June 29, 2009
September 1, 2008
De Anza College Film Class
111 Minutes — June 29, 1951
Drama / Film Noir
Billy Wilder [Double Indemnity; The Lost Weekend; Sunset Blvd.; Sabrina; Some Like It Hot; The Apartment]
#580 They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000 Films Of All Time
“Solo Filmschool” movies are those on the big list of the 1000 best films of all time, which the crew over at TSPDT keeps track of and updates from time to time. The current version is from January 2010. My plan is to work my way down the list, watching all of them on DVD (if available), regardless of how slow-moving, or out of date they might appear at first. If a highly-regarded and serious film class is not available where you live, you could do a lot worse than using this list as a jumping off point.
In order to prolong the sensation and boost newspaper sales, a self-seeking journalist delays the rescue of a man trapped in a cave.
On a larger screen of the De Anza screening room, the film looked just as sharp as on my TV. I’ve since read a lot about this film and I was struck by the non-heroic nature of just about every single character. Perhaps the man’s father and the newspaper editor were blame-free. But every single other person who appears on screen has more faults than normal. Even the poor man stuck in the cave. The second viewing just made everyone seem less redeemable. The family who sets up camp (literally) outside the cave, the wife of the man, even the photographer who began wet-behind-the-ears ends up nearly as ruthless as the others. Douglas is spectacular.
This was suggested by David Simon who was doing interview after interview about the final season of the Almighty WIRE. That show dealt with an eager Baltimore Sun reporter who began bending the truth a bit in order to be noticed by either the New York Times or the Pulitzer committee.
This film stars a young, handsome, and strong Kirk Douglas as an out-of-work reporter who lands in New Mexico after a series of firings from other papers. He is bitter about living in the middle of nowhere until he stumbles upon the story of a man trapped in a cave while collecting Indian artifacts. Sensing his big break, he enlists the help of the less-than-worrisome wife, the crooked County Sheriff, and the dense engineer. Told that the man could be rescued in 18 hours, Douglas gets all to agree to drill from a much higher place, thus taking about a week to free him. The man is rugged and tough, what could go wrong? The Sheriff helps Douglas keep the story exclusive and before you know it, the area surrounding the diner, hotel, and cave are overrun by onlookers, all paying an entry fee to wait out the rescue. Some say that the phrase “media circus” was invented after this film as a carnival complete with ferris wheel and other attractions pulls into the parking area near the mountain.
It is amazing how relevant this film still is. Douglas isn’t a bad guy–he just knows the value of a good story. The film has no heroes. No one on the right side. The man in the cave was collecting sacred artifacts. His wife sees her chance to get out of the tiny, dusty town and back to the big city where her personality would be more welcome. The Sheriff is crooked in both elections and in never paying a check. The engineer is spineless. Even the crowd itself is there for the festival atmosphere, the excitement, and the chance that either the man will be pulled out alive, or his body will be taken out if he dies. Either way, what a show!
The landscape is filmed spectacularly. There are sweeping vistas from the top of the mountain. A long pan shot reveals an endless line of cars heading towards the action. At one point a train stops just across the street and passengers hop off and literally run towards the cave opening.
Douglas is fantastic. We see him grovel for the job, accepting lower pay than he’s used to just for the work. Later we see his chest swell with pride as the onlookers (and a microphone-wielding TV announcer) applaud and cheer him as he heads back into the cave to speak with the frightened trapped man.
“One of Billy Wilder’s masterworks, in which he was in a serious mood, exposing the sensationalism of the tabloid press. Wilder’s target was not merely the press, radio, and television, but also its readers, listeners, and viewers who enjoyed nothing so much as a dramatic disaster. Time has confirmed that it is an incisive, compelling melodrama.” — Halliwell’s Top 1000 #352
“Unrelentingly cynical (yet mostly believable) tale of how the reporter exploits the “human interest story” for his own benefit — and how the potential tragedy turns into a three-ring circus — has a peculiarly contemporary ring to it. Biting and extremely well acted.” — Leonard Maltin 2007 Movie Guide.
ACE IN THE HOLETags: 7.2, Billy Wilder, Drama, Film-Noir, Top 1000, TSPDT