Ace in the Hole (1951) Poster

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The plot is based on real events
castolon26 April 2007
The movie very closely parallels the real events of January 30 to February 16, 1925 in terms of the general story line. There are some significant differences concerning the actions of the characters.

Floyd Collins, a cave explorer working alone (not a real good idea), was trapped in Sand Cave KY, near Mammoth Cave. He was not looking for treasure, but for a new cave suitable for commercializing to produce income in an economically depressed region...and this was before the Depression occurred.

He became trapped on the way out of the cave by a 27 lb. rock which rolled onto his leg in a narrow crawlway. The configuration was such that it could not be moved enough to get his foot past.

When he failed to return home, the family went searching and quickly found him only 150' inside the cave.

A huge rescue effort was mounted and a cub reporter, Skeets Miller, from Louisville KY showed up to cover the story. It became one of the three most widely broadcast events of the time. Besides the extensive newspaper coverage, the relatively new medium of commercial radio riveted listeners with hourly accounts. It quickly became the first media circus ever seen.

Because of the print and radio coverage people began flocking to the site. A carnival atmosphere did indeed spring up around the cave. The state police and National Guard were called out by the governor to control the chaos and the more than 20,000 onlookers. The similarity between the real event and the movie on this account are likely nearly identical.

As in the movie, a decision was made to drill a shaft and, also as in the movie, the rock was fairly unstable and prone to collapse from the pounding of the cable tool drilling rig. The longer the effort went on, the more unstable the cave passage became.

Unlike Kirk Douglas' character in the movie, Skeets Miller served a most honorable role. Due to his small build he became one of very few persons able, and eventually the only one willing, to enter in an attempt to deliver food and water to Collins. He received a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting. Also unlike the movie, there was no manipulation of the event to delay the rescue, but there was considerable disagreement over how to best do it. Area coal miners made the initial attempts and the event concluded with the above-mentioned shaft.

Collins was presumed to have died 3 days before rescuers reached him. Because the conditions were so unstable, the body was left in the cave. The family was able to remove him about 80 days afterward for a proper burial. Later, his glass-topped casket was returned to the now-commercial cave as a tourist attraction. It was removed once again, and finally, in 1989.

In 1982, a definitive account of the event was published in the book 'Trapped!'. A most informative read.

In a take-off of the 'Free Tibet' bumper stickers, vehicles are occasionally seen with a 'Free Floyd Collins' sticker.
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A brilliant movie that lingers in the mind
dbtuson-127 March 2004
Of the many movies I viewed in the early 50's, so many ,like now, were here today, forgotten tomorrow. However some movies that became memorable and that were able to make a dramatic impact on this young guy include, Duel in the Sun and Gone with the Wind. Strangely enough, Ace in the Hole is the most memorable of all movies viewed. It is one that invades the mind and leaves one sad.

Few films I remember as vividly as this dark movie, the images linger to haunt me still. 'Why?' one might ask 'would a sombre movie like this made over 50 years ago remain so memorable, when so many others have vanished. Was it the surreal inhumanity of the plot, the repugnant newsman devoid of ethics, the exploitation of the trapped victim, the purposeful prolonging of the victim's entrapment to create a media frenzy, the ultimate commercial creation of an 'event' style attraction complete with a circus like atmosphere surrounding the cave while the victim remained entrapped and close to death.'

Supposedly based on a real incident, it's a tough movie to watch and more so if one is prepared to accept the premise that such inhumanity displayed in the movie has an element of truth.

I echo the desires of others to have the availability of this movie on VHS or DVD. In the interim my memory will continue to keep the images intact. See it if you can.
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A great film
zinkster7 January 2006
One of Billy Wilder's great movies, with a superb acting job by Kirk Douglas as the cynical, glory-seeking and even desperate reporter whose only goal is get back in the limelight by regaining his former big-city news desk job.

The idea of such a newspaper reporter manipulating events to stretch out a story at the expense of and disregard for the victim still seems nearly inhuman, but Douglas' performance makes it instantly believable. The story scenario in which locals, then passers-by and finally distant tourists gravitate to and then make a festival or circus out of the event (the film was also released under the title "The Big Carnival") is supported by the real events on which the story was most likely based: the West VA mine disaster in 1925 that trapped miner Floyd Collins and was reported for 17 days, much as in the film, by local newspaperman Skeets Miller, who crawled into the mineshaft for face-to-face interviews with the trapped and doomed Collins.

This movie fits nicely into the Film Noir genre, although it takes place largely under the hot, harsh glare of the Arizona sun, highlighting the sweat and grime visible on the characters' skin and creating a visual metaphor for the sorry state of their souls. I wonder if Henri-Georges Clouzot saw this film before he began filming "The Wages of Fear," because the visually pervasive atmosphere of sweat and filth and opportunism are equally present in both.
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Billy Wilder should not call this powerful whiff of the journalism world "The runt" of his cinematic litter!
Glenn Andreiev24 November 1998
Billy Wilder's first commercial failure, but one of his best films, almost up there with "Sunset Blvd." Ambitious reporter Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) finds out a man is trapped in a collapsed mine. By spewing out bogus engineering, he manages the rescue of the poor man to become more complicated, and time consuming then needed. Meanwhile, it becomes an amazing news item, something that makes Tatum the best known reporter in the country. However, everybody's luck runs out at the end. Perhaps the cause of failure of this film is that there are no sympathetic characters here. Douglas plays a total creep, the trapped man's wife is a floozy "I'm not going to pray for him! Praying ruins my nylons!" in the film. Even the trapped man is somebody who was poking around Indian graves. The screenplay, and the lead performances are top class. The extensive location photography, and somewhat documentary look of the film makes the film feel more modern than most 1951 films. Billy Wilder calls this film "the runt of his litter" Don't be so harsh, Billy, it's an excellent picture!
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The Press as the Vehicle of Manipulation of a Nation
Claudio Carvalho16 January 2005
The cynical, unethical and unscrupulous journalist Charles 'Chuck' Tatum (Kirk Douglas) arrives in a small New Mexico newspaper asking for a chance. He was fired from famous newspapers because of drinking problem, lying and even for having an affair with the wife of one of his bosses. His real intention is to use the small newspaper as a "swimming board" to a bigger one. After one year without a bang news and totally bored, Chuck travels with a younger reporter to make the coverage of a matter about rattlesnakes. When they arrive in an isolated gas station, he is informed that a man called Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict) is trapped alive in an old Indian mine in a nearby place called Mountain of the Seven Vultures. Chuck manipulates the local corrupt sheriff, the engineer responsible for the rescue operation and Leo's wife Lorraine Minosa (Jan Sterling), and a rescue that could be made using a simple and common process in twelve hours, lasts six days using a sophisticated drilling system and creating a circus in the previously desert place. Everybody profits with the accident except the victim.

Movies about manipulation of people are usually excellent. I remember Costa-Gravas' "Mad City (1997), Barry Levinson's "Wag the Dog (1997)", Howard Hawks' "His Girl Friday (1940)", and even the recent real case of the chemical weapons. Yesterday I saw "Ace in the Hole" for the first time and I really was impressed how this film is amazingly real and updated. There are elements present in every modern society, such as: the powerful sheriff very corrupt, like most of the worldwide members of the governments; the press, interested in selling news only; the victim used for other interests greater than rescuing him; and the people, completely manipulated and with very short memory. Kirk Douglas is amazing in the role of a nasty reporter. I do not understand why this movie is not in the IMDb Top 250. My vote is ten.

Title (Brazil): "A Montanha dos Sete Abutres" ("The Mountain of the Seven Vultures")
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A Prophetic film
noir19913 June 2002
There are some films that when you see them you ask why they aren't available to rent or own. This is one of them. I had the fortune of seeing this hidden gem on the big screen and was pleasantly surprised.

With Kirk Douglas playing a Reporter whose been around the block, always looking for a shortcut, comes across an opportunity to exploit a man caught in a mine shaft. I have read where critics had considered the circus atmosphere of the the film unrealistic. It seems Mr. Wilder got the last laugh. If you are interesting in great dialogue and good story telling, I suggest you find this
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Media of 1951 acting like media of 2001
smatysia9 March 2001
A powerful toasting of the media of the day. Imagine what this would have been like in the age of television. Kirk Douglas plays a self-centered heel, and does so very well. I also liked Jan Sterling as Lorraine. It's true that there is no really sympathetic character in this film, except maybe Leo, the man trapped in the cave. Someone wrote that he too, wasn't a sympathetic character, because he was trapped while collecting Indian artifacts for sale, but I don't think that would have bothered anyone in 1951. The tone of the film throughout was one of total cynicism, that seems a bit out of place for the times. Maybe that's why this movie was not a commercial success. It fits much better now, though, since everyone has seen the media behaving in such disgraceful fashion. However, that may rob it of some of its (probably intended) shock value. Grade: A
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A human meal ticket
Mike Diamond14 February 2005
Billy Wilder at his very best again. Punchy, hard and brutal. You don't like anyone in the film - your're not meant to and it's all the better for it. Kirk Douglas is a loud-mouthed, down at heel has-been reporter who seizes on an opportunity of a man trapped in a mine as his meal ticket back to the big time. He has his town hangers on and nearing the end of the film the whole town and beyond is feverish with the publicity, all making a tidy little profit (hamburger stalls circus's fairgrounds etc..) Kirk's relationship with the waitress, herself wanting a meal ticket passage out of town, is fantastically well read. She's tough, she's always had the bad hand in life but compared to kirk, she's a pussycat. In one scene she retorts to Kirk "I've met a lot of hard-boiled eggs in my time, but you--you're twenty minutes" A must see-film and certainly in the top 100 of all time.
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A Hard Hitting Tale Of Man's Inhumanity To Man
seymourblack-119 March 2011
Warning: Spoilers
"Ace In The Hole" provides a brilliant and blistering account of how a media circus is cynically created, extended and manipulated purely to capitalise on the public's seemingly insatiable appetite for human interest stories. The main characters are motivated by greed and ambition and ruthlessly exploit the gross misfortune of another human being for their own dubious ends. Billy Wilder who produced, directed and co-wrote the screenplay with Walter Newman and Lesser Samuels, paints a grim picture of human nature in this story which is both fast moving and uncompromising.

Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) is a newspaper reporter who finds himself out of luck and out of money when he arrives in Albuquerque, New Mexico with a broken down car and no job. He's a man who'd previously worked for a number of prestigious newspapers where his employment had been cut short due to a variety of problems including alcoholism, adultery and libel but his undoubted talent and his ability to sell himself, quickly gain him a job at the "Albuquerque Sun-Bulletin".

A year later, Tatum is assigned to cover a rattlesnake hunt but on his way he stops at a desert trading post where he discovers that the proprietor, Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict) has become trapped in a cave where he'd been searching for Indian artifacts. Tatum quickly recognises the story's potential and wastes no time in getting into the cave where he sees Minosa trapped under some timber beams. He talks to him, photographs him and assures him that he'll be rescued as soon as possible.

Tatum promptly calls his editor Jacob C Boot (Porter Hall) to tell him about the story which is a real scoop. To serve the purposes of the story, Tatum wants Minosa's wife Lorraine (Jan Sterling) to appear to be a devoted spouse who's distressed about Leo's predicament. She's completely uncaring, however, and wants to use the opportunity to leave Leo and their isolated home without delay. Tatum tries to make her feel guilty about her intentions and persuades her to change her mind.

Tatum makes a deal with corrupt local sheriff Gus Kretzer (Ray Teal) to ensure that he's the only reporter who's allowed access to Minosa and then the two men pressurise engineer Sam Smollett (Frank Jacquet) into carrying out the rescue operation by drilling a shaft through the rock rather than by simply shoring up the walls of the cave. The drilling operation is favoured because it would take about a week to complete and this would allow the story to be fully exploited. The shoring up option, by contrast, would result in the rescue being completed in less than a day.

Vast numbers of people soon arrive at the trading post and the grounds adjacent to the cave quickly fill up with tourists, reporters, hot dog stands and even a Ferris wheel. Lorraine makes spectacular profits, the sheriff receives flattering publicity to help his re-election campaign and Tatum uses his control of the whole event to be handsomely paid by a New York newspaper for them to be given the exclusive story. Later developments, however, derail Tatum's plans and the carnival atmosphere is soon brought to an end.

Kirk Douglas gives an incredibly powerful performance as the unscrupulous Chuck Tatum and Jan Sterling is very believable as the cold, callous and coarse Lorraine who is totally devoid of any redeeming qualities.

Commercially, "Ace In The Hole" was a spectacular failure and this was probably down to the fact that most of the people featured in the story are unsympathetic characters. Tatum, Kretzer and Lorraine are all despicable, unethical and opportunistic and don't have an ounce of sympathy between them for the unfortunate Minosa. The people who gather at the scene of the accident and turn it into a carnival are voyeuristic and grossly insensitive and the various business people on site simply regard Minosa's plight as an opportunity to make a quick profit. It's encouraging that in the years since its initial release, the merits of this movie have become more clearly recognised and it's appreciated as being even more relevant today than it was when it was made.
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Evil carnival
dbdumonteil18 June 2001
Fifty years later,Billy Wilder's tour de force has worn so well it should be considered the finest movie dealing with the media,topping "network" for instance.The world described here is so depressing,so disheartening that it takes drama to new limits.Not only Tatum is evil,but so are the miner's wife and family who take advantage of the situation ,regardless of any morals.So is the faceless crowd ,who has a wild time, near a dying man.You and me,we could be part of this populace,and maybe we've already been!Remember the little South American girl who fell into a pit in the eighties.The fair sequences might have influenced Fellini for "la dolce vita" (hype about a girl who would have seen Virgin Mary).The soundtrack ,with its relentless thud ,is so oppressive you feel the unfortunate victim's plight within your body and your soul .
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