View Full Version : Ace in the Hole/The Big Carnival (1951)

06-11-2005, 11:56 PM
Well I finally got to see this gem of a movie. The theater was crowded and the atmosphere was off. Much of the crowd was hysterically laughing at things that would barely make you smile, the sound was out when they first tried playing the movie, a large older man who breathed really loudly sat next to me, when there were two empty seats next to him, and a middle aged couple insisted upon making out for half the movie in front of us. With those conditions I sometimes wonder if the communial experience of the theater really is better than curling up on my bed.

The fact that this film triumphed over all these obstacles and more is a true testament to it's greatness. It was made during a fertile creative period for Wilder, sandwiched between the much more readily available and much beloved Sunset Boulevard and Stalag 17. Truthfully though, Ace in the Hole fits like a glove between those two pictures. It evokes the cinematic style of Sunset Boulevard, the deep focus compositions, the noir lighting, and the sense of tragedy. Yet it looks ahead to the satiracle Stalag, which also mixes humor with extremely unfunny subject matter.

Despite the many laughs from this crowd, the film wasn't exactly a comedy, although like most Wilder films it sure as hell was witty. Kirk Douglas is pitch perfect as the seedy opportunist newsman, and although the role might be familiar, his characteristic toughness makes the role special. He hits hard, but somewhere beneath his rotten exterior there is some sort of integrity, it just takes too long to come out to do anybody any good.

For those who want a quick plot synopsis I'll be brief. Douglas is a washed up newpaper man who winds up in New Mexico (because I can't spell Al beh cur key), in a dead end position. He stumbles across a man trapped in a cave while out to visit a rattlesnake fest (think of the Simpson's Whacking Day). He decides this is the story he's been looking for and he milks it for all its worth causing a media circus and therein comes the Big Carnival (which was the title given to the print I saw).

So perhaps the picture is ahead of it's time, but if so, why is it still kept in a dark vault? There is a market for Wilder, and I figured after his recent death that some of his harder to find films would make their way to DVD, this being the best among them. The film is dark and at times hard to watch, but so are many other, lesser films. This is a cinematic masterpiece, and I find it superior to the films preceding and following it. The Douglas of this film looks ahead to the shrewd producer of the Bad and the Beautiful, but here he's even more dynamic. Not so much because he manipulates everyone for his own gain, but because he deliberately throws it away. The picture is ironic as well, and I only wish I could have stopped and rewound it on occasion to listen closer to that dialogue.

This film came from a separate writing team of Wilder's. He didn't write alone, but instead of Charles Brackett, his co-authors this time were Lesser Samuels and Walter Newman. The dialogue though still has the bite of Wilder, but the hard double edged talk of noir. I can't attest to who wrote what lines, but perhaps this is just one of those films whose question of authorship is one that's impossible to answer. It doesn't matter who wrote what, what matters is that what was written works. Along with the great screenplay though is a great look to the picture. Despite the messy dirt and heat of the desert, the film is given all the glamour of the most prestigious Hollywood picture. It is a direct spawn of Citizen Kane, and if you doubt it, just pay attention to the last shot in the film, where in plain site is the ceiling. Count how many times you see that in a Hollywood film.