Ace In The Hole

Dir: Billy Wilder. 1951. Starring: Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling. English. Film Noir.
Ace In The Hole

Though it doesn’t revolve around a murder or a heist, Ace in the Hole remains a definitive film noir. Bitter, caustic, and unremittingly dark, it prophesied our age of journalistic madness as it focused on a literal “media circus” developed by a story-hungry press.

In a virtuoso performance that equals his turn in Vincente Minnelli’s The Bad and the Beautiful, Kirk Douglas stars as Chuck Tatum, a down-on-his-heels newsman who desperately takes a job at a tank-town Albuquerque paper. He stumbles on the headline of a lifetime after the owner of a roadside diner is trapped in an abandoned mineshaft while hunting for Indian artifacts. Envisioning a Pulitzer Prize and a return to the big time in New York, Tatum ruthlessly controls the story, befriending the terrified victim (Richard Benedict), romancing his slatternly wife (Jan Sterling), and cynically working local authorities and big-city editors. Then things start to come apart…

Douglas is a whirlwind in the part, shifting gears between bold cockiness, smug pride, volcanic rage, and deep self-loathing. He spits out a script (penned by director Billy Wilder, Lesser Samuels, and Walter Newman) rich in memorable dialogue and tart observation. Wilder controls the proceedings with a firm hand as he alternates between intimate scenes in the mine and the sprawling carnival that springs up around it, as gawkers and journalists swoop down in morbid fascination.

Ace in the Hole was a flop on release, and was only occasionally revived for more than 50 years. In 2007, Wilder’s uncompromising masterpiece finally received a welcome home video release. Anyone familiar with today’s tabloid extravagances – and who isn’t? -- will watch it with a shock of recognition. (DVD: Criterion)


Ace in the Hole was nominated for an Oscar for Best Story and Screenplay.

Posted by:
Chris Morris
Jan 19, 2008 3:02pm
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