Chuck Tatum (Douglas) is stuck in the small town newspaper in New Mexico after being fired from the big city papers. He offers himself to the owner of the Albequerque for cheap, sure that he’ll be on his way out in a few weeks. A year later, he finds the story that will return him to the top: A man has gotten trapped in a tunnel under a sacred Indian Mountain.
I was torn from the start because Kirk Douglas is really hot in this movie, but he’s such a jerk! A jerk who wears a belt and suspenders as a running metaphor from the first five minutes. In any case, the point is to watch him fall, not really to reach some kind of redemption. He builds up Leo’s (Benedict) predicament so it becomes a large media circus with a literal circus–like, the carnival comes in with rides and everything, as much as the big tent full of Tatum’s former co-workers.
Meanwhile, poor Leo is trapped in a cave and Tatum has made a deal with the sheriff so that he’s the only reporter allowed in to see him. In order to make the story last, they convince the engineer to go through a more difficult route to save him, which will take days, compared to an easier route which would only take 16 hours. The drill drives him insane so he can’t sleep, and to make matters worse he’s convinced that he has made the Indian spirits angry, which is why he’s stuck down there.
Leo’s wife (Sterling) wants to leave him and only sticks around because Tatum needs the sympathetic wife figure. She ends up with a cash cow since the tourists coming by need something to eat and they’re the closest restaurant. Her character is like the female version of Tatum–she just wants to get out and has no moral qualms about it. Eh, I didn’t really find her that interesting. She’s another one of Wilder’s highly amoral, maybe two-dimensional characters, like the boss in The Apartment. She usually made an attempt to work against Tatum and then gives it up
since he’s hot.
Wilder kind of hammers in the morals here, but he gets out some good performances and cool shots. It’s his commentary on the media, which is lastingly relevant. However, the throw away jokes are really awkward in their age, but they’re given in the first fifteen minutes, so it doesn’t effect the real plot.
I really like Wilder and Douglas, so this was kind of a disappointment, but that was just my high expectations. It’s pretty decent, just not my favorite.