Major film by a major American director

Major film by a major American director

Robert Tanitch reviews the latest DVDs

ACE IN A HOLE (Eureka). Billy Wilder thought his bitingly cynical commentary on journalists and a morbid gawping public was his best film. It flopped at the box office in 1951. It is, nevertheless, a major film of the period and there is Kirk Douglas in one of his best roles as an opportunistic journalist who capitalizes on a man who is trapped in a cave. The man could have been rescued in hours. Instead the rescue is deliberately delayed and stretched to last a week so that the journalist can tell a Big Story daily and rejuvenate his career. A tragedy is turned into a money-making circus. The story was inspired by the Floyd Collins 1925 cave tragedy.

AMERICAN HUSTLE (Entertainment in Video). Con-man (Christian Bale with toupe and what a toupe!) and his partner (Amy Davis in curlers) are forced to work for the FBI (Bradley Cooper, manic, also in curlers). Their job is to round up a mayor (Jeremy Renner, the only honest person in the movie) and the Mafia. David O Russell’s lush, glossy caper, a late 1970’s scam, loosely based on true events, is serio-comic, but more comic than serious, in that everybody is conning everybody else. Jennifer Laurence steals the film as the con-man’s neurotic dumb wife; she is a very loose cannon indeed.

VIOLENT SATURDAY (Eureka). Richard Fleisscher’s 1955 heist movie is set in a small mining town. The casting may raise expectations. Victor Mature becomes a hero to his son. Ernest Borgnine is an Amish farmer who knows what to do with a pitchfork. Lee Marvin is a sadist with a blocked nose. Tommy Noonan is a Peeping Tom. Best of all is J Carrol Naish as a dapper old robber. Too much time is spent on stories you are not remotely interested in and not nearly enough time on the heist. The actual framing of the shots is always more interesting than either the acting or the dialogue.

THE BELLES OF ST TRINIAN’S (StudioCanal).  St Trinian’s, the most famous girls’ school in England, is immortalised in Ronald Searle’s cartoons. It’s difficult to believe today that 50 years ago this film was the top British film at the box office. Alastair Sim in drag is absolutely fine for the headmistress but the script is so singularly unfunny and it’s not a patch on Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat’s other school comedy, the best school comedy ever, the hilarious The Happiest Days of Your Life with Alistair Sim and Margaret Rutherford as head teachers.

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