“Molestada” is the best word I could think of to sum up my experience watching Billy Wilder's classic film noir, Ace in the Hole (1951). “Molestada” in Spanish means to be "bothered". But there is something more to "molestada" than there is in "bothered", "disturbed" or even "discomforted". There is a twinge in “molestada” that captures that feeling of a fine nerve being plucked, triggering a well of emotion which over time and after so many plucks begins to overflow.
To say I was completely molestada by Ace in the Hole (1951) is succumbing to the great power of this film. An exploration of media manipulation through the story of one particular bad apple, Charles Tatum (or Charlie, Chuck or plain Tatum depending on who addressed him), a deceitfully opportunistic and greedy journalist. He sees an unfortunate situation, a man trapped cave, and knows how to exploit it for his own need. What's amazing about this is that Tatum is seeking a type of immortality in a business where one's story one day is treasured, and the next day, it's used to wrap fish. He even admits this himself, but still wants to grasp that fame, to make his mark in the industry.
Tatum's character is matched evil-to-evil with Mrs. Lorraine Minosa, the platinum-blonde wife of the poor man trapped in the cave. She's my favorite character. A hard-boiled dame, so overcooked that even her yolk is rock hard. She has only one very small soft spot, which is reserved for the elation she receives from money. Lorraine is as manipulative as Tatum, using her husband's situation for her own selfish needs. Two such characters are so bad, that one town will always be too small for them and its a wonder they don't instantaneously combust when they meet.
I discovered while flipping through my Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide that the film was initially called Ace in the Hole but the name was changed to "The Big Carnival". As part of the Criterion Collection, its kept its original name, for which I'm truly grateful. While Leo Minosa's entrapment and Tatum's media frenzy do result in a twisted carnvial of sorts, I think this film is more aptly named Ace in the Hole as its the germination of Tatum's lucky break, which he exploits too much.
It's a marvel I even got through this film. It took two days of watching it in ten-minute intervals. Somehow I made it through to appreciate it for what it is.