Category Archives: 1951

Ace In The Hole (1951)

Bad news sells best. Cause good news is no news.

— Charles Tatum

Michael Vox from the Cinebanter podcast mentioned on his last five about Billy Wilder’s 1951 movie, Ace in the Hole. I heard a little synopsis of the movie when he was explaining it to his co-host, Tassoula. I was intrigued to watch this Academy award nominated movie when I saw the Criterion version of the movie at my local library. I was glad I did it.

A gruff news reporter, Charles Tatum (Kirk Douglas) stumbles to a small Albuquerque newspaper named “The Sun Bulletin” where he is reeling from being fired from his cushy New York position. His thinking was that he would get a small two month gig for $60 a week that he would get notice for other newspapers. After a year passes, no big stories are coming his way. He is getting antsy.

His boss, Mr. Boot (Porter Hall) sends Tatum and a young staff photographer, Herbie Cook (Robert Arthur) out on an assignment to cover a rattlesnake hunt at a nearby town.

During the trip, the duo stop to get gas from a mom and pop shop in Escuerdo, New Mexico where they notice the cops are being called to the 450 year old Indian Cliffs behind the shop. They hear from a woman, Lorriane Minosa (Jan Sterling) that her husband, Leo (Richard Benedict) is trapped in a cave in. Nobody could do anything with the mountain supposedly inhabited by evil spirits.

Tatum thinks that he could have the scoop or his “ace in the hole” to land him back on the top. He devices a way to befriend Leo by taking him food and coffee, but also spin the story to his advantage by any means necessary. Even if it mean, endangering the life of the man trapped with his legs pinned under rubble.

The first moments of this movie, I did not like Charles Tatum. He was a cocky, arrogant bastard to me. Some people say that he was the first anti-hero ever put on-screen. Is it true? I’m not sure. There is something about his bravado that attracts you to him, but there is also his actions that repels you.

The characters are not that sympathetic with the less than devastated wife, Lorriane that wants to hop on the first bus out of her boring life. There is the unscrupulous Sheriff Kretzer (Ray Teal) was full of corruption would align himself with Tatum in order to get re-elected. The only person you feel bad for is Leo. He is the sacrificial lamb in this scenario as the media circus grows, his needs are being swept under the rug to get a great story.

Is it said that this is a film noir taking place in the day. I don’t feel like it is a film noir. It feels like a hard-hitting drama about bastard trying to cash in on another person misery.

Judgment: The movie is a scathing account of how the media can turn a small incident into tattooing the image on the public conciousness.

Rating: 9/10

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