****/**** Image A- Sound B Extras A-
starring Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling, Bob Arthur, Porter Hall
screenplay by Billy Wilder, Lesser Samuels, Walter Newman
directed by Billy Wilder
by Walter Chaw Ace in the Hole is full of bees. It's the most scabrous, uncompromised work from Billy Wilder, who never made a movie that wasn't kind of an asshole; and never made a movie that didn't reflect the essential nihilism of his worldview. He's a fascinating figure, Wilder--a director of obvious genius who has defied easy auteur classification not because he didn't have his distinguishing characteristics (the outsider hero yearning for assimilation, for instance), but because his films are only queasily liked and then only at arm's length. His stuff is poisonous. There's a sense that reviewing him is like trying to dissect a facehugger: if you poke too insistently, you'll release acid. You can point to Some Like it Hot as an exception, but I would respond that that film is about a notorious gangland massacre, repressed homosexuality, rape (kind of), chiselling, and the difficulties embedded in gender expectation and objectification. Wilder's treatment of Marilyn Monroe there and in the earlier The Seven-Year Itch, and his later comments about Marilyn's stupidity, her breasts, and his venal rationale for working with her twice, all feeds into the read that Ace in the Hole is close to autobiography. A curmudgeon with wit is an asshole by any other name. What would Wilder have done with his dream project, Schindler's List? Like Ace in the Hole, I imagine it would have been more about a world that would endorse such atrocity than about the atrocity itself.
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