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Tom Chaney: I Don't Go To Church - Kneeling Bags my Nylons
Of Writers And Their Books: "I Don't Go To Church -- Kneeling Bags my Nylons." Tom reviews the Billy Wilder film Ace in the Hole starring Kirk Douglas as a bent reporter out for a scoop and Jan Sterling as the restless wife of a robber of sacred relics trapped in a cave, comparing it with the story of Floyd Collins. This column first appeared 16 January 2011.
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: Shaken, not Stirred
By Tom Chaney
"I Don't Go To Church -- Kneeling Bags my Nylons"
I was pleased to find under the Christmas tree this year a movie which I had long wanted to see. 'Twas the Billy Wilder film Ace in the Hole starring Kirk Douglas as a bent reporter out for a scoop and Jan Sterling as the restless wife of Richard Benedict, the scoop, who is trapped beneath a New Mexican mountain.
Over the years I had heard Ace in the Hole cited as one treatment of the Floyd Collins story along with its remake release The Big Carnival. Actually only one movie, retitled by the studio, it was not particularly successful when released in 1951
Nonetheless the Collins connection has intrigued me.
In what must be one of the finest opening scenes from Hollywood, Douglas as Chuck Tatum arrives at a newspaper office in Albuquerque in his broken-down Mercury convertible being towed by a driver whom Tatum treats as a charioteer. With nothing but scorn for the kindly editor and staff, Tatum wheedles a job covering a rattlesnake round up.
He takes along photographer Herbie Cook played by Bob Arthur as photographer and driver. In the midst of the desert they stop for gas and discover that gas stop owner Leo Minosa played by Richard Benedict is trapped in a mine within a holy mountain where he has gone to gather forbidden sacred relics to sell in his store.
Referring to the entrapment of Floyd Collins some twenty-five years previous, Tatum forgets the rattlesnake hunt for the dream of the front page scoop.
He becomes both reporter and would-be rescuer marshalling Leo's parents and his wife Lorraine in the scheme to profit from Leo's plight.
Tatum involves the sheriff in his scheme. The sheriff finds a bent contractor to effect the rescue. The contractor offers Tatum a choice -- he can shore up the mine tunnel and extract Minosa in about twelve hours or drill from the top of the mountain to get him out in six days.
Twelve hours is too little time to generate the kind of story that Tatum envisions. He opts for the drilling.
From there on the movie is a cynical black film with dimpled-chin Douglas showing not a speck of redemption. Even when he fetches a priest for the dying Minosa, it is done with abject cynicism.
At one point he persuades Leo's wife Lorraine to stay around, not for love, but for a sarcastic play for sympathy and profit. When Tatum tries to persuade Lorraine to go with him to church, she delivers the best single line of the film. "I don't go to church," she tells him, "kneeling bags my nylons."
When Leo's death from pneumonia is announced there follows a spectacular exodus, filmed from the mountain top, of hundreds of cars, trucks, and the Ferris wheel through the farm gate where all had had to pay the entry fee of two bits.
Of course there are some parallels with the story of the entrapment and death of Floyd Collins in Sand Cave in 1925. But Skeets Miller in his desperate effort to rescue Collins was no Chuck Tatum.
The disagreement over methods of rescue at Sand Cave serves as a backdrop for Ace in the Hole. But there was no hint that the disagreement in the Collins rescue arose from a profit motive as in the film.
There was profiteering at Sand Cave as reflected in Ace in the Hole, but it was further from the center of events.
The movie reflects Wilder's vision of unrelieved corruption and America's "loss of moral imperatives" after the war. And it presages the "adrenaline junkies" and the "squawking, hawking opportunists" we are familiar with in our own "telegenic communicators."
In Ace in the Hole and in the character played by Douglas we have Wilder's bleak vision of the hero who is ready and willing to sell his soul without a speck of decency mixed with corruption.
This is a far cry from the chilly dripping woods around Sand Cave and the earnest rescuers there.
Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney - firstname.lastname@example.org
This story was posted on 2015-11-15 03:54:53
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