#105 Ace in the Hole

Watched: May 7 2017

Director: Billy Wilder

Starring: Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling, Robert Arthur, Porter Hall, Richard Benedict

Year: 1951

Runtime: 1h 51min

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Chuck Tatum (Douglas) is a big city journalist who keeps getting sacked for various offences, such as sleeping with other people’s wives and generally being difficult. With many bridges burned, he gets a job in a small Albuquerque paper where he dreams of getting a big story to facilitate his return to the big city where he feels he belongs.

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Chuck’s not too concerned with the small town newspaper’s motto

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On the way to cover a rattlesnake hunt, Tatum and young photographer Herbie Cook (Arthur) happen across a cave in and a blonde, and Tatum smells a story. He establishes himself as a hero by going into the cave to talk to Leo (Benedict), the man who is trapped there. Tatum decides to milk the story for all it is worth, abandoning the rattlesnake hunt and convincing the sheriff to take his time digging the poor trapped man out.

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After all, being trapped in a cold and musty cave for days on end has never hurt anyone

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The story of Leo trapped in the cave goes viral, 1950s style, and people and reporters come from all over the country to show their support and/or get in on the action. Leo’s disillusioned wife Lorraine (Sterling), the aforementioned blonde, abandons her plan of leaving her trapped husband and instead starts charging admission money for the cliffs, which essentially turn into a (slightly less drugged up) ’50s Woodstock.

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These two are sort of a great match

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This film was fantastic! Tatum is cynical and full of himself, he makes horrible, selfish decisions and he takes no responsibility for his actions. Instead, he tries to take the high ground with Lorraine as his actions have devastating consequences, and he start blaming the spectators and the other reporters for everything that happens. Absolutely zero responsibility taken there.

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“This chin does not make mistakes!”

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Another new favourite of ours, we really recommend Ace in the Hole to anyone who likes a good film. Or a good chin dimple.

What we learned: There are a lot of hard boiled eggs in the world, and Chuck is 20 minutes.

Next time: An American in Paris (1951)

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#102 Sunset Boulevard

Watched: April 30 2017

Director: Billy Wilder

Starring: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim, Nancy Olson, Cecil B. DeMille, Buster Keaton

Year: 1950

Runtime: 1h 50min

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Thematically linked to All About Eve, though centred on Hollywood rather than Broadway, Sunset Boulevard tells the story of broke screenwriter Joe Gillis (Holden) and former silent movie star Norma Desmond (Swanson), who embark on a strange and ill-fated relationship when he accidentally seeks refuge in her decrepit Hollywood mansion on the day of her chimp’s funeral.

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No, we did not make that up.

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When Norma learns that Joe is a writer, she asks him to read through and rewrite her script for her epic comeback Salome and, being down on his luck and about to return home to take an office job, Joe agrees and moves into the faded star’s equally faded mansion.

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Despite the state of the mansion, the floors are waxed to perfection and the quartet has been polished for the occasion

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Joe soon gets used to the lifestyle offered to him by the delusional Norma. Even though he understands that her aspirations to return to the screen are completely unrealistic and he knows that to the outside world she’s a has-been, he, like Norma’s creepy butler Max (von Stroheim), plays along and feeds into her false sense of relevance.

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That’s not all he feeds into if you get our drift… He’s a kept man, is what we’re saying.

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As Norma’s delusion of grandeur increases, Joe’s satisfaction with his life of leisure decreases, and he starts working on the side with Betty Schaefer (Olson) with whom he collaborates on an original screenplay. Norma starts to suspect that her boytoy is getting some on the side, and she is not happy…

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“I let him watch my movies with me and this is how he repays me?!?”

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Now, this film is a classic for a reason. It’s endlessly quotable with a Gothic setting and extremely memorable characters, in particular the unstable, possessive, explosive, toxic and fabulous Norma Desmond. Even our old favourite Buster Keaton makes an appearance, as do old-timey stars Hedda Hopper, H.B. Warner, Anna Q. Nilsson and, famously, Cecil B. DeMille.

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Guess who’s ready for her close-up…

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Sunset Boulevard is a sort of Gothic Film Noir and we loved it completely. It’s one of those films you’ve seen parodied, referenced and referred to, and heard quoted, so many times that you start thinking you’ve actually seen it, but in our case that turned out to be false (for some reason, although this is right up our alley). There’s madness, love, satire and men who (once again) feel they need to make hard decisions for women who love them, without giving them the unbiased facts and letting them choose for themselves. Loved, loved, loved it.

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Ah – Buster. We still love you dearly.

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What we learned: Great stars have great pride.

Next time: The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

#71 The Lost Weekend

Watched: December 19 2016

Director: Billy Wilder

Starring: Ray Milland, Jane Wyman, Phillip Terry, Howard Da Silva, Doris Dowling

Year: 1945

Runtime: 1h 37min

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The Lost Weekend is a classic tale of an alcoholic writer who is struggling to create his masterpiece while keeping the severity of his habit from his girl and his brother.

Don Birnam (Milland) is packing for a weekend away with his brother Wick (Terry) and is desperately trying to find an opportunity to smuggle some whiskey into his luggage, as his brother is not exactly impressed by his alcohol consumption.

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His bartender isn’t particularly impressed either

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After failing to bring with him his hidden whiskey, Birnam decides to stay in the city and get drunk rather than join his brother for a sober weekend in the country. Like a true addict, he’ll do anything to get a fix, and while he’s funny in his quest for a drink, it is also incredibly sad to watch a talented and generally good man go down this road of self destruction.

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It’s almost as if someone is trying to say that his life is ruled by drink

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The four day weekend (such luxury!) includes, but is not limited to, him hurting his long suffering girlfriend Helen (Wyman), flirting with (and also hurting) fellow barfly Gloria (Dowling, who’s incredibly hip with the lingo!), trying to pawn his precious type writer, ending up in the alcoholic ward of a hospital, ditching church to rob a liquor store instead (it’s a choice), and finally succumbing to delirium and depression.

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Like Mina, he is also attacked by bats, but that’s a whole other story

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The Lost Weekend is based on a (fairly autobiographical) novel by Charles Jackson, which we have not read, but definitely should. It is a powerful and realistic story which does not shy too far away from the horrifying truth of substance abuse. When younger, we may have seen the character of the young alcoholic writer as romantic, but we are far older and wiser than we once were (but not, you know, too old. Just charmingly so. And very wise.) and we now see the tragedy of it all. In the end, the talented but dried-up (in some sense of the phrase, at least) artist is saved by love and purpose, although how long it will last we will never know. Unless we dig into the life of Charles Jackson, we suppose.

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In a way he is also, somewhat ironically, saved by his bartender.

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Milland won a well-deserved Oscar for his portrayal of Birnam, and the film was also awarded Best Picture, Best Director and Best Writing in 1946. If that’s not enough incentive for you to watch this classic, there’s really nothing more we can say.

What we learned: alcohol may help creativity but it will stop you actually realising your ideas.

Next time: The Thin Man (1934) – new addition to the list

#66 Double Indemnity

Watched: December 23 2016

Director: Billy Wilder

Starring: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson

Year: 1944

Runtime: 1h 47min

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Oh, the dialogue! If you’re not interested in Film Noir, you should check this one out for the snappy dialogue alone. Old-timey flirting is the best flirting!

Insurance salesman Walter Neff (MacMurray), swings by a client’s house to renew his car insurance, but meets a Dame instead. The Dame is Phyllis Dietrichson (Stanwyck), the client’s wife and winner of History’s Sexiest Name Award, and flirtatious banter ensues.

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“Suppose I can rid you of that anklet of yours?” “Suppose it digs into my ankle”

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Turns out the dame isn’t too fond of her husband after he lost his fortune, and she’s unusually interested in accident insurance for said husband. She invites Walter back when her husband is home, but changes the appointment to make sure the they’re alone. The two start plotting ways to get her husband the insurance without him knowing it and then making sure he has an accident to cash in on. A fatal one.

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So inconspicuous right now!

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Walter and Phyllis do the deed and make very sure it can’t be interpreted as anything but an accident as Walter works with insurance blood hound Barton Keyes (Robinson, of Little Caesar-fame) who is sure to investigate.

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Robinson’s come a long way since his mafia days.

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Now, Phyllis might be a femme fatale (her past certainly seems to suggest so), but Walter is not by any means an innocent man driven to murder by the woman he loves. He tells the story and so we only get his side of it, but it is very clear that he is the mastermind behind the murder. He plans everything to the last detail and Phyllis operates on his orders. This does not mean that she is innocent, but either Walter is the driving force behind the whole thing, or his male ego won’t let him admit that Phyllis was smarter than him and so he makes it look as though he planned the crime. None of those options reflects very well on him.

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She does have a tendency to hover in the background, but we’re sure that’s perfectly innocent

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Double Indemnity is exciting and suspenseful, but the main reason we love it is easily the dialogue and banter! The first encounter between the main characters is amazing. We need to practice our old-timey flirting.

What we learned: sometimes murder smells like honeysuckle.

Next time: Murder, my Sweet (1944)