Ace In the Hole (1951)

In my opinion, you can never go wrong with a Billy Wilder film. So many of my favorites films are his films: Some Like it Hot, Double Indemnity, The Apartment, Sunset Blvd, and Sabrina. I came across Ace in the Hole a few times while I was browsing the Criterion Collection section at Barnes and Nobles but it wasn’t until that my friend told me that it was one of his films and extremely underrated. I quickly added it to my Netflix DVD queue and promised myself that I would watch it sometime this summer. Well, last night I finally watched it. { If you haven’t seen the film, here is a brief summary: x }

This movie did a fabulous job of irritating me while making me love it at the same time. Chuck Tatum, played by Kirk Douglas, is extremely self-centered, rude, manipulating, violent, determined, and cynical. I hated him; I hated him so much, at least until the end when he becomes aware of the error of his ways. Throughout the film he didn’t even seem to be human, as if this hunger and urge for power of the newspaper world has taken him over. He’s been fired for slander, adultery, heavy drinking, and other things, perhaps the seven sins. This would make sense as Leo is worried about was the seven spirits of the cave that must have cursed him. If we take this seven as a symbolic number and put it in terms of the seven deadly sins, then Chuck would fit as this opposing force.  As the movie progresses, we see that Chuck can be quite violent on a dime, lazy when nothing is happening, greedy as he is determined that it’ll be his story, envious of the other newspaper men in the big cities and, perhaps the most upsetting, proud of the circus that he has made out of Leo’s fall. If I were to watch the movie again and take more detailed notes, I’m sure that I would be better able to label his vices and place them with their respected category but at the time being, these are the ones that were most apparent and memorable to me.

Some people might criticize this film for being excessive and dramatic, however I completely disagree. In fact, I’ve come to realize that, whatever Billy presents in a film he does so for a specific reason. In this case, he uses Chuck as the perfect and outrageous ringleader of a newspaper sensation circus. He comes across the way he does because the audience needs, for the lack of a better phrase, a slap in the face. To those who believe this whole movie is blown out of proportions and such a thing would never happen in real life, then they missed Chuck’s comment in the beginning of the film. In science class this year I learned about the fall and trapping of W. Floyd Collins and sure enough Chuck mentions him. There was another event as well, the fall of Kathy Fiscus, that is more closely related to the film. But yes, you’re right, it is a film so there might be pieces are larger than they might be in real life. But that’s what movies are for, if anything this film makes you aware of the downright disgusting and disgraceful behavior we’ve adopted when it comes to the media. For instance the rides, food stands, funds for Leo, and even the people. I suppose an American family could be characterized as the one that first comes to the site. We don’t see them again until about halfway through the film when they want to clarify to the public that THEY were the first ones who arrived, not this other family. Nothing about Leo; it’s all about who was there first and who can get their voice on the radio.

The news publishes the throng of people as Leo’s mourners, however we’re quite aware that’s the last thing they’re doing. But we do get a moment to morn for Leo in the film. There is a time when Chuck and the boy Herbie are talking in the parents bedroom when the mother, who we never see talk in the movie (only pray), walks right in with two candles, symbolizing herself and her husband, and puts them in front of the Madonna. This is the true morning: quiet, sorrowful, honest, and pleading.

There is a relationship between Leo, the embroidered “TELL THE TRUTH,” and the former miner. Leo is a good-hearted person. He loves his wife with all his heart and does whatever he can for her. An example is when he asks Chuck to give Lorraine the anniversary gift he got her. He says nothing about how much it cost or anything of that sort, only that she’ll look lovely in it and that he did his best to hide it from her. It’s heartbreaking when she carelessly throws it on the ground. The camera even pauses for a moment, as if in shock that this thoughtless woman just threw human decency and love on the ground. The embroidered “TELL THE TRUTH” is presented as old-fashioned and outdated, a value that has somehow managed to stick around all these years. But there’s a reason why it has. Had Chuck told the truth before, he wouldn’t even be in Albuquerque. Instead he waits. He waits until Leo is dead and has to scream to the crowd of people that Leo is dead, that there is no point in “mourning” anymore. It’s amazing how fast everyone clears out and how deserted and empty it becomes. Finally the former miner. He tells the truth, plain and simple: they could have done what they originally planned four days ago and saved Leo. These three things represent human decency, pureness, honesty, and the select few.

Of course this is a Wilder film so there is great, snappy, quick dialogue that I found myself laughing to; probably my favorite thing about Wilder’s films. I just felt the need to dedicate a line to his dialogue :D

This film presents the commercialization of a disaster and a person’s life and its detrimental effects. It happened in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, even now and will continue to happen. This is a film that will never become out of date. In fact, this film reminded me a lot of Network (1976), a news station with poor ratings that soon realizes they can capitalize on disastrous by entertaining their viewers with it. This movie was a flop for Wilder but perhaps it was because the audience back then wasn’t ready for the truth. In my opinion, Ace in the Hole is Wilder’s greatest and most underrated film and I highly recommend it to anyone.

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Rating: ♚♚♚♚♚

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