A critical and commercial flop at the time of its release, Billy Wilder’s Ace In The Hole has gone on to become a classic film with an important critique of the press and how it presents ‘news’ to the masses. There’s a reason for this – the film s a gripping noir drama that has become more and more relevant as time passes.
Kirk Douglas plays Chuck Tatum, a down-on-his-luck reporter who is looking for the one big story that will take him back to the big league. Fortune calls when he learns of a man trapped within an old American Indian burial ground. Tatum is the first man on the scene and he turns the story into a media frenzy that in-turn has ultimately fatal consequences.
Ace In The Hole works for many reasons – the first being the cracking script by Wilder, Lesser Samuels and Walter Newman. The script has some great lines and incredibly nuanced intricacies that would improve with every viewing. Secondly, Kirk Douglas delivers a blistering performance as Chuck Tatum. He’s all swagger and bravado on the outside, but within he’s filled with many insecurities. Douglas manages to add a physicality to the character of Tatum, even though this is a very dialogue heavy drama.
At this point in the 21st Century we are bombarded by many different forms of media. We don’t even realise that we’re being manipulated every time we turn on the television or go online. The media is so ingrained into our culture now that we take it for granted, we take it as the truth. Wilder’s film 1951 film plays with this concept in a more innocent time and he illustrates how a news story can be orchestrated into becoming a national event. This is probably why the film was met with negative reviews and audience apathy – it’s likely that people didn’t believe (or didn’t want to believe) that they were being played by the press.
Billy Wilder’s Ace In The Hole is a powerful noir drama, with a great central performance from Kirk Douglas. This is a hard-hitting drama and it’s unlikely that a film like this would be produced and released by a major Hollywood studio today.