Ace in the Hole (1951) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • Charles Tatum, a down-on-his-luck reporter, takes a job with a small New Mexico newspaper. The job is pretty boring until he finds a man trapped in an old Indian dwelling. He jumps at the chance to make a name for himself by taking over and prolonging the rescue effort, and feeding stories to major newspapers. He creates a national media sensation and milks it for all it is worth - until things go terribly wrong.

  • Chuck Tatum has been a reporter for the small town and thus "small" newspaper, the Albuquerque Sun-Bulletin, for one year. He has over the years worked for the big newspapers back east, but was systematically fired from each of those jobs for reasons from libel to cheating with the boss' wife to excessive alcohol consumption. Irrespective of those firings, Chuck knows the newspaper business and how to write a sensational front page story. He was up front with the Sun-Bulletin's owner and editor-in-chief, Jacob Q. Boot, that he wanted this job for an unknown temporary period until he wrote the next big story, which could catapult him back to the big times and a job back at one of those big city newspapers. He was also up front with principled Boot, a lawyer by trade and thus a stickler for the truth, that if it is a slow news day, he could manufacture a newsworthy story. It is on his way to cover the latest in a long line of small stories that Chuck stumbles across a situation that he believes he could spin into that big story. In the small hamlet of Escudero three hours outside of Albuquerque, Leo Minosa, the owner/operator of the local trading post, has been caught pinned underneath some debris in a cave-in. The cave a Native Indian site, Leo had systematically been stripping it of its native artifacts for sale at the trading post, always without incident until now. After entering the cave and assessing that Leo on the most part is all right except for not being able to get out from under the massive amount of debris, Chuck begins to take control of the situation for his own benefit, bringing the newspaper's impressionable young photographer, Herbie Cook, along for the ride. In Chuck's perfect world, he would be the only reporter to gain access to the cave, and would keep Leo in this situation as long as humanly possible (meaning in Chuck's eyes two weeks or thereabouts) to milk the story for all it's worth for Leo ultimately to emerge from the cave relatively unscathed back into the arms of his loving wife, Lorraine Minosa. To achieve most of this, he has to be able to manipulate the corrupt local sheriff, Gus Kretzer, who, in his professional capacity without a local geotechnical expert to gauge the cave stability, is to control what happens at the cave to get Leo out safely. The other issue for Chuck is that Lorraine is far from the loving wife, she an opportunistic young woman who hates her life and sees Leo's current predicament as the perfect opportunity to take whatever cash on hand and leave him for good.

  • Chuck Tatum is an experienced newspaper reporter, having worked on several different publications on the East Coast. Having made a few enemies out East and desperate for any work, he gets a job at a small newspaper in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He figures that one day a big story will come along and this will be his ticket back into a big city newspaper. However, after a year nothing has happened and he is very frustrated. Then he stumbles across the plight of a man trapped in a cave, and he turns it into something big, and ongoing.

  • Ex-New York reporter Charles Tatum lands a job on a Albuquerque newspaper in hopes that a sensational story will return him to the big time. When a man is trapped in an Indian cave, Tatum conspires with an unscrupulous sheriff to keep him there until the story can build to national proportions, which it does.

  • The cynical, unethical and unscrupulous journalist Chuck Tatum arrives at a small New Mexico newspaper asking for a chance. He was fired from famous newspapers because of drinking, 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 platform to reach a bigger one. After one year without any sensational news and totally bored, Chuck travels with a younger reporter to cover a story about rattlesnakes. When they arrive at an isolated gas station, he is informed that a man called Leo Minosa is trapped alive in an old Indian mine in a nearby place called the Mountain of the Seven Vultures. Chuck manipulates the local corrupt sheriff, the engineer responsible for the rescue operation and Leo's wife Lorraine Minosa, so that a rescue that could have been made in twelve hours lasts six days using a sophisticated drilling system. Chuck Tatum uses the time to create a media circus. Everybody profits from the accident - everybody except the victim.

  • A frustrated former big-city journalist now stuck working for an Albuquerque newspaper exploits a story about a man trapped in a cave to re-jump start his career, but the situation quickly escalates into an out-of-control circus.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) is a driven and talented news reporter whose short temper and contempt for authority has gotten him fired from many of Americas best newspapers. Tatum finds himself broken down in Albuquerque and appeals to the local news paper editor Jacob Q. Boot (Porter Hall) for a job until he can scrape up enough money to get back to New York, or Chicago or some other big newspaper. Boot hires him but after a year Tatum roams around the newspaper office ranting over the lack of any news in the town.

    Boot sends him and photographer Herbie Cook (Robert Arthur) to Los Brios to cover the annual rattlesnake roundup, but on the way, Tatum happens upon a real human interest story. Local merchant Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict) is caught in a cave in an old tunnel inside an ancient Indian burial location. The local Indians and Leo himself say Indian spirits may have caused the cave in because Leo has been raiding the mine for old religious relics. Tatum writes up the story with great hooks angling in the superstitious Indian lore, and focusing on Leo's wife Lorraine (Jan Sterling) as a faithful wife even though she wants to leave Leo.

    Tatum's story gets picked up by the news services, and to insure that he keeps the rights, Tatum makes a deal with the local crooked sheriff Kretzer (Ray Teal) for help in isolating the location where Leo is. When Tatum learns that the rescuers can get Leo out in about 12 hours by shoring up the inside of the mine, he convinces the rescue crew to drill in from above instead, a job that will take 6 days and will give Tatum enough time to whip the story into a real career-changing event. As Lorraine agrees to allow people to come into to see the event for a price, she sees the profits at the diner increase greatly and a big-time newspaper editor from New York agrees to pay Tatum a huge amount for the story and give him his old job back. Leo begins to become ill as time passes and his health decides the futures of those making a profit from his demise.

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