An arrogant reporter exploits a story about a man trapped in a cave to revitalize his career.
It's a good story today. Tomorrow, they'll wrap a fish in it. Ace in the Hole is directed by Billy Wilder and Wilder co-writes the screenplay with Lesser Samuels, Walter Newman and Victor Desny. It stars Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling, Bob Arthur, Porter Hall and Richard Benedict. Music is by Hugo Friedhofer and cinematography by Charles Lang Jr. Chuck Tatum (Douglas) is a one time big-city journalist who is now stuck working for an out of the way Albuquerque newspaper. When on his way to another mundane reporting job he happens upon the chance to exploit a story about a man trapped in a cave to rekindle his career and put him back in the big league. However, the situation quickly escalates into an out-of-control media circus... Inspired by the real life Floyd Collins disaster in 1925, Ace in the Hole finds Wilder on supreme acerbic and cynical form. Flopping upon release, nobody was quite ready for Wilder to paint an uncompromising portrait of the human spirit stinking to high heaven. It now holds up as one of the finest exponents of media machinations and the human fallibility that encompasses a thirst for tragedy. Douglas leads the way with one of his finest and intensified performances, filling Chuck Tatum with a reprehensible attitude to media ladder climbing. When one witnesses the harrowing sequences as Tatum talks to the trapped Leo Minosa (Benedict tugs the heart strings), telling him it's going to be alright, we feel complicit in knowing just exactly what is going on up top. Leo adores his wife Lorraine (Sterling a splendidly subtle bitch perf hiding hollow turmoil), but she has wanted out for some time, but under Chatum's prompting she sticks around to make money on her husbands trapped suffering. Pretty soon this one store tin-pot town is booming, tills are ringing and the papers are selling big time, the coupling of Tatum and Lorraine is a match made in hell. Dialogue is in true noir fashion often sharp and biting, even with some of Wilder's customary humour deftly tucked away. As the exploitation of the situation reaches fever pitch, and the hypocrisy of the human condition is laid bare, "Ace in the Hole" proves itself to be a pitiless story that is a compelling journey for the viewers invested in the darker shades of what Wilder was fronting. A big flip-flop for a main character's behaviour at film's end seems a little out of place, given what has preceded it, but the ending is straight out of noirville and ensures the pic is a near masterpiece from a true master of his craft. 9/10