Shunned upon its release like a vomiting drunk at a dinner party, Billy Wilder’s 1951 follow-up to Sunset Blvd. became the prototype for the decade’s acidic media satires. A former Gotham reporter doing time at a pissant Albuquerque newspaper, Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) is waiting for the break that will return him to the major leagues. He finds it after a service-station owner gets stuck in a cave; this minor accident is soon spun into “the big carnival” (the film’s alternate title), complete with a Ferris wheel for the kiddies. Few films have flayed the fourth estate so flagrantly—no wonder journalists cursed it at first sight.
Long out of circulation despite placing high on many DVD wish lists, Ace saw its reputation grow to mammoth proportions as the film’s cynical vision of tabloid infotainment became exponentially eclipsed by reality. Even a crappy public-domain print would seem like a video godsend. Thankfully, Criterion’s two-disc edition does right by the film with a stunning transfer that emphasizes Charles Lang’s stark black-and-white cinematography, and a new audio mix that lets Wilder’s signature bitter banter (“I don’t go to church. Kneeling bags my nylons”) ring loud and clear. Per usual, Criterion also dug up some choice extras, namely a 1980 documentary—“Portrait of a ‘60% Perfect Man’ ”—in which Positif editor Michel Ciment interviews the director. Filling out the second disc are some witty excerpts from Wilder’s AFI tribute, a 1984 chat with the dimple-chinned Douglas and a brief but funny afterword from superfan Spike Lee.