"I can handle big news and little news. And if there's no news, I'll go out and bite a dog."
Watched Ace in the Hole tonight with Andrew Tobias. To quote a commenter on that youtube video, who was paraphrasing Kirk Douglas in the film: Even for Billy Wilder, this is pretty Billy Wilder. That's right, sometimes people say things on youtube that are actually pretty clever, and in even rarer occasions, true. Ace in the Hole starts out as fun as Some Like it Hot and ends up as cynical as Sunset Boulevard.
Being a reporter himself, Tobias is pretty easy to convince when I need someone to watch a movie about a journalist with me. I think I might have made Network one of his new favorite movies. (As an aside here, sorry to see that Sydney Lumet died.)
I'm not sure he liked Ace in the Hole as much – thinks it falls apart in the third act – though I'll just pretend that it hit too close to home for him. I liked it just fine.
Douglas plays a reporter whose vices keep him from keeping a job for all that long. Fired for libel in New York, an affair with the wrong woman in Chicago, and "In Detroit [he] was caught drinking out of season." Like most of Douglas's roles – he said himself that he made a career of playing “sons of bitches”) – Charles Tatum is easy to hate. Just look at the pomposity in that video there, and that's the first five minutes of the film. He hasn't even met Leo yet, the man trapped in a cave-in behind some cliff dwellings. Tatum's the first underground and runs the show with the help of the crooked local sheriff in order to guarantee that he's the only reporter with the story and that the story's going to last until it puts Tatum back at a desk in New York City and the sheriff on solid rock for reelection. Tatum's stories bring in thousands of people to show Leo support, and vendors and carnival rides to keep them entertained as they stare at the hole in the ground.
But nothing lasts forever, or even as long as you'd like. And, well, as Tatum says, "Bad news sells best. 'Cause good news is no news." No one wants to buy the truth anyway. “It's a good story today. Tomorrow, it'll be yesterday's news and they'll wrap a fish in it.“
Wilder at his Wilderest makes for a pretty solid film in my opinion, even if Tobias disagrees (and so did critics and audiences when it was released in 1951). It may be cynical, and it may be over the top at times. But, like Network, what might have been meant as a satire when it was written sometimes seems to fall short as such today, and that makes it ring all the truer.