Ace in the Hole

[Amazon Link] [3.0
stars] [IMDb Link]

Every so often we pick out a critically-acclaimed older movie. Written, produced, and directed by Billy Wilder, this movie counts: it's got high scores at both IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes, and it was released by the hyper-snooty Criterion Collection folks. Unaccountably, it was a flop when released back in the early 50s.

Kirk Douglas plays Chuck Tatum, a down-on-his-luck reporter whose poor judgment has gotten him fired (as he puts it) from newspapers with circulations totalling over 7 million. He and his broken down car wind up in Albequerque NM, and he lands a job with the local paper, hoping for a blockbuster story that will someday put him back on the road to big-city reporting.

A year later, it finally happens: a local store owner is trapped in a cave-in while trying to scrounge some Indian artifacts. Tatum takes charge, and (with the help of a corrupt local sheriff and the store-owner's floozy wife) turns the rescue into a media circus.

The most common word in this movie's reviews is "cynicism": it's very thick and unsubtle. (Very little in the movie is subtle.) America's hunger for "human interest" tragedy and spectacle is targeted; so is the mass media's complicity in feeding up the stories America demands.

Also unsubtle: the acting; do you remember Frank Gorshin's over-the-top impersonation of Kirk Douglas? It seems much more true to life after seeing his hyperventilating and scenery-chewing here. The dialog is sharp and noirish, but artificially so. (If these people are so damn clever, why are they all stuck in New Mexico?)

Also has a host of character actors of whom People of a Certain Age will say, "Hey, isn't that…" Yup, probably is. For example, a brief uncredited appearance by this guy.

Last Modified 2014-11-30 2:06 PM EST