Who is this fellow advancing up the stairs? A lot of people want his autograph, he obviously has many fans, but his identity is a mystery until he introduces himself as none other than The Devil in the flesh (Cedric Hardwicke). He is here to tell us a tale of morality gone bad, the sort of thing that is his bread and butter, as all he has to do is plant a thought in the minds of the weak-willed and they will carry out his evildoing as if they had come up with the notions themselves. His victim this time around is Marko (Hugo Haas) who has returned to this tiny town in the middle of nowhere because he has the deeds to a gold mine there, not that anyone knows where it is, not even Marko. He needs some help, then, but what if selfishness clouds his mind?
Hugo Haas, having arrived in America fleeing the Nazis, had been highly respected as a filmmaker in Europe, but once he was stuck across the Atlantic unable to return he found himself playing second rate villain roles in second rate movies. It was quite the comedown, and one he never recovered from, which might explain why in many of the films he directed subsequently he took self-penned roles whose characters represented the ultimate in cinematic self-flagellation. It was as if he was guilty about something he had done in his life, about the way things had turned out for him, and sought to punish himself by taking the part of the downtrodden and in this case, bringing his sorry fate upon his own head.
Usually in Haas's efforts he played a man brought low by his attraction to a younger, blonder woman, much in the way the classic film tragedy The Blue Angel had played out a couple of decades before. He was no Josef von Sternberg, but he did have a certain pulp sensibility that, coupled with the way his films were often shown on television across the world as schedule fillers, at least for a while, made him the centre of a small cult following. It was not true to say all these works were fitted to a template of his own devising, but it may seem that way, only in Bait it was his Marko who was essentially the villain rather than the bad girl his characters were accustomed to be attracted to. In this case, that was more a misunderstood girl, Peggy (Cleo Moore).
Moore has a following herself, one of an apparent army of platinum blondes who marched into the nineteen-fifties determined to make something of themselves in the movies. She had a political family background and could have easily settled into the life of a socialite, which she eventually did, but in the meantime it was screen stardom she had her heart set upon, though B-movies were more her natural home as a kind of poor man's Carroll Baker, having the same sultry looks though rather heavier set in the frame; call her curvaceous. Peggy is the town tramp simply because she is an unmarried mother, though as she explains later she was actually wed, but her husband died shortly after in the war, leaving her with a baby on the way and a hard luck story to go with it.
Hard luck stories were perfect for Haas, but we needed another corner to this love triangle: step forward another B-movie fixture, John Agar, when he was making waves as a sci-fi hero in lower budget flicks. He played Ray, the man Marko hires to work the mine with him for a fifty/fifty share of the profits, except Marko is perhaps not as keen on keeping up his end of the deal as he may appear. This results in one of the most convoluted schemes ever to grace a movie of this variety, all hinging on the older man marrying Peggy to ostensibly make a good woman of her, then forcing her into the arms of Ray so he has an excuse to make off with one hundred percent of the gold should his plans come to fruition. With such casual cruelties as every man wanting to get a look at Peggy when she's in a state of undress, and how Ray's pet dog becomes a victim of Marko's conniving, what would you expect from a tale told by Satan himself? Nothing less than the fitting end we were rewarded with, a pleasing nutty denouement that suited the overheated atmosphere in spite of the snow. Music by Václav Divina.