Top positive review
10 people found this helpful
on 20 March 2015
When Billy Wilder, the Director of this classic movie, was once asked why he thought the film had been a commercial flop he answered "The American public wanted sugar, I gave them vinegar". The American public's sweet tooth deprived them of the chance to see a true classic. This is just the kind of movie that those who criticise Hollywood think it is incapable of producing, and yet here is a movie directed by one of its top directors and starring one of its top stars that looks directly into the dark soul of the media, the American public and the American democratic system, no wonder America found it difficult to cope with this movie.
The plot involves Kirk Douglas as Chuck Tattum a journalist whose drinking and womanising has had him kicked off the country's top newspapers. He finds himself in Albuquerque working on the local paper, trying to convince everyone they are in the presence of greatness. One day, when sent out to cover a rattlesnake safari, he stumbles across a man trapped down some ancient mine workings. He quickly writes a story with a headline about a man trapped by an ancient curse and watches as it captures the public imagination and they start flooding in to see it for themselves. But when he becomes aware that the rescue will only take a day he uses the local sheriff, who he convinces he can get re-elected in the upcoming election, to convince the rescuers to go in the long way. It will take a week but will guarantee Tatum the story, and perhaps the Pulitzer, he feels he deserves. And here Wilders cynicism really kicks in. Everyone wants their bit of the action, Tatum wants his job back on one of the top newspapers, the sheriff wants his re-election, the trapped mans wife sees it as a way out of a mundane loveless marriage and a way to make money, and the American public, they want their drama with a nice happy ending.
There is no flab on this film, every scene moves at a pace. Douglas might be the only 'star' but everyone plays their part especially Jan Sterling as the want away wife and Ray Teal as the slimy crooked sheriff. But this of course is Douglas' film. He is at the centre of nearly every scene. Some people think his performance is bit over the top, and of course he was never the most subtle of actors, but the role requires that, Tatum is not the most subtle of characters, you find it hard to take your eyes of him, no matter how low he is prepared to go. Of course the film is littered with Wilders wonderful dialogue, the best line coming from the trapped mans wife after she has overheard the sheriff and Tatum convince the rescuer to take the long route. She follows Tatum to his room and says"I've met some hard boiled eggs in my time, but you, you're twenty minutes". Genius.
Perhaps it's failure at the time was due to people feeling it was all a bit far fetched. But now we know different,now we know how low the press can be prepared to go to get its stories, and it was probably so back in 1951. If you like cracking dialogue, if you like to be reminded that Hollywood has always produced great movies, if you like your movies to look into the dark places that many are unwilling to go, and you prefer a bit of vinegar to sugar, then this is the film for you.