film, Movie Crash Course Review, movies

The African Queen (1951)

Image result for african queen bogart

See, now this is the Katherine Hepburn I know.

I’ve had a bit of a soft spot for this film since seeing it first at the age of about nine in a church basement (the Congregational Church in my hometown decided to do a “Classic Movie Festival” one summer and Mom brought me to see this).  It was the first time I can remember being introduced to a “Hollywood classic” in any kind of capacity, and sparked a curiosity about movies that has never really faded (although I couldn’t really indulge in the classics until much, much later).

Image result for african queen bogart

Forty-some years later, I do notice some of the weak points. It’s a pretty simple plot; Hepburn is Rose Sayer, the prim Englishwoman who’s part of a brother-sister pair of missionaries in German East Africa in 1914, and Humphrey Bogart is Charlie Allnut, a Canadian expat who’s turned freelance mechanic and handyman, ferrying himself from gig to gig and running errands on his little steamship The African Queen.  He regularly brings the missionary Sayers their mail, and at the top of the film also brings them the news of the outbreak of the Great War.  This makes them British subjects in German territory, he warns them; they may want to get gone.

The Sayers fervently insist that they can’t abandon their flock.  But soon Allnut hears that the German army is kidnapping indigenous villagers and forcing them into war, burning the villages as they go. He rushes to the Sayers’ village to warn them, but is too late – the village is burned, the locals are gone, and Rose’s brother has died of shock, leaving her all alone – and already packed, having stoically accepted her fate.  After a very brief funeral for Brother Sayer, Rose steps aboard the Queen.  

Image result for african queen bogart

Allnut’s initial plan is to ferry them both somewhere out of the way and lay low, but Rose asks some pointed questions about the German army and the contents of Allnut’s boat; a German gunboat holds court over a lake downriver, preventing the English army from coming to their rescue, but conveniently Allnut has some bits and bobs on his boat that could be turned into torpedoes.  She insists that Allnut do his duty for King and Country and take down the German gunboat – singlehandedly.  Allnut points out the myriad problems with her plan, but Rose is very, very insistent, so….

Image result for african queen hepburn

Now, all that is just the first fifteen minutes or to set things up.  The rest of the film is an odd-couple adventure yarn, thrusting the couple into whitewater rapids, sniper attacks, hippo sightings, spartan bathing facilities, swamps, thunderstorms, leech attacks, busted propeller shafts, and – each other’s arms.  That’s the bit that felt the weakest on a rewatch; the script was clearly trying to suggest that the cloistered Rose was being swept off her feet by the adventure of it all, and by Allnut’s strength and can-do spirit, but Hepburn plays Rose with such spunk and independence herself that her falling for Allnut felt a little forced.

Image result for african queen hepburn

But you know something? I really didn’t care.  I didn’t care when I was nine (hell, I probably didn’t even notice the love story was rushed), and I don’t care now, because everything else is just a big ol’ hoot.  Hepburn gets some delicious bits of schtick in this – one scene I remembered from before came after a drunken Allnut blows up at Rose, insulting both her plan and her. He wakes up the following morning with a massive hangover – only to find a poker-faced Rose going through all three boxes of gin he has on board, dumping the contents of each and every bottle into the river behind them.

Image result for african queen hepburn

And then fast-forward about 20 minutes, and Rose gets to laugh herself silly at the sight of Allnut’s hippo imitation.

Image result for african queen bogart

And speaking of which, props to Bogart for his performance too; his chemistry with Hepburn is charming, and I’m actually surprised it was their only pairing.  And even more surprised to learn that this was Bogart’s only acting Oscar.  Hepburn was also nominated for her performance, losing out to Vivian Leigh for Streetcar Named Desire.  Still, this film marked a major turning point in her career – letting her transition away from the flighty free spirits she’d been playing before, and take on a wider variety of roles.

Image result for african queen hepburn

Most critics agreed that the plot was a little thin and straightforward, but it was just such darn fun and the leads were so great to watch that they didn’t care either.  And I’m pleased to find that it still holds up to my nine-year-old memory.

 

film, Movie Crash Course Review, movies

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

Image result for a streetcar named desire film

I realize, with some embarrassment, that it has been nearly two weeks since I gave you all a review.  There are some good reasons for that – one is that about two weeks ago I was going through a job change, which is an event that brings its own level of personal chaos.  Another reason is that it was two weeks before Christmas and I was deep in the throes of the usual round of gift shopping/meal planning/holiday prep that we all go through, trying to juggle that with wrapping up things at an old job before delving into a new one.  Both perfectly understandable reasons for my putting the blog on pause, I hope you’ll agree.

But there’s another reason – it’s because the film I had next to review was 1951’s A Streetcar Named Desire, and for several reasons I had no idea what I wanted to say.

Image result for a streetcar named desire film

I hadn’t seen the whole film before.  But I was absolutely familiar with the story – because of the play, which we all extensively studied in scene classes when I was in college, or dissected in theater history courses or debated in dramaturgy courses or the like.  I have been over and over this play, and even tried playing Blanche once in a scene study course in 1991 sometime (it is a mercy no record of that performance exists because oh my god I was bad), and I even read the original when I was about fifteen and hip-deep in my theater-kid phase.

So you would think that I would have caught on to the instances of sexual assault and misconduct that are throughout this play before now, but somehow most of them completely flew over my head.

In my defense, the stage script plays things pretty coy.  It’s left a little vague as to why aging southern Belle Blanche (Vivian Leigh) has had to flee to New Orleans so suddenly, and what’s happened to the old family home where she grew up with her sister Stella (Kim Hunter). The film downplays things even more, tweaking parts of the ending and toning down some of the sexual tension between Blanche and her brother-in-law Stanley (Marlon Brando). The original censors during its 1951 release made director Elia Kazan tone things down even more still, dialing back some of the more sexually-charged scenes between Hunter and Brando as well; that’s the version I would have seen, before a 1993 re-release put those scenes back.

Related image

And I wasn’t totally clueless either. I know that Blanche is attacked by Stanley towards the end; I knew that it comes to light that Blanche liked the company of barely-legal boys a little bit too much.  I understood that Stella and Stanley have a complicated relationship.  I’d also read all of that when I originally read the script.

And yet – and I’m warning you, I’m going to get into some spoiler territory here – I somehow, after all that, had it in my head that Stella never finds out about Stanley assaulting Blanche.  At the very end, when Blanche is being brought to an asylum, I’d assumed it was because she was keeping Stanley’s assault a secret, and it was driving her mad.  But during this bit of the film, during this rewatch, I nearly dropped my drink when Stella tearfully confesses to a neighbor that “I couldn’t believe her story and go on living with Stanley!”

…So, instead of Stella being an innocent bystander and Blanche suffering in silence – the film is saying that Blanche had actually told her what happened, and Stella decided not to believe her sister.  

Image result for a streetcar named desire film

I mean, the film goes make up for that betrayal a bit; in the original play, Stella is left to cry in Stanley’s arms as Blanche is being carted away, the play implying that they’re going to leave Blanche in the madhouse. The film adds a shot of Stella storming out of the apartment soon after Blanche leaves, running upstairs to her neighbor Eunice’s house as Stanley plaintively calls “Stellaaaaaaaa!” after her and implying that Stella’s finally gotten fed up with him.

I even knew about those scenes.  But somehow – and I can’t tell you why – it is only just now that I noticed that plot point, that Stella had been told of Blanche’s rape and had chosen not to believe it.

Image result for a streetcar named desire film

I’ve been thinking a lot over the past couple weeks about what has changed to make me finally see that, after years of reading and study of the play.  Maybe it’s that I’m finally coming to see the play as more of an adult; maybe I’ve had more experience with the world, with sex, with betrayal.  Maybe it’s having seen the #MeToo movement start to introduce these discussions into the public commons.  Maybe, in some ways, I’m simply starting to pay more attention.

But the fact that I was that blinkered to that big a plot point for that long has bothered me in ways I can’t articulate well, and will be thinking about for a while.

film, Movie Crash Course Review, movies

In A Lonely Place (1950)

Image result for in a lonely place

Partway through watching In A Lonely Place I became convinced of two things – that it would absolutely work well with a remake today, and that it could nevertheless have been much better written.

The premise and plot seem like they could work.  Humphrey Bogart is Dixon Steele, a screenwriter on the road to being a has-been – he’s got a bit of an alcohol problem, and an even bigger anger-management problem.  His agent tries to get him a deal adapting a potboiler book into a movie, but it’s the kind of book Steele hates; so when he sees Mildred (Martha Stewart), the coat check girl at his local bar is reading it, he invites her back to his place to tell him the plot.  ….He has other intentions as well, but she’s pretty prim and insists on just sticking to business.  Besides, his new neighbor across the courtyard – a blonde named Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame) – turns his head instead.  So after only a few minutes, Steele gives Mildred cab money and sends her on her way.

Image result for in a lonely place

Luckily for Steele, he’s turned Gray’s head as well.  Because when Mildred is discovered dead the following morning, Steele is their main suspect – he was last seen taking her home.  But Gray is able to confirm she saw Steele sending Mildred away at midnight, and that the girl left alone.  A grateful Steele realizes that the reason Gray knew this was because she was peering out her own window to check him out.  …All the more reason for him to get to know her better.

And soon the pair are caught up in a whirlwind romance, with Gray playing secretary as Steele gets to work on his screenplay. She also gives Steele moral support as the police continue their investigation of Mildred’s murder; but as she comes to know Steele, she comes to also see the depth of his temper, and starts to have her own suspicions.

Image result for in a lonely place

….So, yeah, you see what I mean?  There’s a lot of different ways that plot could go, and it did end up going to some places I didn’t expect.  It’s a plot that I could also totally see today, with a couple of thriller-movie regulars in the leads, like Keanu Reeves and Jessica Biel or something.  However.  The plot is one thing – the script is another. And in this case, the script was….kinda not good.

It’s not uniformly terrible, mind you – some bits did stand out, like a scene where Steele is having dinner at one of the detective’s houses (they served together in World War II and are on friendly terms), and Steele speculates how Mildred’s murder could have happened.  He has a monologue that suggests he knows a little more about what it’s like to kill someone than your average person would do, but his detective buddy chalks that up to Steele’s “writer’s imagination”; it’s still vivid enough that I wondered about Steele for several scenes after.

Image result for in a lonely place

But that’s an exception; most of the rest of the film was uneven in its characters’ motives and clunky in its dialogue. Gray is almost cold towards Steele when they have their first private conversation, but by the next scene they’re all but living together, and for the life of me I could not understand what she saw in him.  Steele’s agent is in turns buffoonish and sympathetic, depending on what the script needed at the time. The film even hints at some skeletons in Gray’s closet – introducing a domineering and protective friend named “Martha” who got her out of an earlier scrape with another dangerous  man – but after we meet Martha, she disappears from the script completely, and we never learn what Gray’s backstory was, really.

Ultimately it feels like the screenwriter Edmund North should have maybe put this through a couple more rewrites before filming.  Bogart does what he can with the material, as do the rest of the cast (with varying success) – but the writing itself seems something of a weak link.

film, Movie Crash Course Review, movies

Strangers On A Train (1951)

Image result for strangers on a train

I live in New York City.  I’ve had ample opportunity to meet strangers on trains, and know full well that the way to deal with someone who seems not quite all there is to deflect, placate, defuse, or ignore them.

That’s what our lead in Strangers On A Train tries too. The two strangers that meet on this particular train are Guy Haines (Farley Granger), an up-and-coming tennis star, and Bruno Antony (Robert Walker), an overfamiliar fan of Guy’s. At first Guy is flattered that Bruno recognizes him and gushes his admiration; but then Bruno brings up the stuff in the gossip columns – Guy’s pursuit of a divorce from his first wife, Miriam, so he can marry Anne Morton (Ruth Roman), a senator’s daughter.  Guy tries to get out of the conversation, but Bruno insists that he’s got a genius idea.  Bruno has someone in his own life he’d like to get rid of too, you see – an overbearing father. Now, if Bruno killed his father, he’d be immediately suspect, just like if Guy killed Miriam. But if the two of them swapped murders – Bruno killing Miriam, and Guy killing Bruno’s father – it’d be the perfect crime, since they’d only just met by chance right then and neither could be tied to each other’s crime.  How about it?

Image result for strangers on a train

The understandably alarmed Guy decides to humor Bruno with some vague “sure, whatever you say” non-responses and then gets the hell off the train as soon as he can, no doubt consigning Bruno to being one of those weirdos you meet sometimes.   Except – Bruno actually takes Guy’s comments at face value, and goes through with killing Miriam.  And then spends most of the rest of the film going to greater and greater lengths to push Guy into holding up “his end of the agreement”.

Image result for strangers on a train

Let me say right now that there are some amazing moments of film storytelling in this. During a scene set at a tennis match, there’s a shot showing the audience, with everyone’s head swiveling back and forth as they follow the ball – except for one person sitting right in the middle, whose head isn’t moving.  Because it’s Bruno, come to watch Guy.  Another sequence has Bruno traveling to the scene of Miriam’s murder to plant some incriminating evidence there – a cigarette lighter of Guy’s – but then he drops it down a storm drain, and struggles to reach it as Guy is rushing to the scene himself, from another match, to stop him.  A climactic scene sees our two leads fighting each other on an out-of-control carousel (long story that make sense in context) as an elderly carny painstakingly crawls just underneath the carousel, making his way to the controls so he can stop the ride.  I found all of these moments gripping.

However – one detail early on kept nagging at me, and that is that Guy didn’t simply go to the police right when he discovered Miriam was killed to tell them what he knew.  He knew Bruno’s name, he knew about their conversation.  He knew Bruno came from money – Bruno talked about that during their conversation – so surely he came from a prominent family and would be easy to find.  Guy even has the perfect opportunity to turn him in – Bruno stops him as he is coming home one night, draws him into an alley and tells him the news, insisting that now it’s Guy’s turn. The police show up on Guy’s door seconds later to speak to him about Miriam’s murder – but Guy chooses to hide with Bruno, instead of grabbing him and dragging him out, saying “yo, this guy just confessed to everything.”

Image result for strangers on a train

In the film, Guy’s reluctance is explained away by his uncertainty that the police would believe him.  He did say to Anne a couple times that sometimes he felt like he “wanted to kill” Miriam,  and Bruno’s whole scheme is pretty unlikely.  But on the other hand, Bruno is clearly nuts, and Guy does have an alibi for the time of Miriam’s murder (there’s some fluff about the witness who saw Guy having been drunk at the time, but there are other ways to verify someone’s whereabouts).  So while I understand why the story unspooled the way it did, I didn’t fully agree with it, and it was just enough to keep me from really diving in the way I could have.

film, Movie Crash Course Review, movies

Rio Grande (1950)

Image result for rio grande movie

I have said in the past that I sometimes doze off mid-film and have to go back and watch again.  This time I blame the film for trying to sing me to sleep.

Rio Grande stars John Wayne as “Kirby Yorke”, a former Union soldier stationed in the Texas frontier near the Rio Grande border with Mexico.  He’s got a lot on his hands just keeping his post running – keeping his men trained, keeping their wives and children protected – and coping with the local Apache raiding parties, who keep slipping across the border to Mexico and evading capture.  But then, to complicate things, the Texas marshalls come calling to say that one of his recent recruits, Travis Tyree (Ben Johnson), is a fugitive wanted for manslaughter.  Tyree steals Yorke’s horse to escape and lay low in the surrounding desert.

Image result for rio grande movie

But Yorke can’t even deal with that because another one of his recent recruits is his own son Jefferson (Claude Jarman Jr.). Yorke hasn’t seen Jeff for fifteen years; Jeff’s mother was a southern belle, and Yorke fighting for the Union in the Civil War caused an understandable rift. So Jeff has instead been at West Point up until now.  And just as Yorke and Jeff have worked out an uneasy truce – along comes Jeff’s mother Kathleen (Maureen O’Hara), to persuade Jeff to come home.  And right when Yorke and Kathleen are trying to work things out – there’s an Apache raid.

Image result for rio grande movie singers

Now, that sounds like there’s a lot going on already, for a film that’s just over 90 minutes. And it is. But frustratingly, director John Ford saw fit to throw in about four or five music breaks, with everything grinding to a halt as a group of singing soldiers serenades the cast with one or another folk song.  They sing to Yorke’s men as they all ride out after an Apache party.  They sing “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen” to Kathleen when she first arrives at the camp.  They sing an Irish folk song to entertain a visiting general.   They sing to a group of kids to soothe them before they are brought to a neighboring camp for safety’s sake.  And each time we hear the entire song, in four-part harmony and full verses.

They sing quite nicely, mind you, it’s just that it eats up time, and the backstory of the characters ends up getting short shrift; we only get a couple seconds of explanation for Tyree’s attempted crime, and almost no time for Yorke and Jeff to reconcile.  The scenes with Yorke and Kathleen touch briefly on their differences – Yorke was part of a platoon that burned Kathleen’s family plantation, and she’s understandably bitter – but never really gets into how a southern belle ended up with a Union soldier anyway, or what she’s even been doing for the past fifteen years.  Just when their scenes start to come close to revealing something about their backstory, suddenly there’s a messenger coming in with news about Tyree, or a warning of an Apache party, or those damn singers come along to sing to Kathleen again, and I’m left in the dark.

Image result for rio grande movie

Reportedly John Ford didn’t really want to make this film in the first place. He wanted to move straight on to The Quiet Man (coming later on the list), but the studio ordered another Western from him first.  So he threw this together with Wayne and O’Hara, since they were already on board for The Quiet Man.  And the singing troupe included one of his son-in-laws, so he probably got them for….a song.  In essence, then, this is probably like one of those contractual obligation albums that musicians will do time to time, something tossed off to satisfy a contract.

Image result for rio grande movie

Roommate Russ (as he is now yclept) pointed out one interesting shot, though, that was perhaps unintentionally symbolic. There’s a scene where Yorke’s men are trying to rescue a bunch of civilians being held hostage by an Apache party; the civilians are holed up in a church, which has a decorative cross-shaped cutout in one of its front doors; when Yorke’s men sneak in through the back door, the cross cutout makes for a convenient spyhole, and when the Apaches get wise to their rescue attempt, Yorke’s men shoot at them through the cutout.  Roommate Russ mused that the Apaches being confronted with a cross through which people shot at them was one heck of a metaphor for Manifest Destiny.

film, Movie Crash Course Review, movies

Los Olvidados (1951)

Image result for los olvidados

Whew, sorry for the delay – some non-movie life things intervened a bit.  But all is now well (considerably better than things have been for a while).  Ironically, this puts me in a better place than the characters in Los Olvidados (she said, desperately trying to bring things back on topic).

This was directed by Luis Buñuel, so I admit that I was pretty dubious when I saw a title card at the top of the film declaring that the characters were based on real people; Buñuel played fast and loose with the truth in Land Without Bread and that had me skeptical.  But something felt very different about this; Buñuel had been working in Mexico for a couple years, and had been profoundly affected by a newspaper story about a twelve-year-old boy’s body that had been discovered in a garbage dump.  Many other Mexican films dealt with Mexico City’s “street kids” in sanitized, heartwarming ways – poverty taught them lessons and strengthened their character, and they all had happy endings. The story of the boy in the dump underscored for Buñuel that this wasn’t the case for the real street kids, and he set out to prove it.

Image result for los olvidados

And the kids in the film do have things pretty rough – and are pretty rough.  We largely follow the story of a small gang led by “El Jaibo” (Roberto Cobo), a teen newly escaped from reform school. He’s determined to find the kid who ratted him out to police – purportedly Julian (Javier Amézcua), a former gang member now working with a local butcher. Jaibo pays a surprise visit to Julian, accompanied by Pedro (Alfonso Mejia), a younger boy who idolizes Jaibo and who lures Julian out from the butchers’ to talk to Jaibo.  But Jaibo attacks Julian, walloping him with a rock.  He intends only to hurt Julian – but to his shock, realizes that he’s killed Julian.  He swears the shocked Pedro to secrecy and runs off to hide.

Jaibo’s act, and the other characters’ circumstances, drive a lot of the story from there. Pedro is so thrown by the murder that it effectively scares him straight, and he seeks out a job with a local blacksmith.  His mother’s so disappointed in his street-kid friends that she’s all but thrown Pedro out of the house – but she then starts fooling around with the barely-legal Jaibo. There’s a subplot with a lost boy from a nearby farm town, abandoned there by his father, who’s befriended by Pedro and taken in by a blind street performer; they make regular visits to a grocers’ with a teenage daughter, Meche (Alma Delia Fuentes), who gives the blind man some of the family’s milk every day. But then the blind man starts molesting Meche one day and the country boy has to reconsider his loyalties.  He’s already had to come to Meche’s rescue when Jaibo tried having his own way with her.

Image result for los olvidados

In short, it’s a pretty bleak tale. No one’s hands are completely clean, but no one is entirely without their own misfortune either. And no one ends happily.  That was enough to earn Buñuel criticism for the piece, even when he was making it – crew members were asking Buñuel throughout why he was shooting in such ugly places (garbage heaps and abandoned lots), and one hairdresser even quit on the spot when she learned about the events in the scene they were shooting that day.  But Buñuel stuck to his guns, even in the face of the Mexican critics and audiences who felt personally attacked by the film (reportedly the wife of Spanish poet Leon Felipe had to be held back from attacking Buñuel after she saw it).

But Buñuel had some supporters, including the Mexican poet Octavio Paz – who happened to be in Mexico’s diplomatic service at the time. Paz used his influence to get Los Olvidados a spot at the Cannes Film Festival, and then personally flew to Cannes to stand outside Los Olvidados’ venue with a placard promoting it.  Los Olvidados took home an international critics’ award and Buñuel was named “Best Director” at that year’s festival.

Image result for los olvidados

It really isn’t a pretty story, and the print I was watching had some puzzlingly simplistic subtitles. But the tale itself gradually drew me in – as well as some feel to the piece that at the time I couldn’t name.  It just plain didn’t feel like Buñuel somehow (there is one dream sequence Pedro has that harks back to the Buñuel of L’Age D’Or, but even here it has a good deal of context from the growing story).  Ultimately, this seems to have been a passion project for Buñuel, and I think I was picking up on that.

film, Movie Crash Course Review, movies, Now I Get It

Ace In The Hole (1951)

Image result for ace in the hole movie

The sharp-eyed reader will note that I have a new tag category for my entries now – for this film joins Top Hat and Adam’s Rib as being a film where I suddenly understood why a given Hollywood notable I’d been hearing about all my life was….well, notable.  In this case, I finally Got It about why people speak so highly of Ace In The Hole’s Billy Wilder, who directed, produced, and wrote for the picture.

Image result for ace in the hole movie

In this case it was the script itself that made me sit up and take notice. Kirk Douglas stars as “Chuck Tatum”, a down-on-his-luck reporter trying to bounce back from a run of bad luck when he strolls into the head office for an Albuquerque daily paper.  He’s written for the big leagues, he brags – papers in New York, Chicago, and other big cities – but some drinking and philandering got him fired. He’s cleaned himself up, he swears, and is looking for a chance to get back on the job.  The bemused head editor agrees to take him on, but keeps Tatum on a tight leash for the ensuing year thereafter, sending him out to cover things like Boy Scout jamborees and low-level weather events.  Tatum grumbles a lot – in one scene he rants to the rest of the office about how bored he is – but everyone has learned to ignore him, and the head editor keeps sending him out to do puff pieces.

It’s while Tatum is on his way to one such puff piece – a charity rattlesnake hunt – that he discovers breaking news. He and his photographer Herbie (a fresh-faced Robert Arthur) have stopped for gas at a tourist trap in a tiny town, but no one is manning the station – because they’ve just rushed over to the cave behind the station, where the station owner’s son has just been trapped under a fallen rock.  Tatum rushes back to the cave, eager to cover the story and report on the rescue effort.  But when he hears their rescue plan should take only a few hours, however, he talks them into a more complicated plan, one that might take a few days.  Oh, and can he stay at the station and cover their efforts?…

Image result for ace in the hole movie

In the days when “fake news” is a popular insult, Tatum’s behavior seems pretty familiar as he massages the situation for the sake of the story. He cozies up to the local sheriff – a lackluster career lawman up for re-election – and promises to talk up his reputation if the sheriff keeps other newsmen away.  He persuades the victim’s wife Lorraine (Jan Sterling), who was on the verge of leaving him anyway, to stay around and play the loving spouse – and make thousands off the crowds now coming to watch the spectacle.  He makes very public visits to the cave every day to get his exclusive interviews with the victim Leo (Richard Benedict).  In short, he does everything he can to prolong the situation, riding Leo’s plight so hard that he nearly forgets that they’re supposed to be rescuing him.

Image result for ace in the hole movie

At the time of its release, other critics found the story pretty unbelievable. Tatum is heavily unpleasant (I turned to The Roommate during Tatum’s rant to his fellow reporters and said, “So, I’m just checking – it’s not just me, he’s a jerk, right?”), and manages to bowl over the locals involved in the rescue pretty easily.  Lorraine is also all too willing to play along for her own ends, going so far as to bring in a circus tent and carnival rides to cater to the growing crowd (a sign primly states all proceeds go to Leo’s rescue fund).  But Wilder was inspired by a similar pair of human-interest stories involving people trapped in caves – one is even name-checked during the film, with Tatum citing the reporter as a role model.  And from what we’ve seen of human nature in the years since 1951, it doesn’t require that much of a leap of imagination to accept that a reporter as persuasive and selfish as Tatum could cause a good deal of ruckus, particularly when he meets equally selfish people to collude with.  In fact, I found Wilder’s script to be remarkably astute, and that was part of its appeal for me.

Image result for ace in the hole movie

The leads are all fine and dandy, as well – I didn’t like watching Douglas as Tatum, but that had more to do with Tatum just being a jerk, and paradoxically speaks to how well Douglas was doing in the role.  The scenes that really stick with me, though, are all long crowd scenes, charting the growing spectacle; in one, a train pulls up across from the gas station, bearing a cloth banner proclaiming that it’s a special train rigged up to bring people to the site.  Passengers all start pouring out of the doors before the train even comes to a stop, everyone racing towards the cave and losing themselves in the huge carnival that’s sprung up alongside it.  And towards the end, after the events have run their course, there’s an equally-quick exodus of spectators, leaving Leo’s father wandering alone in the clearing before the cave, staring dumbstruck at the emptiness and silence and looking utterly small.

You know that if such an event happened today that someone like Tatum would be working to make #SaveLeo a trending topic on Twitter and that we’d be seeing Instagrammers posing for selfies by the cave, with the circus moving on just as fast – if not faster – when the whole thing died down.  And that, like I said, is why I found Wilder so prescient – he was writing about 21st-Century social media in 1951.