Quick Shames Part 1: Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole

This is the first of 3 Quick Shames that I’m writing to get back into the mix of CinemaShame.


Ace in the Hole has proven to be an almost prophetic film for me. It is an examination of the media and its relationship with the people who consume it.

Kirk Douglas is Chuck Tatum. Tatum is a newspaper reporter who stumbles upon the story of Leo Minosa. Minosa is trapped underground while gathering Native American artifacts. Tatum manages to manipulate the rescue operation in order to better sell his story until it snowballs into a sideshow that does everything but focus on the task at hand. Tatum even goes as far as convincing the contractor to take a method that’s even longer than needed just to prolong the story.


Douglas is superb as the self-centered Tatum. I find him really good at playing these sort of slimy roles as he is also fantastic as an alienating film producer in 1952’s The Bad and the Beautiful. He clearly is adept at that type of role. You can see the effect he has on the characters around him including Leo’s wife Lorraine and Herbie Cook, a young photographer who loses his idealism over the course of the film.

Ace in the Hole was Wilder’s first foray as writer, producer and director. He did not have his longtime writing partner Charles Brackett. This film would also prove to be his first failure both commercially and critically. I can see why. In his previous film Sunset Boulevard we see the effects of an industry on an individual who was a part of it. In this film we see how news spreads and what people will do to appease a gullible public. I oils imagine no one as ready for this in 1951.

Ace in the Hole is totally relevant in 2016. The tools may have changed. We now have smartphones and social media platforms that keep us connected 24/7, but the game has remained the same. Ace in the Hole is an prime minister example of why Billy Wilder is one of the greats of cinema by giving us in 2016 a mirror to look at ourselves, yet he gave it to us over 60 years prior.

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