396 Ace in the Hole

Discuss DVDs and Blu-rays released by Criterion and the films on them. If it's got a spine number, it's in here. Threads may contain spoilers.
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Jeff
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396 Ace in the Hole

#1 Post by Jeff » Mon Mar 05, 2007 6:11 pm

Ace in the Hole

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One of the most scathing indictments of American culture ever produced by a Hollywood filmmaker, Academy Award“winner Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole is legendary for both its cutting social critique and its status as a hard-to-find cult classic. Kirk Douglas gives the fiercest performance of his career as Chuck Tatum, an amoral newspaper reporter caught in dead-end Albuquerque who happens upon the story of a lifetime, and will do anything to ensure he gets the scoop. Wilder's follow-up to Sunset Boulevard is an even darker vision, a no-holds-barred exposé that anticipated the rise of the American media circus.

Disc Features

- New, restored high-definition digital transfer
- Audio commentary by film scholar Neil Sinyard
- New video afterword by filmmaker Spike Lee
- Portrait of a "60% Perfect Man": Billy Wilder, a 1980 documentary featuring in-depth interviews with Wilder by film critic Michel Ciment
- A 1984 interview with Kirk Douglas
- Excerpts from a 1986 appearance by Wilder at the American Film Institute
- Excerpts from an audio interview with co-screenwriter Walter Newman
- Theatrical trailer
- PLUS: A booklet featuring new essays by film critic Molly Haskell and filmmaker Guy Maddin

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Last edited by Jeff on Fri Jun 06, 2008 12:50 am, edited 3 times in total.

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#2 Post by Cinephrenic » Mon Mar 05, 2007 6:50 pm

Jeff wrote:Confirmed by Variety:
Criterion, on the other hand, is devoting its new Eclipse line to worthy, but overshadowed, works. The first installment, of early Ingmar Bergman pics, comes March 27 with "Torment," "Crisis," "Port of Call," "Thirst" and "To Joy"; one month later, a set of Louis Malle docus arrives, including "Phantom India."

Becker says Criterion decided to launch Eclipse after seeing the pent-up demand for helmers' less-celebrated films in retrospectives mounted by its theatrical distribution counterpart, Janus Films.

Criterion often takes years to prepare special editions, which meant many films were going unreleased. "We realized we are, in effect, suppressing these films while we are waiting to give them special edition treatment," Becker says.

"We are taking a fairly light hand in restoration of these films, but we are certainly taking the best master we can," he says. "The goal is to make films available."

Meanwhile, the boutique label's still devoting exacting care to releases of long-missing classics like Billy Wilder's "Ace in the Hole" and Lindsay Anderson's "If ..." Becker also enthuses about esoterica such as William Greaves' 1968 doc-style "Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take One," which helmers Steven Soderbergh and Steve Buscemi recommended.
The article also has other quotes by Becker and Warner's George Feltenstein as well as some unsatisfactory explanation to the foot-dragging on Paramount's The African Queen (No, I don't think there's any chance they'd license that one to Criterion).
A quintessential noir classic being released by Criterion. Holy shit!!!

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#3 Post by Tribe » Mon Mar 05, 2007 7:03 pm

Cinephrenic wrote:A quinessential noir classic being released by Criterion. Holy shit!!!
I'd never heard of this. It appears in Silver & Ward's Film Noir, 3d ed. as The Big Carnival.
The Big Carnival is one of the most grimly cynical motion pictures ever to emerge from Hollywood. It was condemned as a compassionless and contemptuos distortion of human nature, while several newspaper film reviewers complained that American journalists had been slandered. However, although the film was reportedly banned in Malaya for portraying a facet of American life "that might be misunderstood," it received the Venice Film Festival award for the outstanding Hollywood film of that year.
And the cynical story line make it all sound great. Anyone know why this one has flown under the radar? Was it only the subject matter that turned audein ces and critics against it?

Really interesting release...and they just don't get much better when Criterion does film noir.

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#4 Post by Highway 61 » Mon Mar 05, 2007 7:28 pm

The Paramount-Criterion alliance is so good it's hard to believe. I'm amazed that Paramount would give up a rare gem like Ace in the Hole that would surely sell well. Warners is making buckets of money releasing less sought-after classics than Ace, but still Paramount hands the film over to Criterion. I'm not objecting, understand, just baffled.

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#5 Post by Jeff » Mon Mar 05, 2007 8:00 pm

Tribe wrote:I'd never heard of this. It appears in Silver & Ward's Film Noir, 3d ed. as The Big Carnival.
It is an absolute classic. Ace in the Hole is probably the greatest film to never be released in any video format. Get thee to Senses of Cinema's appreciation.

Is anyone aware of existing quality supplements that Criterion could acquire for this? I would suggest that the following seem reasonable:
Last edited by Jeff on Mon Mar 05, 2007 8:23 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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#6 Post by Highway 61 » Mon Mar 05, 2007 8:15 pm

Some sort of supplement on journalism would be nice. I always think of the news as having gone to shit only recently when corporations started buying up the privately owned papers and magazines, but when I saw Wilder's film--made over 50 years ago--I obviously had to reconsider. Also, some sort of documentary detailing the film's hushed release and unavailability is essential.

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#7 Post by mikeohhh » Mon Mar 05, 2007 8:45 pm

They need to get a Kirk Douglas interview while they still can. His performance in this film is so vicious and powerful. I'm so thrilled this movie is getting released. One of the most underrated films of all time.

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#8 Post by Tribe » Mon Mar 05, 2007 9:11 pm

How does this compare to Wilder's other noirs (Double Indemnity & Sunset Boulevard)?

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#9 Post by Matt » Mon Mar 05, 2007 9:13 pm

Just for the sake of cross-referencing, there is additional info and discussion about Criterion's licensing of Paramount properties here.

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#10 Post by tryavna » Mon Mar 05, 2007 9:18 pm

Tribe wrote:How does this compare to Wilder's other noirs (Double Indemnity & Sunset Boulevard)?
Well, depending on how narrowly you define noir, Ace in the Hole isn't very similar to Double Indemnity in terms of plot. Nevertheless, it holds up to both films as films extremely well; it really is an unjustly neglected masterpiece. If you love your films cynical, then it doesn't get much darker and more cynical than this one.

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#11 Post by justeleblanc » Tue Mar 06, 2007 12:47 am

Tribe wrote:How does this compare to Wilder's other noirs (Double Indemnity & Sunset Boulevard)?
I'll have to see this movie again, I saw it when the new beverly theater showed it in 2002. All I can remember was being upset by Kirk Douglas's over-cooked performance and by the overall "preaching to the choir" message the film has. It's a good film, but I'll have to see it again. Thinking about it now I found it to be very manipulative.

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#12 Post by Jeff » Tue Mar 06, 2007 3:27 am

I asked Jon Turrell about Wilder several days ago. Understandably, he's getting some help from Kim Hendrickson in handling all of the questions. She wrote back tonight.
Dear Jeff,

Sorry for the delayed response, but I do have good news. Our dvd of ACE IN THE HOLE will be in stores this July.
Thanks for your interest in Criterion.

Best regards,
Kim Hendrickson
On an unrelated note, I'm resolving to leave the Criterion staff alone. They've clearly killed off the Mulvaney character and Matt Lipson seems to have flown the coop. I've only asked Turrell two questions since he generously offered up his email address. I feel some measure of guilt though, that Hendrickson is writing to me after midnight - clearly outside of work hours. They must be overwhelmed with customer questions and requests. For a CEO to make himself and his staff so available to his consumers is pretty rare, and I don't want to take advantage.
justeleblanc wrote:All I can remember was being upset by Kirk Douglas's over-cooked performance and by the overall "preaching to the choir" message the film has. It's a good film, but I'll have to see it again. Thinking about it now I found it to be very manipulative.
It may feel like "preaching to the choir" now, but viewed through the prism of 1951, that was certainly not the case. As tryavna pointed out, the film's take on the media was considered very dark and cynical. The idea of the "media circus" was really perpetuated by this film.

I suppose one could view Douglas's performance being "over-cooked". The same could be said for many of his roles though. Check out Frank Gorshin's impression of Douglas's seething histrionics at various stages of his career in "The Big Story" (a sure bet for the DVD). For me, it's a matter of casting the right actor for the role. Subtlety has no place near the character of Chuck Tatum.

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#13 Post by milkcan » Tue Mar 06, 2007 5:57 pm

I saw Ace in the Hole recently on TCM and I must say it is a superb film - I was glued to the television screen the entire time thanks to a great cast and an appealing storyline with strong dialogue. Douglas does an outstanding job - it's a performance that stays with one. I recall - correct me if I am wrong - that Guy Maddin liked this film and I believe its influence can be seen in his The Saddest Music in the World.

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#14 Post by Tribe » Tue Mar 06, 2007 6:21 pm

milkcan wrote: I recall - correct me if I am wrong - that Guy Maddin liked this film and I believe its influence can be seen in his The Saddest Music in the World.
Please explain. I like Wilder's and Maddin's films, but I just can't reconcile Wilder's tightly flowing noirs with Maddin's tongue in cheek shtick. I haven't seen Ace In the Hole...so please elaborate.

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#15 Post by souvenir » Tue Mar 06, 2007 7:33 pm

This official confirmation is exciting beyond words. I truly think this will mark one of Criterion's most important releases ever. The film has never been available on home video and hasn't appeared on television for years until recently. It's staggering to think that such a remarkable and riveting movie by a filmmaker so revered could have been neglected to this degree, making it nearly impossible to see all these years.

For people like justeleblanc who've only seen it once, I think it really takes at least two viewings to appreciate everything Wilder is doing. He had just had success with Sunset Blvd. the year before and ratcheted up the pessimism to levels previously unseen in Hollywood with Ace in the Hole. It was really the film where all of Wilder's bitter cynicism spewed forth without holding anything back. Not surprisingly, audiences and reviewers didn't like such a downbeat movie.

I can't find anything to fault in Douglas's performance either. Chuck Tatum is a risky role for a movie star and Douglas never flinches. He's cruel and completely without redeeming qualities, but nearly every word from his mouth is magic. Wilder was between writing partners Brackett and Diamond and probably poured his own firsthand worldview, via his journalism experience, into the script more than perhaps anything else he ever did.

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#16 Post by milkcan » Tue Mar 06, 2007 8:11 pm

Please explain. I like Wilder's and Maddin's films, but I just can't reconcile Wilder's tightly flowing noirs with Maddin's tongue in cheek shtick. I haven't seen Ace In the Hole...so please elaborate.
I'm not going to spoil anything for you or anyone else who hasn't seen Wilder's film... but I won't guarantee anything, either:

When I compared Ace in the Hole to The Saddest Music in the World I was referring to their stories and characters. I see Kirk Douglas's character in Mark McKinney's: they're both slimy and crooked, out for the biggest and the best, shattering all real human care and relationships for something more synthetic and phony (at least phony in the eyes of audience members who're aware of what's going on). Douglas's character is out for the news event of the year, while McKinney's is out for the saddest music in the world. Since what they're doing sells, they're alright with it, as evident in the circus like fiascos that occur in both films.

My answer certainly doesn't do justice to the characters or stories of either film- you really must experience Wilder's!

I recall Maddin including Wilder's film in a top ten list somewhere on the internet- whether it was an official list or not I can't say- and I feel he was probably aware of it before production on his film began. But, even if I hadn't known about the list, I could have easily seen the connections.

As far as direction goes, I can't comment on the entire filmographies of either Wilder or Maddin, but if you've seen both films in discussion here you'll understand they're obviously very, very different in terms of style. Both films, however, at least owe something to satire, and where I liked Maddin's demented fantasy world I loved Wilder's dialogue, actors and attitude.

Hope my explanation is satisfying.

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#17 Post by Tribe » Tue Mar 06, 2007 9:44 pm

I'm looking forward to this one. I like what I've read about it here and elsewhere (thanks for the links). Kirk Douglas could really be a ham, but he always tended to be entertaining regardless.

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#18 Post by Steven H » Wed Mar 07, 2007 12:10 am

I couldn't be more excited about this release. And here's a relevant article about Maddin's appreciation of the film (with immediate spoilers, just so you know.)

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#19 Post by Jeff » Wed Mar 07, 2007 12:18 am

Highway 61 wrote:Some sort of supplement on journalism would be nice...Also, some sort of documentary detailing the film's hushed release and unavailability is essential.
mikeohhh wrote:They need to get a Kirk Douglas interview while they still can.
Both excellent suggestions. The supplement I am now most interested is a 1980 documentary on Wilder called Portrait of a 60% Perfect Man. It played Cannes that year. Based on a discussion at HTF and this blurb from the New York Times, I have learned that it consists mainly of an interview by the great Michel Ciment. It sounds like Wilder is at his raconteurial best, telling stories and showing off his amazing art collection. It sounds like a great find for Wilder buffs like me.

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#20 Post by kinjitsu » Wed Mar 07, 2007 3:03 pm

mikeohhh wrote:They need to get a Kirk Douglas interview while they still can.
Kirk Douglas will be in the neighborhood next month for an interview conducted by George Englund. Admission with purchase of Douglas' new memoir, Let's face It: 90 Years of Loving, Living, & Learning.

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#21 Post by porquenegar » Thu Mar 08, 2007 1:03 am

I had a chance to see this at the Palm Springs Film Noir Festival last year and I agree it is fantastic. It is one of the darkest movies I've ever seen and it just keeps getting meaner and more depraved as it goes on. Can't wait to see it again!

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#22 Post by godardslave » Thu Mar 08, 2007 1:22 am

Kirk Douglas wrote:Let's face It: 90 Years of Loving, Living, & Learning.
sounds like the title of a bad "self-help" book. #-o

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#23 Post by Dr Amicus » Fri Mar 16, 2007 6:33 am

Spike Lee is a fan of the film. On the (sadly missed) BBC2 show "Moving Pictures" he admitted one of the shots from Malcolm X was "borrowed" from the ending.

Mind you, there's also a homage to ET...

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#24 Post by BusterK. » Fri Mar 16, 2007 12:53 pm

From Criterion's march newsletter.

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I think we can now expect a release date very soon!

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#25 Post by Via_Chicago » Sat Mar 17, 2007 3:58 pm

I just saw this on TCM. Two observations:

1. Great, great film, without doubt this is one of Wilder's very best.

2. I'm still very disappointed this isn't going to be a Paramount DVD release. Not only does the transfer already look immaculate, but I'd be able to pay $10 for it. Criterion's going to throw a bunch of extras on this that I'm not going to watch and then charge me $40. If it were a transfer in need of serious work, I'd be more than happy that Criterion were releasing it, but the transfer on TCM looked great.

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