It’s three years since I saw The Lost Weekend and now, having seen Ace in the Hole, I have seen all of Billy Wilder’s entries on the 1001 list. All six of them, and it’s a bit sad to know that there won’t be any more of his works in the remaining 325 films. So I guess I’ll take this opportunity to say a thank you to Billy Wilder for all the great movies.
Ace in the Hole really is a great film to finish the Billy Wilder run on, even if this was a critical and commercial flop at the time. How this flopped is beyond me as it one of those rare films that feels utterly timeless. Seriously, you could re-make this film nearly word-for-word and it would feel incredibly current (once you’ve updated the technology).
At the front of the film is Kirk Douglas as disgraced newspaperman Chuck Tatum. In order to get his credit back and gain a position at a major paper he spends the film manipulating the trapping of a man in a mine-shaft into a literal media circus. And I mean literally, there’s even a Ferris wheel outside as the crowds gather to watch the news story unfold.
The reason that this film is so timeless is because it really plays on the exploitative power of the press and of politicians seeking re-election. Maybe in the 1950s people did not want to think of this darker side of the media/politics, whereas it later became embraced as a classic as people became far more cynical.
It’s the fact that no one really cares as this poor man lays, basically dying and alone, in this mine shaft. In fact, Chuck and the local sheriff actively prolong his torture to a week in order to further the narrative of his entrapment. It’s hideous to see and would have been even worse (and more pessimistic a film) had it not been for the Hays Code intervening.
Kirk Douglas is excellent as the anti-hero of the film, as is Jan Sterling as the wife of the trapped man who turns this story into a chance to make a quick buck and leave her husband for good. Watching both of them in action helped to remind me of why I love the films of this era so much. Thanks Billy Wilder.