Ace in the Hole (1951) starring Kirk Douglas

Introduction

With a career spanning more than 7 decades, Kirk Douglas has long since earned his place in Hollywood history. December 9, 2016 was the iconic actor’s 100th birthday (WOW)! His is a real-life “up from nothing” story; Douglas is the son of Jewish immigrants (from modern-day Belarus) who settled in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. As a youngster, he was a good student and athlete (even wrestling competitively at St. Lawrence University). Douglas discovered an acting scholarship and was talented enough to get into the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

After working on the New York stage (alongside good friend Lauren Bacall), he began his film career in the 1946 Barbara Stanwyck vehicle The Strange Loves of Martha Ivers, which was soon followed by memorable roles in Out of the Past, Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s A Letter to Three Wives, among others. Douglas also developed his own projects behind the camera, releasing the historical epic Spartacus through his own production company. 

Movie Review: Ace in the Hole 

ace-in-the-hole-1951-3

[1] This movie fits nicely into the film noir genre, although it takes place largely under the hot, harsh glare of the New Mexico sun, highlighting the sweat and grime visible on the characters’ skin and creating a visual metaphor for the sorry state of their souls. 

[2] Perhaps the cause of failure of this film [at the box office] is that there are no sympathetic characters here… The screenplay, and the lead performances are top class. The extensive location photography, and somewhat documentary look of the film makes the film feel more modern than most 1951 films.

[3] The world described here is so depressing, so disheartening that it takes drama to new limits. Not only Tatum is evil, but so are the miner’s wife and family who take advantage of the situation, regardless of any morals. So is the faceless crowd, who has a wild time, near a dying man. You and me, we could be part of this populace, and maybe we’ve already been! 

Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Ace In The Hole - 2.jpg

This film, featuring Douglas (who plays Chuck Tatum) as an antihero, is on Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list. I rented it on YouTube recently. Aside from the length (it could’ve used more editing), I thought it was pretty good. It was co-written by Billy Wilder, so you know the dialogue (esp. that for Chuck) will be fast, funny, and VERY interesting. Wilder’s wife, Audrey Young, came up with the funny, yet irreverent line spoken by Jan Sterling (Lorraine Minosa): “I don’t go to church. Kneeling bags my nylons.”

No chopped chicken liver! No garlic pickles. No Lindy’s. No Madison Square Garden. No Yogi Berra! -Chuck complains re: missing NYC

ace-lorraine

Chuck has been fired from a few different newspapers (drinking too much, chasing a publisher’s wife, etc.)  He manages to get on the staff of an Albuquerque paper. Finally, Chuck learns re: Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict), a man who got trapped in a mine while digging for Indian (Native American) relics. Herbie Cook (Robert Arthur) is the wide-eyed young reporter who tags along w/ Chuck.

Human interest. You pick up the paper, you read about 84 men or 284, or a million men, like in a Chinese famine. You read it, but it doesn’t say with you. One man’s different, you want to know all about him. That’s human interest. -Chuck explains to Herbie 

douglas_ace_star.jpg

Leo is trapped inside a mine in the Mountain of the Seven Vultures. Chuck manipulates the (politically-ambitious) sheriff, the Army engineer running the rescue operation, and Leo’s wife, Lorraine. Chuck, with his wily words, manages to prolong the rescue efforts; what could’ve taken just twelve hours lasts six days. Leo’s story becomes known nationwide, making Tatum a star reporter (yet again), and creating a circus around the desert town.  

The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)

Lana Turner
Georgia Lorrison (Lana Turner)

NOTE: This review contains MAJOR spoilers! 

This film takes some time to get going, but when it gains momentum- yowza!  Near the start of the film, ambitious movie producer Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas) notices potential in young actress Georgia Lorrison (Lana Turner).  Boldly, he goes over to her ratty apartment very late at night.  Georgia stumbles home drunkenly and finds him just sitting in her armchair.  Georgia is a bit shocked, but then hits on Jonathan.  (That’s how she gets parts, after all.)  He’s disgusted, letting her know that she needs to quit drinking and sleeping around, if she ever hopes for a real career.

Kirk Douglas and Lana Turner
Jonathan talks (show) biz w/ Georgia

It turns out that both of them had successful fathers.  Georgia keeps a little shrine to her father, a Hollywood legend, in one corner of her place.  At first, it’s all (show) business: Jonathan boosts up Georgia’s confidence by standing up to her detractors,  believing in her potential, and promoting her for a juicy part. 

Jonathan and Georgia have a falling out
Jonathan and Georgia have a falling out

Georgia falls deeply in love with Jonathan, but he can’t return her feelings.  They have a tremendous fight instead of celebrating their mutual success.  Georgia never works with Jonathan again, but she becomes one of Hollywood’s most sought after leading ladies.

The professor (Dick Powell) and his wife (Gloria Grahame)
The professor (Dick Powell) and his wife (Gloria Grahame)

A Southern academic, James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell) writes a novel which becomes very popular.  Jonathan wants the author to write the screenplay for a feature film, so he invites the unassuming professor and his devoted/lovely wife, Rosemary (Gloria Grahame) to Hollywood.  To ensure that Bartlow has time to write, Jonathan plans a weekend getaway for Rosemary and a suave actor.  It goes tragically wrong, but compels Bartlow to write a book about Rosemary.  Bartlow feels that only Georgia Lorrison is capable of bringing his wife to life onscreen. 

b&b_final

In the last scene, we see a director (one of Jonathan’s business partners), actress (Georgia), and writer (Bartlow) come close to the phone to listen in on Jonathan and a studio head. They all want to be in his light (literally) once more.  Jonathan used them to get ahead in his career, but their own careers were improved because of him

Kirk Douglas is impressive as a complicated anti-hero.  Jonathan feels alive when he’s working, but after that, he goes through a troubling time.  Douglas is more than up for the challenge of this role- you can’t see the acting!  Lana Turner is much more than a (very) pretty face.  Her character goes through a transformation- from troubled B-movie actress to headliner.  Gloria Grahame’s role is small, yet pivotal.  She’s a Southern belle who loves her husband, believes in his talent, yet is awed by the glamor of Hollywood.   

The Last Sunset (1961)

I was flipping through channels a few days ago and happened upon this dramatic Western.  It just caught my attention from the first scene.  A striking man dressed all in black, Brendan O’Malley (Kirk Douglas), rides up to a simple ranch house in the Mexican desert and humbly asks for food and shelter.  From the way they look at each other, we know that there is something going on between him and the lady of the house, Belle Breckenridge (Dorothy Malone), a strong/beautiful woman.  She has a bright/lovely teen daughter, Missy (Carol Lynley), who’s very intrigued by the stranger.

When Mr. Breckenridge (Joseph Cotton, playing against type) comes home, he’s drunk.  The rancher offers O’Malley a job; he needs men (aside from his two Mexican ranch hands) to take his cattle to Texas.  O’Malley says that he can be “the gun” (protect the herd/ladies), but he knows someone who can be a great “trail man.”  He fails to mention that this man is also a marshall, Dana Stribling (Rock Hudson), who has been tracking him for SOME time.

After the drive, O’Malley says he’ll take 1/3 of the herd.  “Oh, and I also plan to take your wife,” he adds nonchalantly.

This film contains unlikely twists and turns.  The characters develop and change over time.  The more traditional handsome man, Hudson, is in the secondary role (the white hat).  I think he does a FINE job w/ his role of the straight-shooter.  Pay attention to the touching scene with Hudson, Lynley, and a baby calf.  But the star is Douglas, who captivates and smolders onscreen (and not just because of his muscles).  He portrays a troubled man full anger, regret, and finally… selflessness.

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

When the dir. of this film noir, Lewis Blackstone, complained to Lauren Bacall re: the “lack of interesting men in Hollywood,” she immediately recommended Kirk Douglas (her good friend from NYC theater days).  That is how Douglas got his 1st film role- starring opposite Barbara Stanwyck no less!  Stanwyck, known as a generous co-star, helped Douglas manuever through his 1st film.  He does a TERRIFIC job, as do his fellow 3 leads.

In 1928, strong-willed teen Martha Ivers is desperate to run away from her small factory town (Iverstown, PA)  and the domineering/wealthy aunt who’s in custody of her after her parents’ deaths.  A street-smart boy from the other side of the tracks (and close friend), Sam Masterson, is also planning to run away to join the circus.  Their plan is thwarted first by  local cops (under the thumb of the aunt) and then by Martha’s tutor, Mr. O’Neil (trying to ingratiate himself w/ the aunt).  Walter, O’Neil’s straight-arrow son, wants to win Martha’s friendship.  That stormy night, things occur that will change the course of  these characters’ lives forever.

Then we go forward to 1946, when a grown-up Sam (Van Heflin) drives into Iverstown to find “his people” (relatives).  While daydreaming, his car got dinged up, so he has to stop at a garage.   He meets a beautiful young woman Antonia “Toni” Marachek (Lizabeth Scott) sitting on the steps of his former house, now a boarding house.  She’s not sure if she should take the late bus to her parents’ house in the next town.  They commiserate re: the mistakes they’ve made in life, etc.

Sam, a drifter/gambler, is chagrined to discover that “scared little boy” Walter (Douglas) is now a DA w/ political ambition.  Walter is also married to Martha, who has expanded her aunt’s factory, created many jobs, and become a powerful woman in her OWN right.  Toni gets in trouble w/ the law, so Sam goes to Walter’s office seeking help.  Martha comes in while the men are talking; she is VERY happy/excited to see her old friend (and first crush) all grown-up.  She wants to speand some time w/ Sam.  Walter is wary of Sam, fearing that he knows the truth of what happened all those years ago.

This is a well-paced film that contains clever dialogue, intriguing characters, and plot twists.  The quick-witted/confidant Sam is a catalyst for change in the lives of the other characters, but he’s not always 100% sure of the right thing to do.  Martha and Walter’s relationship is complicated and (IMO) HIGHLY dysfunctional.  It’s fun to watch though!