Ace in the Hole

Ace in the Hole aka The Big Carnival (Billy Wilder, 1951)

American film noir starring Kirk Douglas as a cynical, disgraced reporter who stops at nothing to try to regain a job on a major newspaper.

After having been fired from eleven newspapers, Chuck Tatum (Douglas) is stuck in Albuquerque, New Mexico with his broken car. He goes to the local newspaper and asks for a job. Which he gets after giving a passionate speech to Mr. Boot (Porter Hall) promising to behave and give the best he can. However, he quickly gets bored by the lack of real news until he is sent to cover a story about a rattlesnake hunt. Along with him is the young photographer Herbie Cook (Robert Arthur) and they discover at a pit stop a cave in that trap a man named Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict) while he was getting ancient Indian artifacts to sell.
Tatum quickly sees the headline of the newspaper and his chance to shine nationally. After speaking to a doctor he learns that Leo could easily be left for a while in the cave because he is strong and in solid health. Tatum takes charge of the rescue operation while writing articles and about Leo, his life, etc. While taking the longest road to rescue Leo just to make sure to keep the news fresh and exploit the maximum of the situation. Lorraine, Leo’s wife sees her chance to leave but she stays and takes advantage of the situation while thousands of visitors come to witness the rescue and help their business.

This cynical observation of the press and how it is more interesting to print about bad news than good news was the first time that writer/director/producer Billy Wilder wrote without his long time collaborator Charles Brackett. Instead he worked with Walter Newman and Lesser Samuels. It was a commercial failure and it was much later while presented on television that Wilder’s film was regarded as a successful biting observation of the news and reporters. It is one of the first studies on the voyeurism and abuse of use of the misfortune to sell newspapers. It is also later that its film noir qualities of the darker side of humans were depicted on how greed and selfishness can be observed.

This classic by legendary filmmaker, Billy Wilder demonstrates his keen observations and his wise critical views of the American society. Kirk Douglas gives another one of his great performances as the villain and anti-hero. He was on the verge of becoming the big box-office star that will include him into the most iconic actors of Hollywood. However, even his presence helped to the commercial success of Ace in the Hole. Also known as The Big Carnival, Ace in the Hole is a great classic that mixes noirs and big studio means. An essential viewing in Wilder’s vast filmography.

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