Monday, June 25, 2007


I love old movies and I love the stars in them. I recently watched two seemingly unrelated movies with the same star and afterwards , I saw the common theme, "you can't fight city hall." They just came from opposite viewpoints.

The two films both featuring Kirk Douglas were, "PATHS OF GLORY" from 1957 and "THE BIG CARNIVAL" from 1951. Please note and don't be confused that the Big Carnival has an alternate title that I prefer, "ACE IN THE HOLE."

Paths of Glory, by pluralizing "path" in the title, suggests that there is more than one way to succeed. In this definitive anti-war statement set during the first World War, glory for the French can be attained from several differ prospectives.

A big general gets a lesser general to send his men on a suicide mission after he is reminded/bribed with the idea of a promotion, the positive political implications after the war and the glory his success will bring.

Kirk Douglas portrays a field commander named Colonel Dax. He is in the trenches with his men and they all understand the futility of "going over the top," into the teeth of the German stronghold. Still, he rallies his men and together, they answer their call to duty. They charge out into "no man's land" and as expected, are overwhelmingly cut down.
The high command seeking to keep their hands from being soiled, blames the men of cowardice. It is decided that a hundred random men will be shot. Although the lesser general reduces the number three, Dax (a lawyer in civilian life) sees through their veneer and insists on a trail.

Despite Colonel Dax's insistence on courtroom procedure, the trail is nothing more than a "kangaroo court martial." Dax is squashed by the upper echelon and fails to prove his clients' innocence. However, along the way, he bring out some startling and embarrassing revelations. Nevertheless, his men face the firing squad anyway.

Afterwards, in a discomforting display of elite power, corruption and hypocrisy, the big general sidesteps any culpability and leaves the lesser general disgraced to face Dax's counter-charges.

The movie ends with the big general trying to convince Dax to put the trail behind him and keep quiet. In so doing, like the lesser general, he is offered a promotion and reminded of the politics and of course of the glory.

In the movie "ACE IN THE HOLE," Douglas is city hall. He plays Charlie Tatum an ex-high profile newspaper reporter trying to get back on his feet. After a long search, Tatum applies for a job in Albuquerque New Mexico. As part of his spiel Tatum brags, "I can handle big news and small news...and if there's no news, I'll go out and bite a dog." Despite his cynicism and bullying tactics, he is hired.

A year passes and Tatum's edginess worsens as he realizes that Albuquerque has not been the stepping stone back to the big-time that he had imagined. Tatum's luck suddenly changes when he and a photographer are sent out of town, to cover a frog jumping contest. Along the way they learn of a man named Leo Minosa trapped deep in a mineshaft-like Indian cave dwelling. After speaking with the local sheriff and the engineers who come to make the rescue effort safe, Tatum convinces them that everyone will be better served if it takes over a week, instead of eighteen hours. In a whimsical moment Tatum says to the photographer, "Bad news sells best...'cause good news, is no news!"
Motivated by the hopes of winning the Pulitzer Prize, Douglas is at his inhuman best. He deliberately keeps Minosa buried and uses the extra time to horde exclusive rights to the story. At the same time, he makes a carnival atmosphere out the accident scene (perhaps this movie was the inspiration for the phrase"media-circus.") Simultaneously, he milks the public with his daily articles and becomes a national sensation. Tatum is back on top! Until Minosa dies.

Either way you look at it, these are two great movies to rent and you won't have to fight city hall or Kirk Douglas to see them.

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