instead, is a far-fetched plot that is not only ridiculously implausible but also poorly executed.  Haas knows that Agar is sweet on Cleo Moore, an ostracized single mother who works at the general store where Haas and Agar stock up on supplies, so he hatches an elaborate scheme to maneuver Agar into a situation where Haas can justifiably kill him.  First Haas, who’s old enough to be Moore’s father, spontaneously proposes to her and Moore accepts!  Next, he moves Moore into the cabin with the two men and refuses to show her any affection in the hopes that she will become starved for attention.  Then he orchestrates situations in which Moore and Agar can spend time together to foster their mutual attraction.  And finally, he pretends to leave them alone for an extended period of time, hoping to trap them in bed together, so he has a viable excuse to shoot and kill Agar.  Not only is this preposterous storyline absurd and improbable, starting with Moore’s rapid acceptance of Haas’ marriage proposal, but the pacing is so ploddingly slow, that any meaningful tension is sucked right out of the plot.  There are far too many scenes of veiled dialog between the three characters that ultimately amount to nothing, and the sexual tension between Agar and Moore is never allowed to reach a level of unbearable awkwardness befitting their claustrophobic situation.  The overall premise of two men in an isolated cabin, forced to rely on one another to work the mine, but mistrusting each other when reaping the rewards, is fascinating and filled dramatic potential.  And the notion of having a woman come between them adds an intriguing twist.  But Bait wastes this potential on a misguided storyline that is hopelessly contrived and lacking in tension.  We give Bait 1.5 out of 5 fedoras.

1.5 Fedoras

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