Ace In The Hole (1951) * Hidden Gem *

Billy Wilder Blog-A-Thon Teaser!

Talk about hard-boiled
"I've met a lot of hard-boiled eggs in my time, but you - you're twenty minutes."

Genre: Film-Noir Drama

Starring: Kirk Douglas (Spartacus; Saturn 3), Jan Sterling

Directed By: Billy Wilder (The Seven Year Itch; Sunset Blvd.)

Overview: A down-on-his-luck, not-so-ethical journalist ever on the chase for the big story that'll reel em' all in may have just found exactly what he's looking for to get his big break.

Performance:

I wouldn't say that Jan Sterling had the magnificent presence expected of a leading lady, but that might be part of the reason she was chosen for this role. You see, she plays a pretty little dame stuck in a dead-end town, and maybe if she were just a little more beautiful, just a little more suave, maybe she'd have made out better for herself. She has this 'almost' quality about her that fits the character to a tee. Kirk Douglas does the kind of job that makes you wonder if he was being a touch hammy, or was directed to be just that much more over the top compared to every other character. Given the legend that this director is, I'm guessing that was the point, and it's bang on.
Rating: 9

Cinematography:

The cinematography isn't what defines this as Film-Noir. Besides being shot in Glorious Black and White, you won't find the standard deep shadows and steaming cigars in police station ashtrays. What this will do however, is deliver the tale as efficiently as possible, professionally, and with just enough crane shots and detail in set design to frame the story being told.
Rating: 8

Script:

You know what’s wrong with New Mexico, Mr. Wendell? Too much outdoors! Give me those eight spindly trees in front of Rockefeller Square any day! That’s enough outdoors for me. No subways smelling sweet and sour. What do you use for noise around here? No beautiful roar from eight million ants fighting, cursing, loving! No shows – No 'South Pacific'! No chic little dame across a crowded bar. And worst of all, no 80th floor to jump off when you feel like it!

Dialogue heavy, this film is filled with monologues and exposition worthy of theater. How Wilder makes his script's flourished speeches and no-nuance storytelling magical is this: rather than thinking the tale is too obvious, you feel as though Wilder knew exactly what film should be, a mix of stage and reality, a medium outside of fact and subtlety, a place of truth and understanding with characters that aren't suggestive. This story is told by archetypes, severe and to the point. Wilder shows us that writing the obvious doesn't have to mean insulting our intelligence, it means adding so much dimension that every thought and motivation of these people jump right out at you.
Rating: 10

Plot:

It's the kind of story you can comfortably predict while still throwing you for a loop from time to time. Opening up with a self-proclaimed goal that must indeed be met ("I'm gonna make it this time!"), the tale takes the route of high-yield, high-risk, double-cross that you knew it had to go. In fact, we're told at the beginning how far Tatum is willing to go to get the big fish: "I can handle big news and little news. And if there's no news, I'll go out and bite a dog."
Oh he bites a dog alright.
Rating: 9

Mood:

I do believe this is the second Film-Noir I've seen that doesn't have a strong criminal investigation / cops n' robbers theme to it, and I must say I like the way Wilder stretched the boundries of this genre that is quickly becoming one of my favorites. Detective stories may be the meat and potatoes of Film Noir, but stories like this one are what make the Genre important moral lessons. What a terrific lesson it was.
Rating: 8

Sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is a runaway train...
Sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is a runaway train...
 

Overall Rating: 88% (Get A Full House For This One)
Aftertaste:

You may perhaps know this under the retitled The Big Carnival. This movie bombed when it was first released and execs tried remarketing it under a different name, which apparently didn't work so well either. I'd normally say that I haven't seen a film this good in ages, but in studying the contemporary classics, most of what I see these days is gold. What I will be certain of is that I wouldn't have thought to see this so soon if Duncanson hadn't pointed out its importance. For those of you who missed the big font at the top and bottom of this post, there's lots more Wilder to come in March!

Billy Wilder Blog-A-Thon Teaser!

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