One of the most scathing indictments of American culture ever produced by a Hollywood filmmaker, Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole stars Kirk Douglas as Chuck Tatum, an amoral newspaper reporter who happens upon the story of a lifetime—and will do anything to ensure he gets the scoop.
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Ethics vs. circulation remains one of the key tensions in reporting and journalism. Kirk Douglas epitomizes the vulture-like, opportunistic glee of a hard-on-his-luck reporter, who finds a potential tragedy worthy of a front page spread. This paradoxically counts as a good day at the office. In a world where bad news for the world, is good news for the news industry, is as universal today as it was in the 1950s.
it’s not just the media that Wilder attacks – he lampoons everyone involved. Even the general public – the audience of the film included – is ridiculed, as Wilder mocks how willingly people enjoy the misery created by people like Tatum. This is Wilder at his most cynical, as everyone is shown to be a buffoon. A classic, very much ahead of its time.
Two words: brutal and uncompromising. Ace in the Hole may be Wilder's best film, and it's ripe for re-discovery because its subject matter has never been more relevant. Kirk Douglas shines as Tatum, delivering Wilder's cynical dialogue with a punch. In fact the whole movie is a punch to the gut. The cinematography is amazing with perfect light and shadow play, and the landscapes dwarf the characters. Masterpiece.
Startling that this was made in 1950's Hollywood. The last 30 minutes was almost too painful to watch. There's an opportunity for some redemption and a fairly gratifying ending for audiences, but Wilder refuses, and rides that bleak boat all the way. Wow.
What striked me the most about ACE IN THE HOLE is the feeling that every detail Billy Wilder put on the screen was meaningful. For instance, I wondered for a long time why Wilder insisted so heavily on Sheriff Gus Kretzer's baby rattlesnake until the scene of Tatum/Lorraine's final confrontation. And so on. This is first class cinema. An award in Venice and three Academy awards nominations. Masterpiece.
The heavy-handedness of the main issue did undermine the film for me, far too unsubtle when a more controlled, but still this cynical, tone would have made it still scathing and striking for me. When Kirk Douglas goes beyond being a soulless bastard this film gets far more interesting, awash with beautiful yet overbearing cinematography, getting closer to the unsettling ideas its trying to reach and a great ending.