Thursday, July 19, 2007

Black Ace

The justifiably celebrated and largely successful writer/producer/director Billy Wilder (Double Indemnity, Some Like It Hot) made at least three huge box office bombaramas during his exemplary career, yet all three wind up deserving equal critical status right alongside his finest, most popular movies. The three must-sees include 1964’s Kiss Me Stupid(with Dean Martin), an all-out toxic cocktail about fame and sex, 1961’s One, Two, Three(with Jimmy Cagney), a retro screwball comedy that makes the cold war it’s main joke, and 1951’s Ace in the Hole, newly available on DVD(Criterion, $39.95, 111 minutes), a truly vitriolic paean to America’s never ending susceptibility to the magic wand of the media. Kirk Douglas plays a hard drinking, wholly callous and ego-filled reporter down on his luck, reduced to toiling for a backwater daily in New Mexico, who parlays a schlub-stuck-in-a-cave predicament into his own launching pad, delaying the rescue, bribing the small town coppers, and capitalizing on the dire situation every which way but loose, abetted by the cave dweller’s hard-as-nails wifey, played by Jan Sterling (given one of Wilder's alltimers: "I don't go to church, all that kneeling bags my nylons.") with even less redeeming qualities than the hardcore Douglas. I consider Wilder to be among the best who ever sat behind a camera in Hollywood, and also acknowledge his ranking as screenwriting giant, and Ace in the Hole (also once known as The Big Carnival) is without question his most corrosive effort, overflowing with his always trenchant cynicism, and as stark and repellant as mainstream Hollywood has ever been. It’s a brilliant film, and a monstrous one.

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