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|Index||136 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The themes could be characterized as news-media exploitation or the human need for individual glory at any cost or the destructive allure of publicity, but that wouldn't begin to describe Wilder's caustic examination of humanity's ignoble qualities, here its ugly opportunism in the face of tragedy. As well-made as it is hard to stomach, Wilder's film sticks it to journalism, middle-class tourism, rubbernecking, and unfaithful women with equal aplomb to illuminate the moral desensitization of American society in an age of trivial entertainments. (Possibly the most misanthropic shot I've ever seen: a locomotive bearing the name of the dying man bringing in hundreds of paying guests, the camera panning to catch them all running towards the carnival setup as a country-western band sings the victim's ballad.) The main character, Chuck Tatum, is observed in the opening shot riding in his car while being towed to the Albuquerque newspaper, his latest job opportunity in a career of burned bridges. The newsroom is presided over by a scrupulous editor whose motto "Tell The Truth" is embroidered in a deliberately quaint, relic of a portrait. After talking the editor into giving him a job, Douglas walks toward the camera, and in a brilliant touch his figure creates a momentary black screen that gives way to his re-emerging into frame exactly a year later, wearing the same unfashionable belt-suspenders combo for which he teased his bossan inventive jump-cut not only for its artistic skill, but also for defining a professional nadir that impels Tatum to exploit the cave-in for personal notoriety. The way that Tatum's careful scheme comes crashing down around his ears is akin to Walter Neff reaching for ill-gotten gains and being doubly rebuffed for his efforts. However, Tatum's pathetic end is more demonstrative than resigned: in his fall from prestige, he conjures up one of cinema's unforgettable closing lines. This is a devastating satire, blunt and unsparing.
I first saw "Ace in the Hole" as "The Big Carnival" over 20 years ago,
and it made a powerful impression on me. Seeing it again, the effect it
has is even more powerful especially in light of today's media frenzies
over everything from Britney, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Lady Diana's
life and death - 10 years after the accident that killed her - and
speculation about the paternity of one of her children - frenzy over
everything, that is, except mundane things like Iraq and the oil
Kirk Douglas is Chuck Tatum, an ambitious, unethical, egotistical reporter fired from many of the big papers who takes a job in Albuquerque and stumbles upon a story that he believes will regenerate his career. Learning that a man, Leo Minosa, while searching for Indian artifacts to sell in his store/restaurant is trapped in a cave, Chuck makes himself crucial to the situation, befriending the man (Richard Benedict) and talking to him through a hole in the cave. There, the man, Chuck's ace in the hole, is trapped and unable to move. Chuck manipulates the situation in various ways to make the story last longer - and as he does, the dead town becomes alive with tourists, and the locals start making money. Eventually the site becomes a circus - with the circus and a ferris wheel actually moving in, as well as musicians, campers, and every other thing imaginable. Chuck aligns himself with a corrupt man running for mayor, and the two plan to emerge as heroes, with Chuck going back to New York to work in the big-time again. He beds Leo's wife (Jan Sterling) and ignores Leo's grieving parents. Along the way, everyone has forgotten about Leo, whose situation becomes a symbol of greed, lust for power, isolation, and finally guilt.
This is a magnificent Wilder script that accompanies his crisp direction. Kirk Douglas is excellent as the flamboyant reporter who fights the last shred of decency he possesses, and Jan Sterling is great as Leo's wife (responsible for the line in the subject box - one of my favorite lines of all time) who only cares about getting a lot of money out of the tourists through the restaurant she and Leo own and then blowing town.
Surprisingly timely and unfortunately realistic, "Ace in the Hole" is a must-see for its hard look at the media - and us.
This great film was sloppily remade as Mad City with Dustin Hoffman and
Kirk Douglas, as always, brings more to the part than I believe was probably there to begin with. While based on a true story, this fictional look at how a media circus develops should have been a cautionary tale for a news-hungry public. However, 50 years later, we still haven't learned that lesson.
Billy Wilder's direction is, as always, above compare.
This movie was shot 18 miles west of Gallup, New Mexico on the old Route 66. My family lived at the sight running a tourist store for a number of years. I used to play in the "ruins" Paramount built to make the movie. The shot of the mountain out the living room window was our living room later on. I was just a baby when the movie was made and we lived there until I was 8. It's pretty cool to see your old home in a movie, especially when it was torn down back in the 60's when the interstate moved to the other side of the valley and put the store out of business. Great movie too!
Way ahead of its time - you can take the theme of this film and apply it to any and all current news stories. As espoused by Kirk Douglas' turn as morally bankrupt reporter, Charles Tatum, nobody really cares about tragedy or genocide on a large scale, but take a kid down a well or a guy in a mineshaft, and then you've got a media frenzy! Like Sunset Blvd. almost every line is a keeper. Wonderful use of symbolism regarding Native Americans seems more like something out of Twin Peaks than a 1951 flick. Loved how the traveling carnival company that eventually shows up is named "S&M," and there are thousands of little moments like this. One of my all-time favorite films.
Apparently not available on video or DVD as of this writing, Ace In The Hole is one of those movies where everything just seems to click. The understated storytelling meshes perfectly with Kirk Douglas's exhuberant performance. No wonder nobody went to see it, even when it was first released...the symbolism is effective but left half-buried, the "arc" is powerful yet understated. Strong images and thrown in the viewer's face one after the other...but they are secondary images, suggesting other events and relationships that we never see. There is an overwhelming feeling in this film that the viewer is intelligent enough that he doesn't need all the i's dotted and the t's crossed. Thanks to Wilder for that.
This film has more than Kirk Douglas' great performance as a tormented and lunatic reporter desperate for fame and recognition. It's a film on greed, on how far (or low) can somebody go for mere vanity. How the masses can be brought into a media circus, a mix of hysteria, lack of good sense and insensibility. "The Big Carnival" is about our society, past and present. Tatum can be anybody: your co-workers, your town's mayor, those Wall Street analysts and lawyers... and worse: he can be YOU. After watching it, think for a while. It sounds strange, but I changed a little and so will you.
Having exposed the cynicism of the film industry in "Sunset Boulevard",
Billy Wilder turned to the newspaper business in his next assignment "The
Big Carnival" (or Ace in the Hole as it was originally
In his Charlie Tatum, Wilder created one of the most hardened characters in cinema history. Yet as brilliantly interperted by Kirk Douglas, the viewer actually has some feeling for him.
Here is a man who had it all threw it away. And when the opportunity to redeem himself comes his way, he plunges to even lower depths.
Those depths include playing with a man's life for the sole purpose of rebuilding his own and in the end neither survive.
While this is a hard hitting, uncompromising film, it was one of Wilder's few failures. Perhaps journalists who have some power of of a film's life and death in their typewriters, do not want to see themselves portrayed as they were in this film. Still the acting is uniformly great.
Douglas sets the standard, Jan Sterling, Robert Arthur, Porter Hall, Richard Benedict and the rest of the great supporting cast compliment him perfectly.
Had this film been made in the 70s or 80s it would be revered as it is now. Back in 1951, it was too strong to digest.
Billy Wilder's "runt" is actually among his most important and visionary films, as well as one of Douglas's strongest roles. Aside from the typically crackling dialogue and razor-sharp wit one would expect from any Wilder script, we also find a startlingly lucid critique of the grim "tragedy=profit" mentality of the modern media. This theme has been emulated many times (most recently in 1997's lackluster "Mad City"), and probably never quite as well. Wilder said everything that needed to be said about the topic as early as 1951. It is absolutely criminal that this film has NEVER been made available in any home video format.
Just a brief note to say that this is one of my all time top movies. The gripping plot pushes the action foward and Douglas's cynical newshound is one of the best of his career. Also I was very surprised not to see a credit to this film in the titles for 'Mad City' as it uses the plot and devices wholesale. If you haven't seen it seek out a copy, if you have watch it again just for the treat. A seldom mentioned minor masterpiece.
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