Don’t judge us. Our only other option is broadcast TV, which around here includes Live Doppler Radar and The Rifleman, in addition to certain sermons by Creflo Dollar that appear to have been taped prior to the unfortunate incident with his rebellious daughter. Then there are the endless reruns of Antiques Road Show.
So it’s ancient films for us. Some are fun to watch, even though very few of them merit the “classic” status they enjoy by virtue of age and black-and-white photography. What I like most about them is the glimpse they afford of the America that was: The clothes and the cars and the pervasive stereotypes. I also get a kick out of the preposterous scripts and scenery-chewing performances. Subtlety was seriously undervalued, back in the day. But then, the movie industry was still pretty young.
Ever seen Ace in the Hole? Made in 1951, it stars Kirk Douglas as a cynical reporter who comes upon a guy trapped in a cave and manipulates the story to his own benefit. It’s pretty dark even by Billy Wilder standards (the guy who did Sunset Boulevard and The Lost Weekend), but Douglas is so over the top in every scene that it’s actually kind of funny in 2012. His co-star, Jan Sterling, is far more interesting as an ice-cold widow in waiting.
Another reason I mention this one over the others we’ve watched recently: It’s a newspaper movie. There aren’t a lot of those, possibly because journalists in general make poor protagonists. Try to imagine a thrilling story about someone who sits on his or her ass for most of the workday and you’ll see why. Yes, All the President’s Men did briefly enrich the fantasy lives of small-town reporters everywhere, but really: Even when the job is exciting, it’s kind of dull. Newspaper movies are exciting only to the extent that they distort the profession.
If you want a good feel for the way the newspaper business never ever was, check out Ace in the Hole. If you want to howl with unfettered derision and actually spew popcorn at the TV, check out -30-, starring Jack Webb. Now that’s a newspaper movie.