Foreign film poster and portrait of star Cleo Moore from Columbia’s 1956 tawdry crime melodrama Over-Exposed. Follow the link below for more about this slightly sleazy but entertaining low-budget film.
Noir? Nope. Kinda-fun vintage sleaze with a dark veneer? You betcha.
Over-Exposed is a 1956 low-budget Columbia Cleo Moore leer-fest from director Lewis Seiler. If Moore’s collaborations with writer-director-actor Hugo Haas teased and titillated (with more sizzle on the films’ posters and lobby cards than on-screen), this one makes no excuses about being an exploitation flick. And yet, it’s pretty engaging and written/shot/acted much better than it had any need to be.
The film opens with Cleo Moore dragged from a paddy wagon along with a group of fellow clip-joint B-Girls and (we’re to assume) hookers while a crime photographer snaps away. The cops tell her to be on the next bus out of town if she wants to stay out of jail, but she ends up bunking down at the crime photographer’s dumpy home studio. He may be old and a drunk but they become pals and he teaches her some studio basics from both sides of the lens. Gifted with some of his old camera gear, she finally buys that bus ticket and heads for the big city, anxious to become a news photographer, but unprepared for the cut-throat competition.
She hooks up with a young, handsome reporter played by Richard Crenna (on a break from the last season of his long-running radio/TV role as geeky high-schooler Walter Denton on Our Miss Brooks). He’s smitten right from the start, but Cleo’s not looking for love, she’s looking to make it big in the big bad city. She’s working soon enough, but only as a mob-connected cocktail lounge’s “flash girl” where the fit of her skimpy costume is more important than her camera skills. Ambition gets the best of her, though. “Green becomes me,” she says, and soon enough her camera’s got her tied up with a sleazy columnist, mobsters and blackmail schemes, ultimately kidnapped by the mob.
Cleo Moore’s not Ida Lupino or Lauren Bacall. Richard Crenna’s not Bogart or Mitchum. And director Seiler (who started out in the silent era) isn’t Fritz Lang or Nicholas Ray, though he did direct Whiplash in 1948. This is pure exploitation drive-in fare, ripe with leering mid-fifties naughtiness (which means it’s kind of tacky). But Moore delivers this time, the story moves along at a decent clip and there’s a nicely crafted shot or two along the way. And by that I don’t mean all the ogling of Cleo Moore prancing around her apartment studio in a black leotard and mesh hose or tussling with lushes in in her “flash girl” costume. Over-Exposed is in rotation on the Movies! Network’s two night’s of sorta and sorta-not noir films, and if you have that channel, I’d give this one a try.
I’m starting to appreciate the MOVIES! channel’s two nights per week of back-to-back noir showcases, “Noir To Die For” and “Sunday Night Noir”, no longer griping about the loss of TCM’s carefully curated classics hosted by the Film Noir Foundation’s Eddie Muller, or even complaining about the MOVIES! channel’s frequently re-run well-known’s from a mighty short list of noir faves. Instead, I’m learning to enjoy some of the oddball unknowns and rarely viewed films aired there, those not-quite-B-movies that maybe don’t even qualify for cult status.
Example: Hugo Haas’ films, at least two of which (maybe more) are currently in rotation on MOVIES!.
Hass (1901 – 1968) was an Austrian expatriate who’d been acting and directing in Prague theater and films in the 1930’s, but after the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, he fled Europe (his father and brother who remained were killed in Auschwitz in 1944). Haas made it to Hollywood, where he found frequent work as a character actor. After WWII, he directed (and usually starred in) a series of low budget melodramas and crime films, typically focused on the story’s female leads, which almost always were predatory femmes fatales of one sort or another. Cleo Moore (1924 – 1973), one of the 1950’s many ‘blonde bombshells’ looking to ride Marilyn Monroe’s coattails to fame and as much a pinup model as an actor, starred in no less than six of Haas’ films (bleaching her brunette tresses the entire time, at the studio’s insistence).
The first Hass-Moore collaboration I saw on MOVIES! was Columbia’s One Girl’s Confession (1953), written, directed and produced by Hugo Haas…with him in the male lead. But it’s really Cleo Moore’s film all the way, “the kind of girl every man wants…but shouldn’t marry”, as the poster touted. Here she’s a bitter waterfront tavern barmaid nursing a grudge against her boss, the man who swindled her family out of their life’s savings years before. Her chance for revenge comes when she steals twenty-five grand, but is caught, convicted and sent to prison, though the money’s never retrieved. Once paroled, she finds herself in the same job in yet another harbor dive, working for another less than honorable boss, but snagging a handsome hunk along the way. It gets a little confusing here, but she’s double-crossed once more, the new boss gets his mitts on the stolen loot, and now she’s really out for vengeance.
The sets, costumes, editing, everythingare pure bargain basement, but it moves along at a steady clip, perfect for a drive-in, a double feature, or in my case, something to chase away the blues after viewing the cable news shows.
More about some of these not-quite-B and not-quite-noir films (and Cleo Moore too) to follow soon…