Tag Archives: billy wilder

XL Popcorn – Ace In The Hole

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 676/1007Title: Ace in the Hole
Director: Billy Wilder
Year: 1951
Country: USA

It’s three years since I saw The Lost Weekend and now, having seen Ace in the Hole, I have seen all of Billy Wilder’s entries on the 1001 list. All six of them, and it’s a bit sad to know that there won’t be any more of his works in the remaining 325 films. So I guess I’ll take this opportunity to say a thank you to Billy Wilder for all the great movies.

Ace in the Hole really is a great film to finish the Billy Wilder run on, even if this was a critical and commercial flop at the time. How this flopped is beyond me as it one of those rare films that feels utterly timeless. Seriously, you could re-make this film nearly word-for-word and it would feel incredibly current (once you’ve updated the technology).

At the front of the film is Kirk Douglas as disgraced newspaperman Chuck Tatum. In order to get his credit back and gain a position at a major paper he spends the film manipulating the trapping of a man in a mine-shaft into a literal media circus. And I mean literally, there’s even a Ferris wheel outside as the crowds gather to watch the news story unfold.

The reason that this film is so timeless is because it really plays on the exploitative power of the press and of politicians seeking re-election. Maybe in the 1950s people did not want to think of this darker side of the media/politics, whereas it later became embraced as a classic as people became far more cynical.

It’s the fact that no one really cares as this poor man lays, basically dying and alone, in this mine shaft. In fact, Chuck and the local sheriff actively prolong his torture to a week in order to further the narrative of his entrapment. It’s hideous to see and would have been even worse (and more pessimistic a film) had it not been for the Hays Code intervening.

Kirk Douglas is excellent as the anti-hero of the film, as is Jan Sterling as the wife of the trapped man who turns this story into a chance to make a quick buck and leave her husband for good. Watching both of them in action helped to remind me of why I love the films of this era so much. Thanks Billy Wilder.

Oscar Bait: The Lost Weekend

List Item: Watch all Best Picture Winners (to date)
Progress: 76/88

(Note – The 1001 Movies book just went through its yearly update. So I have had to adjust my number down by one)

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 441/1007Title: The Lost Weekend
Director: Billy Wilder
Year: 1945
Country: USA

First I need to say, wow. I am hot off the heels of watching this and… wow.

The more I see of Billy Wilder’s, the more I move towards him becoming my favourite director of all time. Sunset Boulevard, Some Like It Hot, Double Indemnity, The Apartment the list just goes on and on. I don’t think I he’ll get to the level of admiration that I have for Miyazaki but he’s damned impressive nonetheless.

When I went into watching this I pretty much knew everything about the story of this film. It’s one of those really important Code era movies that pushed the envelope when it came to the role of alcohol in a feature film. It is also the case where, thanks to the autobiographical nature of the source material, you know that there will be a quasi-happy ending.

To be honest I expected the worst of the ending. I hate it when films of this era pull an ending out of their arse just to suit the whims of the censors. The thing is, it didn’t ring false at all. During his 3-4 day bender, Don (Ray Milland in one of the best performances I have ever seen) reaches rock bottom. He steals, he ends up in an alcoholic ward, he hallucinates a mouse being savaged by a (plastic) bat. He even reaches the point of desperation where taking his own life becomes the only foreseeable way out.

In many ways, a film like this is as applicable (if not more applicable) to life as we know it now. Emotionally it still has that punch, it’s just that if it were to be made today there would need to be more of a visceral shock factor to make sure it has the same impact. No longer can a powerhouse performance be weighty enough, one he’d probably have to vomit blood or be punched by a hooker.

A film like The Lost Weekend goes to prove that whilst, yes, sometimes the Oscars can be a little bit weird in who they give Best Picture to (who were they kidding with Tom Jones) they can still award it to an absolute cracker.