247) Ace in the Hole (1951) Dir: Billy Wilder Date Released: June 1951 Date Seen: August 11th, 2009 Rating: 3.75/5
Ace in the Hole is a small wonder of a Jeremiad. Wilder's point could not be more blunt and by the film's first half hour, it's impossible not to anticipate the broad movements in his sweeping rant against yellow journalism. It's only natural that Chuck Tatum, (Kirk Douglas, who makes quick work out of his peels of speeches), Wilder's high-falutin flimflam man very, announces his intentions to anyone within earshot, even when he thinks he's deftly hidden his intentions behind a lot of bluster and ultimately meaningless promises. It's his job to make a story, making him an easy-to-read sandwich boardman professing Wilder's scriptures of doom. What's remarkable is how Wilder sold me on the film's premise--a washed-up NY reporter, Tatum exploits a sudden cave-in to make his career, fudging facts and delaying the victim's rescue--in spite of myself.
While Douglas' silver tongue gives the film its' main thrust, he only stirs the pot, leaving the bulk of the film's heavy-lifting--namely convincing us that he's got more depth than a political cartoon--to Wilder's technique. Ethereal crane shots that treat the growing hordes of gawkers and sideshow lovers like ants and indelibly claustrophobic footage of unlucky miner and eternal victim Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict) do the bulk of Ace's dirty work. The rest is carried by Chuck's brutal romantic subplot with Leo's wife Lorraine (Jan Sterling), who provides a human face to the churlishly exploitative spectators that treat Leo's plight like a rock concert. Douglas and Sterling's asides are no less manipulative than the rest of the film but they're substantially less hot-headed than the rest and decidedly more polished. The way the two cruelly resolve their differences makes me almost want to believe the people that put this film up on a pedestal next to Sunset Boulevard or Some Like it Hot.