Monday, January 8, 2024

Noir Watch: Pickup (1951)

Watched:  01/07/2024
Format:  TCM
Viewing:  First
Director:  Hugo Haas
Selection:  Me by way of Noir Alley

As happens a lot at the start of the year, I was fired up to break the Christmas movie cycle and watch some non-Christmas-type stuff.  I've also been missing noir films, from the original period as well as everything up to today, and wanted to get back on that train.  Luckily, Noir Alley was on TCM Saturday and Sunday, so I set the DVR to record a movie I'd not yet seen.  

It's easy to say Pickup (1951) is a riff on The Postman Always Rings Twice.  And there's definitely some truth to that, but so are a number of movies from the era.  What I found interesting was that there's enough different here that it pivots the whole concept.  While we still have the remote home/ workplace, the older husband, the sexy wife and the yearning employee, this is less the story of the troubled, star-crossed lovers in over their heads, and more the story of "Hunky", the older husband.  And, it's worth saying at the outset, Beverly Michaels' Betty is not the sympathetic figure Lana Turner cut as Cora.  

Co-written, directed and starring Hugo Haas, a Czech immigrant  (and a former star in his homeland) who managed to find a place in Hollywood, you can see why he was taken with this story from a novel.  Haas plays widower living in a house/ train stop just outside of town.  He's putting in his time til he collects his pension when "Betty" figures him for a meal ticket.  After a few red-flag meetings, Betty and "Hunky" get married - and Hunky can't believe his good luck.

There's some scheming from Betty that Hunky won't go along with, but he's suddenly struck with a psychosomatic hearing loss that renders him incapable of work.  The young, handsome second-fiddle to the train-work has to take over as they sort out how Hunky can retire.  Unbeknownst to all, his hearing returns.  Catching a part of a conversation between Betty and the young man, he fakes not being able to hear as they speak openly about him, and as this is a 1951 crime melodrama, you can guess where their line of thinking goes.

It's a nifty set up of a film, and turns the tables on Double Indemnity and Postman, making the doomed sap of a husband a player in the game which adds an extra layer of shenanigans.  I also wondered if Audrey Totter in Tension didn't drive some of the ideas for Michaels in this movie, but who knows?

The femme fatale draw on this one is statuesque co-star Beverly Michaels, who I'd seen in stills and mentioned as a "bad girl", but hadn't seen in anything (I was trying to recall if I'd seen Crashout, but I have not.  Yet.).  And, yeah, she's... something.  She's not as straight up scary as Ann Savage in Detour, but is working the Platinum bombshell angle, a girl who has only processed that men like her.  She's just a bag full of dynamite - and it's an absolute blast to watch.  

Haas isn't a bad director.  He gets why people showed up, and puts Michaels on display immediately, framing for the audience exactly what is going to lead people astray here.  He gets good work out of his small cast - including Michaels here in only her third role and especially Howland Chamberlain in a rare fully supporting role.  Haas gets who these characters are.  And he isn't afraid to be a bit melodramatic to tug at the heart strings and craft his story.


For noiristas used to the Betty character dead or in jail at the film's end, this one just has her leave in a huff, her things in a bag, surely off to make several more people's lives terrible.  Which, honestly, is probably more realistic.  This is just episode #85 of 1000 in Betty's life, and she's going to keep shooting herself in the foot as she tries to outsmart everyone, but is wholly unsuited to that task.  

It's a fun, tawdry movie with memorable characters and bits of dialog.  I expect this showing on Noir Alley to help elevate the movie's esteem among the noir-nerds.

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