Monday, March 19, 2007

Seldom Seen

Movie: An Ace in the Hole a.k.a. The Big Carnival (1951)
Setting: New Mexico; contemporary

While well received by the European intelligentsia, this Billy Wilder film was both a critical and box office flop at home, resulting in its current seldom seen statues and lack of DVD release. Having now seen the film I find it surprising that it has not had more of cinematic rehabilitation, I mean its a fine example of Wilder at the top of his game. The plot concerns a once hot shot city reporter (Kirk Douglas) reduced to working for an Albuquerque paper. In a cynical attempt to reestablish a name for himself, the reporter conspires with a corrupt sheriff (Ray Teal) to keep the victim of a cave-in at old Indian cliff dwelling (Richard Benedict) trapped underground for days so they can milk the story for publicity. The area outside the cave-in quickly becomes a media circus complete with a real carnival (hence the alternate title), which the victims loveless wife (Jan Sterling) is more then ready to cash in on. A happy song about efforts to rescue the trapped World War Two vet, "Leo, Leo, Leo", adds further surreality to the proceedings. A bleak ending to this cynical story may have further put off 50's audiences.

Factoid: Many obvious parallels to this movie exist in the 1997 feature Mad City, which I must say failed where Ace succeeded.


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