Ace in the Hole (1951)

Ace in the Hole_01Ace in the Hole (1951)
AKA The Big Carnival

Starring Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling, Robert Arthur, Porter Hall, Frank Cady, Richard Benedict, Ray Teal, Lewis Martin, John Berkes, Frances Dominguez, Gene Evans

Directed by Billy Wilder

Expectations: Very high. This has been on the watchlist for years.

fourstar


Many years ago, my good friend Uncle Jasper told me about this movie Ace in the Hole. He said something like, “You gotta see it, Will. You’ll love it.” At the time we were both heavily into Billy Wilder’s films, so I made a mental note to see it when I could. The film proved rather hard to track down, though, as it had never been released to DVD and its VHS release had long since gone out of print. But the real reason is most likely my penchant for procrastination, because even when Criterion put out a stunning edition of the film in 2007, I decided to watch it later. This time it was because sometime in the mid-2000s I had tired of watching classic films, so I thought I’d wait until a better time presented itself. But as those who also procrastinate will know, there never is a better time and before you know it another five years have passed. So that’s why Ace in the Hole was the first film I locked in for my Blind Spot list, and honestly, I think the experience was even better for waiting.

Ace in the Hole starts with a pompous journalist riding in his car into Albuquerque, NM… behind a tow truck. Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) is a big-time journalist from New York, but he’s a little down on his luck. He lost his job so he’s come to Albuquerque in hopes of landing something quick and repairing his reputation through a dynamite story that makes headlines nationwide. Even though the paper in Albuquerque mostly covers local interest stories like fairs and rattlesnake events, he’s confident he can drum up something. Tatum’s confidence is his overwhelming trait, but his entrance via tow truck shows us that he’s also something of an unreliable force and not as self-sufficient as he’d like us to believe.

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Hell and High Water (1954)

Starring Richard Widmark, Bella Darvi, Victor Francen, Cameron Mitchell, Gene Evans, David Wayne, Stephen Bekassy, Richard Loo

Directed by Samuel Fuller

Expectations: Low. This is Fuller’s least favorite film according to his book.


Hell and High Water begins in classic Sam Fuller style, hitting hard with a stunning image designed to immediately excite the viewer and grab hold of their attention. The particular image that opens this Fuller film is a giant nuclear explosion on a remote island (which is actual footage of a test blast by the military), and we’re quickly told via narration that it’s this explosion that the film is about. Sort of. The explosion is more like the catalyst to the film and its climax, but I guess you could say that the explosion informs the entire film and gives tension to the events presented within. That’s kind of a stretch though. This conflicted feeling I have is representative of how I feel about the entire film.

Going into Hell and High Water I had virtually no idea what the film was about. All I knew was that it was a Sam Fuller film, that it was something of a military film, that it was a bigger budget studio picture made as a favor, and that it was Fuller’s least favorite of his pictures. Like the opening explosion, the knowledge that Fuller didn’t like this one informed my viewing of the film. To my surprise though (and realistically I shouldn’t be surprised), Hell and High Water is pretty damn fun, and exceedingly well produced. It is Fuller’s first film in color, as well as his first CinemaScope film and he wastes no time in utilizing both to great effect.

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Park Row (1952)

Starring Gene Evans, Mary Welch, Bela Kovacs, Herbert Heyes, Tina Pine, George O’Hanlon, J.M. Kerrigan, Forrest Taylor, Don Orlando, Neyle Morrow, Dick Elliott, Stuart Randall, Dee Pollock, Hal K. Dawson

Directed by Samuel Fuller

Expectations: Extremely high. I’ve built this one up in my mind to be one of the greatest and most anticipated films I haven’t seen yet.


In Sam Fuller’s awesome auto-biography, A Third Face: My Tale of Writing, Fighting and Filmmaking, he relates the story of how he tried to sell Daryl Zanuck on the idea of making Park Row (Fuller was contracted with Zanuck at the time with a multi-picture deal). Zanuck always shot it down, and in the final plea, Zanuck suggested that it would be a better movie as a big CinemaScope musical. Sam Fuller wanted the film to reflect the reality of the newspaper industry and singing newsman doesn’t really fit that bill. Fuller then states, “I decided that the only way to make Park Row was to put up my own dough and produce it myself. Two hundred grand, to be exact. To hell with Zanuck and Fox! Fuck the entire studio system! My film was going to be a gift to American journalism.” This shows just how personal and important the film was to him, and boy does it ever show in the finished product.

Park Row is set in the 1880s on the titular street that the newspapers of New York call home. Our lead is the hard-nosed newsman Phineas Mitchell played by Gene Evans, truly one of the greatest unsung actors of his generation. At the outset of the film he is employed by The Star, the oldest paper in New York and run by Charity Hackett (Mary Welch). She inherited the job and therefore doesn’t know or care to know about true journalistic integrity. Fueled by the recent hanging of a man, Evans uses the power of words to start a shitstorm with Hackett. This gets him fired but it leads to the greatest opportunity of his career, starting up his own paper, The Globe.

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Fixed Bayonets! (1951)

Fixed Bayonets! (1951)

Starring Richard Basehart, Gene Evans, Michael O’Shea, Richard Hylton, Skip Homeier, David Wolfson, Henry Kulky, Craig Hill

Directed by Samuel Fuller

Expectations: Another Sam Fuller, I’m fairly positive I’ll enjoy this, but as it’s his first studio picture I’m worried it may be watered down.


It’s no secret to frequent visitors that Samuel Fuller is one of my most favorite filmmakers. The man was years ahead of his time and his films continue to resonate just as well, if not better, than they did upon release. I approached my viewing of Fixed Bayonets! with slight apprehension though, as I feared that Fuller’s transition to the studio system (his previous three films were all independently produced) would cramp his style a bit. While Fixed Bayonets! does not have the hard-hitting social commentary and racial tension of Fuller’s other 1951 film, The Steel Helmet, it makes up for that with hard-hitting war action and survival drama. This is essentially a smaller, more localized version of Fuller’s epic The Big Red One.

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The Steel Helmet (1951)

The Steel Helmet (1951)

Starring Gene Evans, William Chun, Robert Hutton, Steve Brodie, James Edwards, Richard Loo, Sid Melton, Richard Monahan, Harold Fong, Neyle Morrow, Lynn Stalmaster

Directed by Samuel Fuller

Expectations: Love it, and hoping to get some more out of it the second go-round.


After a long hiatus, I finally return to my Samuel Fuller series. I have seen this film once before, about ten or so years back, and I was simply blown away. It was the second Sam Fuller movie I had seen, but the first that I truly loved. Shock Corridor was the first for those that care, and that one is so out there that I had a hard time wrapping my head around it in any meaningful way the first time around. I didn’t dislike it, but I didn’t necessarily like it either. The Steel Helmet however, took me by the scruff of my neck and threw me directly into the fire and the passion of Sam Fuller’s best work.

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Shock Corridor (1963)

Starring Peter Breck, Constance Towers, Gene Evans, James Best, Hari Rhodes, Larry Tucker, Paul Dubov, Chuck Roberson, Neyle Morrow, John Matthews, Bill Zuckert, John Craig, Philip Ahn

Directed by Samuel Fuller

Expectations: High. I’ve seen it before, about nine-ten years back, but now I like Sam Fuller a lot more.


I’ve previously stated my love for Samuel Fuller, so I won’t repeat myself here. I had seen this film about nine years back, and I liked it at the time, but it was the first Sam Fuller film I had seen and it was before I knew anything about him. After watching Shutter Island, I had a burning desire to re-watch Shock Corridor, another film dealing with mental hospitals. Scorsese is on record as being a huge fan of this film, so I figured at some level he was influenced to make Shutter Island out of his love for Shock Corridor. After re-watching this, I can’t say that there’s any specific connection between the two, but it did make for an interesting pair of very different films.

Fuller opens his film with a Euripides quote, “Whom God wishes to destroy, he first turns mad.” It’s a stark way to open a B-picture, but this is Sam Fuller we’re talking about and he is all about putting the truth in our faces and letting us squirm in our seats as we are confronted by it. It is interesting to consider this quote against each character and how they ended up in the mental hospital. The quote exemplifies everything Fuller is trying to say within the film, so unlike a lot of quotes at the beginning of stuff, this one has real weight and power behind it.

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