Quick Shames Part 1: Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole

This is the first of 3 Quick Shames that I’m writing to get back into the mix of CinemaShame.


Ace in the Hole has proven to be an almost prophetic film for me. It is an examination of the media and its relationship with the people who consume it.

Kirk Douglas is Chuck Tatum. Tatum is a newspaper reporter who stumbles upon the story of Leo Minosa. Minosa is trapped underground while gathering Native American artifacts. Tatum manages to manipulate the rescue operation in order to better sell his story until it snowballs into a sideshow that does everything but focus on the task at hand. Tatum even goes as far as convincing the contractor to take a method that’s even longer than needed just to prolong the story.


Douglas is superb as the self-centered Tatum. I find him really good at playing these sort of slimy roles as he is also fantastic as an alienating film producer in 1952’s The Bad and the Beautiful. He clearly is adept at that type of role. You can see the effect he has on the characters around him including Leo’s wife Lorraine and Herbie Cook, a young photographer who loses his idealism over the course of the film.

Ace in the Hole was Wilder’s first foray as writer, producer and director. He did not have his longtime writing partner Charles Brackett. This film would also prove to be his first failure both commercially and critically. I can see why. In his previous film Sunset Boulevard we see the effects of an industry on an individual who was a part of it. In this film we see how news spreads and what people will do to appease a gullible public. I oils imagine no one as ready for this in 1951.

Ace in the Hole is totally relevant in 2016. The tools may have changed. We now have smartphones and social media platforms that keep us connected 24/7, but the game has remained the same. Ace in the Hole is an prime minister example of why Billy Wilder is one of the greats of cinema by giving us in 2016 a mirror to look at ourselves, yet he gave it to us over 60 years prior.

Jubal: A Shakespearean Western

  

I did not complete any shames for 2015 after March. Shame on me. But I’m back and going to give it another go. I’m kicking off 2016 with a look at a western. The first I saw in 2016 was also a western, Quentin Tarrantino’s The Hateful Eight so I felt that genre was appropriate to start the year off with. 

 Jubal was released in 1956. It was directed by Delmer Daves who would direct 3:10 to Yuma one year later. I wrote about that film last year. It is based on a novel from 1939 called Jubal Troop that was written by Paul Wellman. The film stars Glenn Ford, Ernest Borgnine, Valerie French, Rod Steiger and Charles Bronson.  

 Jubal Troop (Ford) is found in bad shape and without a horse. He is taken in by rancher Shep Horgan (Borgnine) and his wife Mae (French). Jubal’s work ethic impresses Horgan who promotes him to foreman. This brings him into conflict with Pinky (Steiger), a fellow cattleman.

In high school I read quite a bit of Shakespeare. Fortunately this was based on one of my favorites, Othello. The character equivalents are Jubal as Cassio, Mae as Desdemona, Horgan as Othello and Pinky as Iago. If you’ve read that play you know the story. It plays out similarly here. It may be familiar tale but that doesn’t make the film any less interesting. 

 I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Delmer Daves is an underrated director. Particularly in regards to the western genre. I may have said that when I wrote about 3:10 to Yuma. This time however I’m sure of it. In an era where the western was churned out as dime a dozen, Daves seems to make his feel a bit ahead of their times. The biggest strength of Jubal is with its actors. They have that movie star look, but really turn in fantastic performances that transcend the film’s era of its creation.  

 Ernest Borgnine gives an aura of experienced naïveté as Horgan. A man unaware of what’s going on around him. Ford plays a cautious and aware Jubal. A man trying to just make his way. Steiger gives Pinky an obvious jealous streak from the moment he and Jubal meet. The star of the show for me however is Valerie French as Mae. In addition to a very stone faced yet welcoming look, I did have sympathy for her. She was a young woman who made a decision at an early point in her life. She wants to start over. That’s nothing that most of us have not felt at some point in our lives. 

 Jubal is a nice way of working classic literature into film. It’s fantastically shot and directed but it’s the cast that make this more than standard 50s western fare. Delmer Daves, you’ve got a new fan.

March in the Korova Milk Bar

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Year Released: 1971
Director: Stanley Kubrick

That opening shot. That standard Kubrick tracking shot. I’d seen it before many times. It always makes me crack a style to see one of this director’s signatures. Yet this time, that shot that I had seen many times in the past, gave me a sense of uneasiness. That long stare of a young man with a glass of milk wearing white with a black hat. The images all around the milk bar, from the tables shaped like naked women to the words that appear to be Russian on the wall coupled with a haunting electronic piece by Wendy Carlos. The film is A Clockwork Orange. And for the first time ever, I had seen a film that truly has me conflicted.

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Based on the novel by Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange stars Malcolm McDowell as Alex DeLarge, a juvenile delinquent who partakes in drinking milk-plus and engaging in rape, and ultraviolence. Within the first 45 minutes of the film, Alex and his droogs beat up a homeless man on the street, get into a fight with another gang and assault a writer and rape his wife. I’ve always heard about the use of “Singing in the Rain” in regards to this rape scene and now I understand. Usually when a movie know for its violence ages it tends be a little tamer when viewed. Not at all here. This isn’t the type of stylized violence we see from Tarantino or Verhoeven. These are despicable actions by despicable people. It is uncomfortable and unpleasant. Yet Kubrick makes it hard to turn away. I don’t know what he did with his films of the 70s, but this and Barry Lyndon, which I felt was extremely boring but I couldn’t take my eyes off it, but he managed the same here.

Alex is incarcerate for murder and is released after going through an experimental treatment designed to “cure” him of his criminal nature. By time it’s all over he gets physically ill when faced with a violent or sexual situation. The state declares him cured and releases him back into society. However when he comes across the people who he has wronged in the past, he can not fight back as the prospect of violence makes him sick.

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This is where the film makes me question myself. Normally I’d would want to see a person like Alex get what he deserves and he does once he returns home. Yet it’s doesn’t seem balanced since he is conditioned to not fight back. I want him to get his when he is at full strength. A minister while he was in prison says the state has taken away his free will. He has choice but to behave because he can’t choose the opposite. Should I have sympathy for Alex? Even at the end of the picture I was unsure of what to feel.

I love Stanley Kubrick’s work and this is the only one of his films I had not seen. I put it off for years because of the subject matter. This is quite a disturbing film. Will I ever watch it again? Perhaps. I need to clear my head after watching this. Do I feel this film is classic? Absolutely. It does what a film is supposed to do, open your eyes to new ideas and ideals and sometimes challenge your mind. I still feel Kubrick’s a master of the craft. This film cements that opinion.

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February on the way to Yuma…

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Year Released: 1957
Running Time: 92 Minutes

Directed by Delmer Daves and based on a short story by Elmore Leonard, “3:10 to Yuma” is the second feature for my 2015 list of Shame. This one is actually a holdover from last year but I still really wanted to watch this.

Van Heflin and Glenn Ford play Dan Evans and Ben Wade respectively. Evans is a rancher who agrees to escort outlaw Wade to the 3:10 train to Yuma to get him out of town before his gang arrives to get him.

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I love movies with constrained scenarios and limited settings. While the setting here is certainly no Rear Window, the taut nature of the plot mainly involving two men as they make their way across the desert intrigued me. I loved the manner in which Wade antagonizes Evans throughout. I had seen the 2008 remake with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale and this sort of banter I expected in a modern western, so it was a pleasant surprise to see it in a film from the 50s. This definitely is not the standard Hollywood western from that era.

I love how this movie was shot. It sort of has a feel that borders on film, yet also 1950s style television. The black and white cinematography is very sharp here. And when I say sharp I mean it as if there are edges you could cut yourself on. It’s almost as if it was something you would see on television then, but that’s not to deride it in anyway. I think that is due to the camerawork and very tight script.

Both the lead actors are fantastic in their roles. Ford plays Wade with a balanced menace to become a pure antagonist without slipping into villainy. Heflin is the dedicated family man who even though he may not say much, you can tell in his body language that he has no issue with handling Wade despite his seemingly meek nature. He is not easily intimidated by either Wade nor the situation they are in.

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One thing I was surprised by with this film is its director Delmer Daves. I initially thought after viewing that this is a guy who should have gotten more opportunities. Then I saw he was involved with other classics that I had seen such as Jubal, An Affair to Remember and Demetrius and the Gladiators. It makes me wonder why Daves isn’t talked about as much in film circles, or was he an early example of a gun for hire director? I’ll have to do some more research on him.

It’s cold here in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in February so I’m glad I got to spend a 90 minutes in sunny Arizona watching a very good chase feature. Great acting, directing and writing will always make a great film. 3:10 to Yuma is a classic western that is not like some of the cookie cutter westerns of its era and one that should not be missed.

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January with the Replicants

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Year Released: 1982
Running Time: 116 minutes

For the first month of the year I watched Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner from 1982. Now this is a unique film in that I had to watch it twice in order to formulate a proper opinion.

Blade Runner has a few versions available. It’s one of the first films that came into public consciousness in regards to multiple cuts. I have the 3-Disc BluRay which has 5 versions: Theatrical Cut, Director’s Cut, International Theatrical Cut, Workprint and Final Cut. The Final cut is the one that Ridley Scott had full control over.

I watched both the International Theatrical and Final Cuts for my observation. Upon watching for the first time I was amazed at the world Scott had built. A futuristic LA, but still pretty grimy, almost similar to his previous picture Alien. Another thing that I had to do when watching this was change my view on the movie from my initial expectations. This takes place in the future, but it is not Sci-Fi. This is a noir. We have the hard boiled cop, the femme fatale, and we even have a narration by Harrison Ford throughout. Personally I was glad this was removed. Ford just had no delivery on the lines.

I’ve always known about Blade Runner’s history and that it’s a polarizing film. Thank goodness for future technology allowing us to see multiple versions of this film and I would highly recommend it. Even if you don’t like it yourself, it certainly is worth a viewing in some format.

2015 list

2015 is here and I must admit I did not complete my penance for 2014 nor did I even watch a movie a month. For 2015 however I am making all attempts to rectify that. Behold my 2015 CinemaShame with some holdovers from last year.

1. Blade Runner

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2. Do The Right Thing

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3. Yojimbo/Sanjuro

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4. 3:10 To Yuma (carryover from 2014)

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5. A Clockwork Orange

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6. Lethal Weapon (seen 2-4 but never the original)

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7. Ace in the Hole

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8. Friday The 13th. (Another 2014 carryover)

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9. Charade

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10. The Hustler

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11. Marathon Man

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12. The French Connection

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This year I’ll be 30 years old. I haven’t completed a whole lot of things but I am determined to finish this list. I wish myself luck!

Shame of The Innocents

At this point with a little more than a month left on the year, I’m trying my best to get as many movies in as possible. So most likely my original list won’t be completed but I am certainly still watching. Here is a look at the gothic horror film The Innocents which I had never seen. I previously posted this on my personal blog, I felt this had to be added to my shame because this is a brilliant film. I don’t usually engage in hyperbole so this really resonated with me.

Looking at The Innocents for the first time.

Directed by Jack Clayton

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I picked this up during the semi-annual Criterion Collection sale at Barnes and Noble. I have heard about this film’s legacy for years and had never seen it. I always like to hear of successful genre films from an older era because I feel viewers nowadays dismiss them unfairly. Here we have a nice and atmospheric gothic horror film that as you watch it is actually quite unsettling. Deborah Kerr plays a woman who becomes the governess for a wealthy man’s niece and nephew. I won’t go too much further into the plot as not to spoil anything but there is something suspicious about these kids. I know it sounds cliche, but the mystery behind this is quite intriguing.

The film opens with the 20th Century Fox logo, but no fanfare. It’s just a stark black and white image with the sound of a little girl singing. Very unnerving. I had previously thought that the opening to Alien 3 was very dark and foreboding but this takes the cake. The film oozes menace throughout which really makes it a horror film and not just some scare machine which one would think having seen its trailer. Honestly it doesn’t help sell the film at all. It makes it look like some 60s B-movie and this is far more than that.

As I watched the film, I took note of the splendid craftsmanship in the cinematography. It really reminded me of the work of Stanley Kubrick. Combine that with the tension that permeates the story which is reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock, this is probably why I responded so well to the picture.

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A prime example of knowing how to scare people without making them jump. I would recommend The Innocents to anyone who hasn’t seen it or to those who profess to be horror movie buffs. This is a fantastic film, with quality acting and it’s also very well crafted. It’s a shame I did not see this film sooner.

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