Director: Billy Wilder
Screenplay: Billy Wilder, Lesser Samuels, Walter Newman
Based on a Story by: Victor Desny (uncredited)
Starring: Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling, Robert Arthur, Porter Hall, Richard Benedict, Ray Teal
Producer: Billy Wilder
Running Time: 111 min
BBFC Certificate: PG
I‘ve been ploughing through a lot of films from my ‘hall of shame’ over the last few weeks. By that I mean classic films that I haven’t seen for whatever reason and feel I should have. Finally getting around to watching Seven Samurai (which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago) was the pinnacle of this and I’ve been chain watching dozens of films recently as my family are away for a fortnight, giving me full control over the TV (and office cinema set-up). Most of the films watched have been DVD’s gathering dust on my shelves for far too long (I buy more films than I have time to watch), but Ace in the Hole is something all together more exciting for me.
When I was a teenager and first properly getting into films I also had a desire to be a journalist. So, after falling in love with a couple of Billy Wilder’s most popular comedies (Some Like it Hot and The Apartment) and discovering he’d made Ace in the Hole, a film about journalism, I knew I had to see it. Unfortunately, the film has never had a DVD release in the UK that I’m aware of and the popularity of VHS waned as my love of cinema grew. So this film that I was so desperate to see as a teenager became a sort of holy grail. Over the last few years I gave up giving it much thought to be honest, but when Masters of Cinema announced Ace in the Hole would be joining its illustrious collection, I practically jumped for joy.
The film sees Kirk Douglas play Chuck Tatum, a newspaper reporter who has been sacked from every respectable big city periodical so ends up in the back end of nowhere in Albuquerque, New Mexico, writing for a local rag about such joys as the annual rattlesnake hunt. After a year there he’s desperate for a big story to break him back into the big leagues. This comes in the form of Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict), a man trapped in a mine thought to be haunted by Native American spirits. In itself the story is of mild interest to the local populace, but under Tatum’s watch it becomes a behemoth which reaches across the nation. A good story needs to be sustained for just the right amount of time and hit all the right notes though, so Tatum manipulates everyone from Leo’s wife, to the local sheriff, to the men in charge of getting him out of the mine. This last manipulation uncovers the truly dark side to Tatum’s intrusion as he talks the workers into drilling Leo out from above, a much slower process than the quicker and cheaper method of going in through the main shaft, propping up the walls along the way. This gets Tatum the circulation he’s after, but comes at a great cost.