Ace in the Hole (1951)
February 6, 2015 9:34 PM - Subscribe

Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole is one of the most scathing indictments of American culture ever produced by a Hollywood filmmaker. Kirk Douglas gives the fiercest performance of his career as Chuck Tatum, an amoral newspaper reporter who washes up in dead-end Albuquerque, happens upon the scoop of a lifetime, and will do anything to keep getting the lurid headlines. Wilder’s follow-up to Sunset Boulevard is an even darker vision, a no-holds-barred exposé of the American media’s appetite for sensation that has gotten only more relevant with time.

Roger Ebert: There's not a wasted shot in Wilder's film, which is single-mindedly economical. Students of Arthur Schmidt's editing could learn from the way every shot does its duty. There's not even a gratuitous reaction shot. The black-and-white cinematography by Charles Lang is the inevitable choice; this story would curdle color. And notice how no time is wasted with needless exposition. A wire-service ticker turns up there, again without comment. A press tent goes up and speaks for itself.

Columbia Journalism Review: As journalists we’re both truth-tellers and storytellers, and there’s an inherent tension between those two roles. Sometimes the truth is just flat-out boring. There just might be a great story to be had out of some rattlesnake hunt somewhere at some point in time. But the one you’re assigned to cover on any given day isn’t likely to be it. Ace in the Hole is about when the story becomes more important than the truth.

Deep Focus Review: As with so much modern media, Tatum decides what his readers know and where the story goes. His reports on and develops his yarn in the manner to which he desires. Television and newspaper journalists choose what they report; this is a subjective process, as opposed the ideal objectivity professional journalists have forever yearned for but rarely achieve. Tatum simply takes subjectivity to the next level: interaction. While Ace in the Hole may seem satirical with Tatum pulling the locals’ strings like a puppeteer, reconsider the film’s basis in fact, that such events actually occurred to an extent. In some instances, they still occur today. Most recently in 1998, Steven Glass was fired from The New Republic magazine for fabricating entire stories. Names, places, events—all made-up. This is, of course, the next extension beyond what Tatum does in the film. And luckily, no one died from Glass’ actions; moreover, since there is no law against bad journalism, Glass was never punished.

"We've got an ace in the hole."
posted by MoonOrb (8 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Must-see viewing for any fans of Nightcrawler [previously on FF].
posted by MoonOrb at 9:35 PM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

God this movie is DARK, and not just dark for the time. It's as brilliant as Sunset Boulevard but without anything to relive the pitch black cynicism and tension.
posted by The Whelk at 10:43 PM on February 6, 2015

Seriously - you're just longing for a monkey funeral the whole time.

I love this movie.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:51 AM on February 7, 2015

It's great. Perhaps the most cynical movie I have ever seen, just dripping with contempt. When the actual carnival sets up, you know that this was made my a man with a loathing for humanity, and it seems well-earned.
posted by maxsparber at 7:30 PM on February 7, 2015

monkey funeral

Can someone enlighten me on what this is? Google is only showing me a lot of dead monkeys and racism.

I thought the film was a fine example of noir, but not as cynical as I was hoping based on the reviews here. Leo Minosa has a heart of gold, Chuck Tatum (eventually) finds a moral center, and the newspaper man with "TELL THE TRUTH" embroidery hung to every wall turns out to be sincere.

I think my favorite part was the portrayal of doofus middle America, and how those caricatures have aged over time. ("Wake up the kids, this is very instructive!")
posted by GrumpyDan at 3:49 PM on February 8, 2015

Can someone enlighten me on what this is? Google is only showing me a lot of dead monkeys and racism.

At the start of Sunset Boulevard, when Gillis first meets Norma, she's having a funeral for her pet chimp.
posted by maxsparber at 4:09 PM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Fanfare: you're just longing for a monkey funeral the whole time
posted by MoonOrb at 4:20 PM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

The real story behind this movie (which is briefly referred to in the dialogue) was the 1925 death of cave-in victim Floyd Collins. That case inspired a similar media frenzy including a hit song which many credit with launching the whole "disaster songs" genre. The film has its own song too, of course.

Asked years later why Ace in the Hole had been such a commercial flop, Wilder replied: "The American public wanted sugar. I gave them vinegar." It's a good answer.
posted by Paul Slade at 12:59 AM on April 11, 2022

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