film, starring Kirk Douglas
as a down-at-heel journalist
looking for work in a small New Mexico
town in the early fifties. A big-city shark, wandering into the chintzy offices of the local daily, he makes an offer to the editor (Porter Hall
): "I'm a hundred dollar a day reporter
, but you can have me for ten."
Soon after Douglas lands the job, a cave-in traps a local man (Frank Benedict) who's gone to find Native American artifacts at an old burial site. The classic baby down a well story. Douglas exploits his relationships with the trapped man and with the local sherrif to maximise the story potential of the situation. Perfidiously, he persuades the sherrif to adopt the rescue scheme with the most visual impact, a drill from the top, whereas a less visible but more practical approach will effect the rescue in half the time. This will look much better in the press, as the election approaches, Douglas insinuates.
The whole operation rapidly becomes a national media circus, fed by a sensation-hungry public, and Douglas cynically exploits his position to claw his way back up the greasy pole of top-rank journalism.
But things don't work out the way he's planned. The entrapped man dies and the botched rescue attempt is blamed.
At the end of the film, Douglas, wounded and dying, stumbles into the editor's office. His last words as he slumps to the floor, in one of the most melodramatic and stylish low-angle shots in cinema, are "I'm a thousand dollar a day newspaperman, but you can have me for nothing."
The film was also released as The Big Carnival, alluding to the fairground situation that develops around the rescue site as the story gains national prominence.
Douglas turns in a great performance (it's about the only film I've seen of his where I would say that, in fact) and the cinematography and direction are considerably better than the B-movie status the film has enjoyed would suggest. The plausible and cynical view the picture presents is anachronistic - in many ways it seems more relevant to today's media-driven world than to the comparative innocence of the early 50s.
Director Billy Wilder
Cast Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling, Bob Arthur, Porter Hall, Frank Cady, Richard Benedict, Ray Teal, Lewis Martin
Screenplay Billy Wilder, Lesser Samuels, Walter Newman
Cinematography Charles Lang
Music Hugo Friedhofer
112 min., Paramount.