In 1951, writer/director Billy Wilder was riding the crest of the wave he’d generated with Sunset Boulevarde, a critically acclaimed and very successful movie. But his next film, Ace In The Hole, featured a story so vitriolic and poisonous that it almost sank his career forever.
Now rereleased in a spanking new black and white print, it couldn’t be more prescient and thoroughly deserves re-evaluation. Kirk Douglas, at the height of his considerable powers plays Chuck Tatum, a former big shot reporter who finds himself all washed up in Alberqurque and forced to take a post on a local newspaper. He’s constantly on the lookout for the big story that will propel him back to former glories and thinks he’s found it when he chances upon an accident in an old Indian mine where a luckless restaurant owner, Leo Minosa has been trapped by a cave-in. Chuck sets about creating a ‘human interest’ story about the attempt to rescue Leo and proceeds to milk it for all its worth, even taking steps to ensure that the process takes longer than it needs to.
Though nominated for an Oscar, the American public didn’t take kindly to a film that suggested that newspapers sold lies, that the general public would flock like vultures to a catastrophe and that the lure of easy money will always win out over common decency. Tatum is a vile creation, a man who will stop at nothing to further his career and pretty much every other character around him is revealed as a self-serving, gutless wonder, including Leo’s shrewish wife, Lorraine (Jan Sterling). Despite it’s 1950’s setting, this is a film that still resonates today and ranks amongst Wilder’s finest achievements.