Wednesday, January 20, 2010

#385: Ace in the Hole (1951)

Director: Billy Wilder
Cast: Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling & Richard Benedict

Journalist Chuck Tatum, who was fired from his previous big-city gigs, has landed a new job in Albuquerque. Not used to being in the small town, Tatum detests the stories he covers, nothing being as juicy as he’d like. He finally gets his big story when a cave-in at an ancient Indian burial ground traps Leo Minosa, a worker at a rest stop. Tatum learns that he could be saved within only 12 hours, but instead convinces the sheriff to dig through the rock from the top, giving time for the story to develop. While Mr. Minosa waits, trapped under the rock, a throng swarms to the site to witness the action firsthand.

Not much stuck out in this film for me. It was a film that just had to be made in the 1950’s – the film industry probably wouldn’t be complete without a criticism of the extraordinary measures journalists may take. But it wasn’t really a great film. The only performance that is worthy to be mentioned is Kirk Douglas, who makes a great sleaze.

The movie was a failure in its time, as you can see by the all-negative Fun Trivia section to follow. It seemed to have had a second wave in the past 15 years or so, having critics praise the film for having a real ‘bite’. Yes, it’s scathing… but I also found the whole thing a point that’s been made too often, and it’s lost its importance. People know not to trust the media at this point. An hour-and-a-half film just wasn’t necessary to tell me that in gross exaggeration.

I give it a C.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):

  • When the film was released, it got bad reviews and lost money. The studio, without Billy Wilder's permission, changed the title to "The Big Carnival" to increase the box office take of the film. It didn't work. On top of that, Billy Wilder's next picture Stalag 17 (1953) was a hit and Billy Wilder expected a share of the Stalag 17 (1953)'s profits. Paramount accountants told him that since this picture lost money, the money it lost would be subtracted from the profits of Stalag 17 (1953).
  • Actor Victor Desny brought a lawsuit against this film while the script was being written. He claimed the film was an unauthorized version of the Floyd Collins story. Collins was actually stuck in a cave years earlier, as mentioned in the film. Since Desny owned the rights to the Collins story, he claimed copyright infringement. Desny prevailed, although Wilder appealed. The California Supreme Court ruled in Desny's favor. (Desny v. Wilder, 46 Cal. 2d 715, 299 (Cal. Sup. Ct. 1956).)
  • The studio constructed a replica cliff dwelling at a cost of $30,000. The set was located behind the Lookout Point Trading Post on U.S. Route 66, west of Gallup, New Mexico. After filming was completed, the set was left intact and the owner of the trading post used it to draw tourists to his store.
  • Residents of Gallup, New Mexico were hired as extras. They were paid 75 cents an hour for a ten-hour day. Extras earned an additional three dollars if they could bring an automobile to the set.

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