Ray Teal

Ace in the Hole (1951, Billy Wilder)

Ace in the Hole moves while the script–from director Wilder, Lesser Samuels and Walter Newman–never races. In fact, it’s deliberate and methodical, maybe even redundant at times (especially in the first act). The redundant moments aren’t actually a problem since Kirk Douglas is in almost every scene of the film and, even when he doesn’t have the best scene, his performance is fantastic.

Douglas plays disgraced newspaperman trying to make it in a world of journalism students and publishers who believe in ethics and so on. Douglas believes in selling the most newspapers and getting paid for it. Most of the first act has Douglas spreading the gospel, which makes for great scenes.

The story then has Douglas happening across a tragic situation and exploiting it. All he has to do is convince a handful of people to do the wrong thing. And here’s where Hole’s eventual problems start showing up. Douglas has this perverted relationship with Jan Sterling; she’s married to Richard Benedict, who’s stuck in a hole and Douglas is turning it into a big story. Wilder and the other writers never really explore Douglas’s motivations (alcohol provides a fast answer) in that situation. Instead, Douglas gets a more traditional, epical arc. An overcooked one.

But that overcooked character arc is in a gorgeously made film. Wilder has excellent composition, whether for dialogue scenes or the big vista shots of New Mexico.

Douglas and Wilder, somewhat separately, make Hole worthwhile. It’s just got its problems.



Produced and directed by Billy Wilder; written by Wilder, Lesser Samuels and Walter Newman; director of photography, Charles Lang; edited by Arthur P. Schmidt; music by Hugo Friedhofer; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Kirk Douglas (Chuck Tatum), Jan Sterling (Lorraine Minosa), Robert Arthur (Herbie Cook), Porter Hall (Jacob Q. Boot), Frank Cady (Al Federber), Richard Benedict (Leo Minosa), Ray Teal (Sheriff Gus Kretzer) and Frank Jaquet (Sam Smollett).

The Oklahoman (1957, Francis D. Lyon)

The Oklahoman is–well, I don’t want to sell it short because its discussion of racism and prejudice are rather straightforward and singular for pictures of its era–but at its core, the film’s a love triangle between fifty-two year-old Joel McCrea, thirty-five year-old Barbara Hale and twenty-six year-old Gloria Talbott. Talbott’s supposed to be playing an eighteen year-old, McCrea’s probably not supposed to be fifty-something, but I imagine mid-thirties is the intended age for Hale. McCrea’s character is likable enough, but it’s never clear why he’s got to beat women off with a stick. Maybe because he’s the star.

The film’s at its best when it’s concentrating on McCrea’s intolerance for bigotry (Talbott’s playing a Native American, with Michael Pate as her father and McCrea’s friend). The script’s strangely subtle in these scenes. There’s no explanation of what makes McCrea different from the rest of the settlers (there is a fine scene with some guys sitting around after Pate is suspected of murder, deciding they’d understand if he’d all of a sudden just decided to start killing whites). Not much about The Oklahoman is subtle, so this approach sets it apart. Unfortunately, since it doesn’t appear to be intentionally subtle–McCrea doesn’t have a belief in equality, equality is the way it is–there’s a lot the film misses about itself. The villain, Brad Dexter (who gives a pretty lame performance, but he just needs to be nasty so it doesn’t hurt much), isn’t just a bigot, he’s also a would-be oilman, lousy neighbor and aspiring rapist. But he’s also a cattleman and Hale’s a cattlewoman so she defends him in a couple arguments with McCrea. The film doesn’t seem to recognize she’s not just coming off as a cattle rancher herself, it pushes the line to where she’s coming off as a fellow bigot. McCrea’s performance, for the most part, certainly plays like he recognizes it. The chemistry between McCrea and Hale as a romantic couple is mediocre at best. When they’re peers and neighbors who argue–but hold some generally similar opinions and can’t resolve everything else with them–it’s great. Hale’s a strong female character in those scenes.

The Oklahoman has a number of strong female characters, actually. Talbott’s decent, has some good scenes. The script shortchanges her. Verna Felton is awesome as Hale’s mother. She gets the best lines in the film. Esther Dale’s got a small part as McCrea’s five year-old daughter’s caretaker. It’s never explained why McCrea waited until his late forties to start a family… but if the film had taken his age into account, it would have had a lot more potential. The last fifteen minutes or so flushes most of the characters’ strengths. The film forgets Hale’s a cattle rancher, forgets Talbott’s a strong person, ignores daughter Mimi Gibson’s established character. Just before the last scene, Hale explains how it’s going to be and it seems to make sense… except the next scene is completely different and makes no sense.

The film’s not self-conscious about being socially conscious, which is nice. But it does force a romance where there isn’t one and ignores the potential of exploring the characters and situations it creates.

But it moves really fast.



Directed by Francis D. Lyon; written by Daniel B. Ullman; director of photography, Carl E. Guthrie; edited by George White; music by Hans J. Salter; produced by Walter Mirisch; released by Allied Artists.

Starring Joel McCrea (Dr. John Brighton), Barbara Hale (Ann Barnes), Brad Dexter (Cass Dobie), Gloria Talbott (Maria Smith), Michael Pate (Charlie Smith), Verna Felton (Mrs. Waynebrooke), Douglas Dick (Mel Dobie), Anthony Caruso (Jim Hawk), Esther Dale (Mrs. Fitzgerald), Adam Williams (Randell), Ray Teal (Jason), Peter J. Votrian (Little Charlie) and John Pickard (Marshal).

Home from the Hill (1960, Vincente Minnelli)

Whenever I see a list of “classic” films, I rarely see any of the complex character pieces Hollywood produced in the 1950s and 1960s. They produced quite a few, but none ever get much credit. Harriet Frank Jr. and Irving Ravetch wrote a few of them, but the Paul Newman films are–as Paul Newman films–better known than Home from the Hill. I first saw Hill back when I was watching Eleanor Parker films and I’ve probably seen it once since then, just to watch the laserdisc. Like many films I saw seven years ago, I don’t remember a lot about it. The best way to remember a lot about a film is to write about it for a class or something (I doubt these posts will ingrain themselves like actual research did for Mr. Deeds Goes to Town). For example, I forgot how fast Home from the Hill moves along. Thirty-seven minutes passes with the snap of the fingers. It’s a longer film too, 150 minutes, and it’s either got a ten minutes first act or a fifty-five minute one. I’d have to be graded on it to make a judgement.

Home from the Hill features a quintessential Robert Mitchum performance. He’s a Texan land baron who hunts, drinks and philanders. He’s got a wife–Parker–and son, George Hamilton, he has nothing to do with and an illegitimate son, George Peppard, he’s got everything to do with. Each of these characters has an incredibly complex relationship with one another and–for a film with a lot of sweeping camerawork–Minnelli is incredibly gentle with the way he explores the relationships. The editing of the film, the physical cutting between shot to shot, is imperfect, but there are these wonderful moments in the film when Minnelli just lets big things go little. Big things go unsaid. It’s lovely. The film’s extreme beauty in these evolving character relationships, the way they change and their changing value for the audience. It’s some of the finest family work ever done in film (seeing it makes me wonder if Spielberg has seen it, based on his work in Jaws–P.T. Anderson might not have seen it, but he’s seen Jaws I’m sure). It’s a different type of family work then something like Ordinary People, almost an entirely subset. In many ways, the modern Japanese family drama handles camerawork in the same ways.

The acting is excellent. It’s some of Mitchum’s best work and Parker’s great, but it’s the two Georges who surprised me the first time I saw it and surprised me again today. Besides looking identical to a young Anthony Perkins, Hamilton is great. Nuanced, subtle, had a lot of difficult stuff to do. He’s become a joke. So has Peppard. He’s remembered for “The A-Team,” but his performance in Home from the Hill is indicative of a “star quality” the 1960s rarely produced. Peppard’s performance is even more impressive. Mercury Theater member Everett Sloane has a small role–he’s unrecognizable, or at least was to me–and even he has a complex relationship with the characters. Frank and Ravetch adapted a novel, so I’m not sure how much of the structuring was theirs and how much was from the source (after finding out the structure of The Killing is from the novel, no one gets undue credit), but the film’s laid out brilliantly. Again, it’s worth a graded essay, but this post will have to do.

Warner Bros. is rumored to have the film in the works for DVD–I watched my LaserDisc, which is actually rotting, my first experience with that malady–hopefully by the end of this year.



Directed by Vincente Minnelli; screenplay by Harriet Frank Jr. and Irving Ravetch, based on the novel by William Humphrey; director of photography, Milton R. Krasner; edited by Harold F. Kress; music by Bronislau Kaper; produced by Edmund Grainger and Sol C. Siegel; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Robert Mitchum (Capt. Wade Hunnicutt), Eleanor Parker (Hannah Hunnicutt), George Peppard (Rafe Copley), George Hamilton (Theron Hunnicutt), Everett Sloane (Albert Halstead), Luana Patten (Libby Halstead), Anne Seymour (Sarah Halstead), Constance Ford (Opal Bixby), Ken Renard (Chauncey) and Ray Teal (Dr. Reuben Carson).

This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Eleanor Parker, Part 2: Technicolor.
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