The Villain (1979)

140420The Villain (1979)
AKA Cactus Jack

Starring Kirk Douglas, Ann-Margret, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Paul Lynde, Foster Brooks, Ruth Buzzi, Jack Elam, Strother Martin

Directed by Hal Needham

Expectations: Low, I’ve heard bad things.


Enjoying Hal Needham’s The Villain as an adult requires one thing: a healthy love of Wile E. Coyote. I suppose you should also like ’70s movies too, but that’s kind of beside the point as this movie doesn’t feel like it’s from any specific time. It’s something that would only get made in the ’70s, but it never feels ’70s-ish, ya dig? In any case, if you’ve ever harbored some affection for the coyote with luck as bad as a 14-year-old’s acne, then you really should hunt this one down.

The Villain isn’t always trying to tell a story, but when it is, it goes something like this: Charming Jones (Ann-Margret) is on a train to town, looking to pick up some money for her father. The Handsome Stranger (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is her bodyguard waiting at the train station, ready to escort her home with the money in tow. But before we are introduced to them, we are introduced to the title character: the villain Cactus Jack Slade (Kirk Douglas). He sure looks the part with Douglas’s reckless good looks and determined swagger, but he’s a far sight from a man who can get the job done. After landing himself in jail, he makes a deal to intercept the Handsome Stranger and Charming while they journey home, stealing the money and thus dooming Charming’s family farm.

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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.


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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