Tag Archives: Kirk Douglas

Ace in the Hole

Ace in the Hole 1
Ace in the Hole

Format: Dual Format (DVD + Blu-ray)

Release date: 28 April 2014

Distributor: Eureka Entertainment

Director: Billy Wilder

Writers: Billy Wilder, Lesser Samuels, Walter Newman

Cast: Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling, Robert Arthur

USA 1951

111 mins

Kirk Douglas is Chuck Tatum, a born ‘newspaperman’, who used to have desks in New York and Washington, but is now reduced to filing copy for the Albuquerque Sun Bulletin, biding his time, waiting for the story that will get him back in the big leagues. His chance arrives in the form of luckless shmoe Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict), trapped by a cave-in while trying to excavate Indian artefacts to sell at his struggling tourist trap cafe in Esquedero (nowhere, New Mexico). Tatum inveigles himself into the centre of the action by force of will and personality, and creates a media sensation with this victim of the ‘curse of the mountain of seven vultures’. The crowds begin to swarm to Esquedero, the rest of the media descend, (there is a literal ‘media circus’ when the carnival rides move in) and Tatum has to do all he can to keep his story exclusive and ongoing, and should that include getting a corrupt sheriff (Ray Teal) re-elected, and interfering with the rescue plans to draw out the ‘human interest’ drama… Well, so be it.

Co-writer/director/producer Billy Wilder’s scabrous broadside against the mentality of the yellow press should really have dated horribly in the age of blogging, twitter and tumbling print sales. Made in 1951, it’s set in a world of manual typewriters and smoky workplaces, where newspapers and radios rule and TV is the new kid on the block. That it still enthrals is largely down to the fact that it’s as lean and mean as a rattlesnake, a bitter parable of hubris and horror with no room for romance or sentiment. It knows what it wants to say and moves relentlessly towards that conclusion. Appropriately enough it has the virtues of a good tabloid hack, quickly establishing the who/what/where of the characters with minimal fuss and an eye for the telling detail. So we quickly get the measure of Lorraine (Jan Sterling), Leo’s wife, sharp of tongue and blonde of bottle, and she quickly gets the measure of Tatum: ‘I’ve met a lot of hard-boiled eggs in my time but you…you’re 20 minutes’. Lorraine is allowed a complexity denied your regulation dumb blonde or femme fatale: she’s disloyal, and mercenary, but it’s hard not to feel something for a smart woman trapped in this ‘sun-baked Siberia’. Wilder was once a journalist himself, and this is a writer’s film, carried by crackling dialogue and in thrall to the logic of story rather than box office. The media landscape may have changed but the tale still rings true.

It’s a film of well-used (mainly dusty) locations and well-cast (mainly sweaty) faces, filled with character actors rather than stars. The exception, of course, being Kirk Douglas, who’s another large part of why the film still plays. Chuck Tatum is an extraordinary creation; from the moment he appears on screen reading the Sun Bulletin in a convertible being towed by a truck, he exudes a dynamic energy, a kind of poisonous charisma that sucks the rest of the cast down with him. He looks fantastic in black shirt, braces and Steve Ditko trousers, striking matches from typewriter carriages or one-handed against a thumbnail, monologuing endlessly, pacing rooms that barely contain him. We feel his frustration at his reduced status and watch his eyes light up at the scent of the tragedy that will set him free. Tatum does awful things, but he’s never a monster, and Douglas gives us moments of insecurity underneath the bluster. This is the bilious flipside to the standard American myth, where a man with the right ‘moxie’ and determination can achieve his dreams. The film ends in nightmare, but the dynamic remains the same.

Mark Stafford

The Eureka release comes with a booklet, original trailer, an informative featurette on the film with Wilder biographer Neil Sinyard, and a great little hour-long 1982 documentary Portrait of a 60&#37 Perfect Man made by Michel Ciment and Annie Tresgott, with Walter Matthau, Jack Lemmon, and a mischievous Wilder, on the cusp of nothing much, chatting about his life and work.

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The Fury

The Fury2
The Fury

Format: Blu-ray

Release date: 28 October 2013

Distributor: Arrow Video

Director: Brian De Palma

Writer: John Farris

Based on: The Fury by John Farris

Kirk Douglas, John Cassavetes, Carrie Snodgress, Amy Irving

USA 1978

118 mins

There’s a lot to like about Brian De Palma’s The Fury, his big-budget 1978 follow-up to horror classic Carrie (1976). For one thing, there’s the monumentally dramatic score from celebrated film composer John Williams, which swoops and creeps with a sense of epic malevolence. Add to the mix De Palma’s stunning operatic visual flair, Rick Baker’s special effects, and the remarkable cinematography of Richard H. Kline, and you’ve got yourself a potent slice of late 1970s mainstream cinema. It’s a shame it completely bombed on its initial release, mostly due to it not being Carrie.

The plot literally is the stuff of those pulpy paperbacks that fill the shelves of airport bookshops, adapted for the screen by John Farris from his original novel. (Farris was also responsible for other such sensational literary titles as The Corpse Next Door and The Axeman Cometh.) Kirk Douglas plays government agent Peter Sandza, whose telepathic son has been abducted by colleague Ben Childress (John Cassavetes), who plans to exploit the boy’s psychic abilities for warfare. Sandza’s desperate search for his son brings him into contact with a teenage girl named Gillian (Amy Irving), who also has immense telekinetic powers. Together they join forces in the hope of saving his son from the evil grip of Childress before it’s too late.

Aging Hollywood legends Douglas and Cassavetes don’t seem to have any delusions as to what kind of film they’re in, and give it everything they’ve got. Douglas is great as the tormented father, and Cassavetes is equally memorable as his incredibly intense and menacing adversary. Between all the running about and telekinetic hocus-pocus, it’s fantastic to see such movie heavyweights sharing the screen. Amy Irving is a very sympathetic heroine, who’s picked on by fellow classmates, confused by her special psychic abilities, and unaware of her full potential, but without Carrie’s religious baggage and domestic issues.

Essentially a supernatural horror tale, The Fury also succeeds as an action film and a mystery/suspense thriller, with De Palma never slacking on the pace and effortlessly balancing out the elements of each genre into a very entertaining cinematic hybrid. Of course, there are moments (mostly during the final act) that are complete nonsense in terms of narrative, but it’s extremely well-composed and directed nonsense, with lots of split diopter shots and wondrous over-cranking, culminating in an unforgettable final scene that could quite possibly be an incredibly humorous, horrific and gruesome homage to Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point.

Although The Fury has never been perceived as one of De Palma’s more credible efforts, it’s definitely worthy of attention, and still stands up as a compelling, entertaining and enjoyable thrill ride.

Robert Makin

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The Bad and the Beautiful

The Bad and the Beautiful

Format: Cinema

Venue: BFI Southbank

Director: Vincente Minelli

Writers: Charles Schnee, George Bradshaw

Cast: Lana Turner, Kirk Douglas, Walter Pidgeon

USA 1952

118 mins

Vincente Minnelli’s insider look at the golden age of Hollywood is sly and slickly entertaining, with Kirk Douglas as the unscrupulous producer Jonathan Shields adding a tough edge to the black and white melodrama. Told in three long flashbacks, it recounts the relationships of director Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan), writer James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell) and the luminous Lana Turner, who plays the actress Georgia Lorrison, to the ambitious Shields. Shields woos them, puts a magical gloss on their burgeoning talent, and then carelessly, casually ditches them when they’ve outlived their usefulness to him.

Charles Schnee’s whip-smart script, packed with sharp one-liners and passionate dialogue is a pitch-perfect accompaniment to the noir-ish look of Robert Surtees’s cinematography. There’s an extra layer of knowingness to the whole production too: shadows, odd staircases, extravagant stage sets and behind the scenes shots are nods to the mechanics of filmmaking, while in-jokes about directors and actors add an extra frisson to this gripping tale of Hollywood hubris.

Director Amiel is the first one to dish the dirt on Shields. A paid mourner at the funeral of Shields’s father, he insults the dead producer: ‘one of the mad men who almost wrecked it, a butcher who sold everything but the pig’s whistle’, unaware that he’s standing next to his son. He apologises and it’s the start of a beautiful friendship. The duo learn their craft on the B-movie production lot, their biggest success ‘The Doom of the Cat Men’, where the laughable, ill-fitting cat costumes are abandoned for the shadowy allure of silhouettes: ‘Because the dark has a life of its own. In the dark all sorts of things come alive.’ Soon after, darkness enters their relationship too, as Shields’s ruthless disloyalty becomes evident.

Lana Turner as Georgia Lorrison is next in line for the Shields treatment. Drunk, and crushed by the weight of the legacy of her actor father, she is rescued by the charismatic Shields from playing ‘the doomed daughter of the great man’. Shields coaches her, stops her drinking, makes her believe that he’s in love with her. Lana’s all aglow, like a damaged angel, tender and trembling and determined to do her best. Until fear overcomes her on the night before filming her first important role and she goes on a bender. Shields drops her in a swimming pool to sober her up, and sets her on the path to being a star. And then along comes the celebratory party where Georgia is feted and Jonathan is missing. Heading to his house wrapped in a white mink, and with her heart on her glittery sleeve, she’s determined to celebrate with him. But instead of a celebration, Georgia is faced with the heart-breaking realisation of Shields’s betrayal.

James Lee Bartlow seems the most likely candidate to resist the allure of the film world. A pipe-smoking Southern writer, with a delightful wife - Gloria Grahame, blonde and blithe and funny, with the catch phrase: ‘You’re a very naughty man, I’m happy to say’ - he nonetheless succumbs: ‘I’m flattered that you want me and bitter you got me.’ Jonathan and James go to work on the script, with constant interruptions from charming Rosemary Bartlow, until Shields, unbeknownst to James Lee, arranges a distraction with fatal consequences. It’s the end of another relationship, a definitive severing of all ties, like those with Amiel and Georgia.

But this is Hollywood, and in the final scene the three protagonists are clustered around a phone, listening to the scintillating, despicable Shields pitching them a new project. Until the very end we wonder if they will be sucked in again by his treacherous charm.

Part two of the Vincente Minelli retrospective runs until 26 June 2012 at BFI Southbank.

Eithne Farry