Friday, September 17, 2010
Ace in the Hole
The 1950s could be called the decade of Billy Wilder. The Polish-born director started the decade with an Oscar for 'Sunset Blvd.' went on to more Oscars and nominations for 'Stalag 17', 'Sabrina', and 'Witness for the Prosecution'. He ended the decade with the film that AFI voted the best comedy ever, 'Some Like it Hot'. In between those revered films, he made wonderful movies like 'The Seven Year Itch' and 'The Spirit of St. Louis'. Few individuals in the history of cinema have had such a decade. As both a director and a writer he created films that were popular upon their release and cherished today. However, one film that he wrote and directed in the 50s was not well received and few have seen it since. Ace in the Hole.
Released after his monumental box-office and critical success 'Sunset Blvd.' this film flopped at the box office and was denigrated by the critics. It did so poorly financially that after his next film, 'Stalag 17', made millions for the studio his profits were docked for the failure of Ace in the Hole. But I believe that the critics and movie-goers missed one of his best films. Kirk Douglas stars as a down-on-his-luck reported that is stranded in New Mexico with car troubles. He begs the local paper for a job. After languishing there for a year he stumbles upon the story of a lifetime. A local man is trapped in a cave-in in a small, tourist-attraction of a mine. Douglas immediately sees the potential for his return to big time news reporting and begins to manipulate everyone around the story. From the trapped miner, to his family, to the sheriff and on to the national press, everyone is taking their cue from Douglas.
Ace in the Hole is a cynical look at the power of the media. Today, we are aware that much of the press/media has their own agendas. And profit is often at the top of the agenda. Those agendas control/distort they way they tell each story that they cover. In 1951 that was not common knowledge. People thought they could trust the newspapers, radio stations and tv to provide them with information without bias. Wilder's exposing of that manipulation of the public was not well received. Moviegoers did not want to see Kirk Douglas as the mastermind of a massive deception. And they did not want to believe that their beloved information sources could be so corrupt.
This movie is dark and cynical. But it also tells a fascinating story. In many ways it reminds me of another fantastic film 'Network'. This film's message is more subtle, but it is just as powerful a look at the power of the press and its ability to manipulate our society. I highly recommend obtaining a copy of this terrific film ASAP.
Filmed in 1951, directed by Billy Wilder, written by Wilder, Lesser Samuels and Walter Newman, starring Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling, Lewis Martin and Porter Hall. This film was initially released under the title 'The Big Carnival'. In that version the studio made many changes. Please obtain the proper Ace in the Hole version as Billy Wilder intended it to be seen.
Many of the films referenced above have been looked at, in-depth, in other articles of mine. Here are links to those articles:
Witness for the Prosecution
Some Like it Hot