The Command (1954)

thecommand_3Starring Guy Madison, Joan Weldon, James Whitmore, Carl Benton Reid, Harvey Lembeck, Ray Teal, Robert Nichols, Don Shelton

Directed by David Butler

Expectations: None.

twohalfstar


The Command features an interesting premise for a fairly standard “Cowboys & Indians” western: after the Captain of the cavalry unit is killed, the unit’s doctor is given command of the company until they reach Ft. Stark and a hard-earned rest. But along they way, the cavalry runs into an Infantry Unit escorting a wagon train of civilians through Indian country. The infantry commander requests the cavalry unit to provide support on their journey, so now what was to be a short career in command for Dr. Robert MacClaw (Guy Madison) becomes a test of the doctor’s ability to save lives on a massive scale through strategy and confidence, instead of healing.

This kind of story, where an unlikely hero rises to the occasion, is nothing new (even in 1954, I’m sure), and The Command doesn’t do a lot to separate itself from the pack. Guy Madison has a great presence as the doctor turned commander, evoking the sensitivity of a caring doctor well. The only problem is that he begins the film nearly as confident as he ends it, so his struggle to find strength is more of a red herring than it initially seems. The film is actually more about MacClaw proving himself and earning the respect of the men he’s leading through dangerous territory. This is further complicated for MacClaw with the introduction of the infantry, who apparently have a long-standing rivalry with the cavalry, so the Doc must also convince these infantrymen and their commander that he’s worthy of their trust and respect.

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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.

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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