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Tell the truth - but tell it slant

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By Kelly LeVan

Four/five kernels As a journalist, it’s important to keep your priorities straight. The story comes first, and when you’re writing it, you – and your own ambitions – don’t matter. However, a person can get mixed up when a big story for means big money for him.Kirk Douglas stars as a crooked reporter in the next film up in Mesa Public Library’s free monthly series, Billy Wilder’s “Ace in the Hole” (1951), screening at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the upstairs meeting room theater.Douglas plays Chuck Tatum, whose byline used to grace the pages of various large circulation East Coast papers. A few unscrupulous deals – some involving words, others women – left him drunk and riding a tow truck to a newspaper office in Albuquerque, begging for a job.The editor, Jacob Q. Boot (Porter Hall), immediately and correctly strikes Tatum as a conservative man. He wears both a belt and suspenders – and his newsprint runs equally cautious. If hot news ever happens in Albuquerque, Boot doesn’t seem the kind of man to play it up, even for the sake of sales.Journalists are supposed to tell the news, not make it, Boot thinks. “Tell the Truth,” reads an embroidered sign over his desk, and you know, as a viewer, that he does.Tatum, on the other hand, doesn’t seek the truth so much as his own fortune. He plans to stay in Albuquerque only long enough to find the elusive “ace in the hole,” the story that can’t fail, and he won’t worry over the details or how his reporting might affect the people involved. He just wants his name back.Even though Tatum holds a radically opposed ideology, Boot hires him – a sizable risk for such a careful man, and one he will definitely regret.“Ace in the Hole” did not do well when it originally opened in theaters, losing money even after the studio changed the film’s name to “The Big Carnival” to broaden its appeal.However, I have no doubt it’s a great movie – hypnotically seductive  in the tradition of “North by Northwest” and “The Big Sleep.” No one can forget a character like Tatum, because he’s dark, dangerous and fabulously unrestricted by moral boundaries the rest of take for granted. He reaches the exaggerated, awful potential of the American hero, a man who is completely independent.However, this freedom comes at a disgusting price. He needs no one, trusts no one, respects no one, loves no one – but this film is not about loneliness. It’s about the rest of the world, which does need and trust and respect and love. What effect does a truly independent person have in such a place?The staff at Mesa Public Library have picked another great film.