Title: Ace in the Hole
Release Date: June 14, 1951
Director: Billy Wilder
Production Company: Paramount Pictures
Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas), an arrogant and cynical reporter who has lost jobs at various big city newspapers, bullies his way into a job at an Albuquerque newspaper. His plan is to get “one big story” to launch him back into the big time. A year later, while on assignment, he stops for gas at a desert trading post and learns that the owner is trapped in a cave where he was looking for Native American artifacts. Tatum enters the cave to befriend and photograph the trapped Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict). Outside the cave, Tatum takes control of the rescue operation manipulating everyone to maximize his “human interest” story.
Ace in the Hole is a not-at-all subtle satire of sensational news media and the general public who laps it up. It’s acidly funny and horrifying at the same time. Douglas puts in a particularly good performance shifting from self-aggrandizing and commanding to playing kind and sympathetic when talking with Leo. Jan Sterling plays Leo’s wife Loraine who wants nothing more than to leave Leo and New Mexico for good, but uses the literal carnival that grows around the trading post to profit. Ray Teal is the corrupt Sheriff Kretzer who allows Tatum exclusive access to Leo in return for positive news coverage for his re-election campaign. Tatum also acts as kind of a negative mentor for Herbie Cook (Robert Arthur), the young and idealistic newspaper photographer who gets sucked into Tatum’s plot.
Like all Billy Wilder films, Ace in the Hole is magnificently scripted with sparkling dialogue. It is also beautifully filmed and tightly edited, so there’s a lot of story in a short movie. Since I started investing a lot of time into watching classic film that past couple of years, I’ve been impressed by Wilder’s films, so I’m glad to add another one, even if Ace in the Hole isn’t quite as magnificent as Sunset Boulevard, Some Like It Hot, or The Apartment.