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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Overly bombastic performance by Kurk Douglas!
superrfly22 December 2007
I still have to give this film a 7 out of 10 for the subject is a very important and timeless one, that of media manipulation. But the film is anything but subtle. I grant that this acting style of which I complain is very much of the period, but the declamatory nature of Tatum's character comes on way too strong, and makes what could have been a complex character into a very one dimensional one. The overall effect of this and the rest of the writing leaves one with the feeling of being bludgeoned, rather than being exposed to a very disturbing and pervasive phenomena. Could have been handled with more subtlety and delivered greater impact.
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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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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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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 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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hipthornton11 December 2002
Saw this films years ago and it's still gripping.Mr.Wilder seldom did films that gripped the human condition like this one.After this movie flopped he stuck to screen adaptions of stage hits through most of the fifties.Both director and star,Kirk Douglas really delivered a stinging expose of media hype and manipulation of the newspaper business.Herein,burned out reporter Douglas chances on a man trapped in a cave and ruthlessly exploits it for his own gain.There's no softness here,even the leading lady (played wonderfully by Jan Sterling)is as hard as Douglas.The scenes of all the gawkers showing up,complete with carnival,are outright creepy.There's even a cheesy country western singer plunking a guitar and singing about poor Leo,(the trapped man.) The only sympathetic person is poor Leo's mom who continually prays for his release.Definitely a film for lovers of great movie drama.
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a neglected gem
daisy61218 December 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I first saw this film in 1951. At least two decades passed before it was occasionally shown on network TV, usually on local afternoon movie programs. The lack of a happy ending (to put it mildly) may have played a part.

A flop when it was originally released (and referred to by Billy Wilder as "the runt of the litter"), this movie is still not available in DVD or VHS. This is a shame, because it is a taut, very cynical, and extremely well-made rumination on the idea of media observation and manipulation, and the easy corruption of otherwise earnest citizens.

The movie also contains what I feel is the single greatest scene in all moviedom: An extremely high view of a trainload of gawkers arriving at the "big carnival" (the movie's alternate title), along with the soundtrack of a made-for-the-movie country-western song. You'll know it when you see it. Observe as well the hordes of people and cars, the cast of thousands, assembled for the exterior shots. This was not digital, it was casting and logistics and bullhorns and the gimlet-eyed vision of the director.

Do not miss this treasure!
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Not as Good as Its Reputation Suggests
TheExpatriate70030 July 2010
I rented Ace in the Hole (aka The Big Carnival) upon reading glowing reviews of it by such critics as Roger Ebert. They claimed it was a neglected classic and possibly the best film of Billy Wilder's career. Although it is definitely a good film and ahead of its time, it does not quite live up to the hype.

The film, in short, is a condemnation of media circuses and the exploitation of tragedy by reporters. It focuses on the efforts of Kirk Douglas's character, who uses unscrupulous methods to generate a media circus around a man trapped in a collapsed cave. A corrupt sheriff, the trapped man's discontented wife, and a gullible public aid his efforts.

The film's main problem is Kirk Douglas's performance. Even though he is a good actor, his over-the-top approach detracts from the believability of his character. One would expect such a deft manipulator to be far more subtle than the arrogant, raging character he plays.
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Great piece of filmmaking
diogoal-23 November 2000
Warning: Spoilers
In my opinion, Billy Wilder is one of the five best filmmakers that ever set foot in America; his ability to transform a beat-up formula to an entertaining, intelligent and classic old-time Hollywood flick is uncanny. He´s probably the BEST screenwriter of all time, too. His magic touch hits "The Big Carnival" like fire. The characters, in particular Chuck Tatum, one of Kirk Douglas´ greatest roles, are highly developed and interesting; there are no heroes here, and no evildoers either, just a bunch of working men who happen to have the easiest opportunity of their lives to gain a fortune over a fatal tragedy. The analysis of journalism contained in the movie is simple and clear; newspapers are meant to wrap up fish. Whats the matter if you can make some money in the process? It is the murder of the truth, if there is any. A brilliant film, one of Wilder´s best. See it.
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A Billy Wilder Movie
giorgiosurbani26 August 2007
The excitement to finally see the only movie of Billy Wilder's greatest period I hadn't seen, verged on childishness. I love Wilder and I felt frustrated not to be able to find anywhere "Ace In The Hole" Well, all that's over now. I've seen it, in its crispy DVD release. The theme is Wilderesque, bitter sweet. Some of the lines belong, unquestionably, to the best Wilder sharp, unsentimental wit but, and unfortunately there is a big couple of buts here. Walter Newman and Lesser Samuels (his co-writers) are not Diamond or Brackett and Kirk Douglas is relentless in his on your face, loud son of a bitch. His "redemption" is literary but not cinematic. His performance starts way up high and stays there. I was longing for the laconic delivery of a Fred McMurray in "Double Indemnity" Here, one could see through his character way to easy and far too fast. Jan Sterling is lovely as the woman on the verge. Tough cookie. Delivering a couple of the best lines in the film. All in all, maybe my expectations were too high and the film deserves to be seen again. I will.
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"I can handle big news and little news, and if there's no news, I'll go out and bite a dog."
classicsoncall30 September 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Perhaps Billy Wilder would feel vindicated today after putting this film down as one of his lesser achievements. His own background as a reporter in Vienna and Berlin most likely influenced this story of a cynical newspaper reporter who insinuates himself into his byline to influence events instead of merely reporting them. See, and I thought this was only a modern day inconvenient truth.

I didn't expect "Ace in the Hole" to be the gripping movie it turned out to be. Kirk Douglas is masterful in presenting a character so out of touch with basic human decency that he never considers that sometimes the law of unintended consequences can intrude on one's best laid plans. Down and out reporter Chuck Tatum (Douglas) happens upon a story in the making in the middle of a New Mexico desert, and his overblown ego takes command of the situation. A master manipulator, Tatum convinces a local corrupt sheriff (Ray Teal) to milk an underground rescue attempt to pile up votes for the next election, and together they bully a contractor (Frank Jaquet) to use a rescue method that will take six days instead of eighteen hours. Tatum also latches on to a local legend, the 'Mountain of the Seven Vultures' to add a tense note of mystery and foreboding to his copy, all in an effort to secure a prized position back at his former New York City newspaper.

It's hard not to become angry watching this picture because one instinctively knows that this type of stuff occurs on a daily basis in newsrooms across the country. It's gotten to the point where one can't really trust what appears in print or on the TV screen half the time today, a sorry state of affairs if one relies on accuracy in reporting for any reason at all. The carnival atmosphere that develops around the Leo Mimosa story must have seemed oddly unbelievable, even impossible back when the picture was made, but today it seems about par for the course.

One can figure out where this story is going after a certain point; all that's left is for the finger pointing to start. Admirably, for a creepy character like Tatum, he decides to blow the whistle on his own complicity in causing a man's death, but it's too little too late. The gawkers pack up and leave and those who profited from the spectacle are left to their own seamy existence, including the wife of the trapped miner (Jan Sterling), revealed as callous and hypocritical as the sheriff. In a nod to both true noir sensibility and demands of the Production Code, Chuck Tatum goes down for the final count as the picture closes, knowing just before he drops that the circus is finally over.
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jotix10020 December 2008
Warning: Spoilers
A journalist from New York, Chuck Tatum, ends up in Albuquerque working for a local newspaper. He is a defeated man who has failed miserably because of his hard drinking, among other things. But his luck is about to change. After being sent to report on a rattle snake contest, he stumbles on a tragic situation where a miner has been trapped in an abandoned silver mine. Tatum recognizes the value of the situation as a news item that will, not only sell papers, but will, perhaps, give him the chance to make it big in the field he knows well. He risks his own life in going into the mine to interview Leo Minosa.

In order to do that, he joins forces with the corrupt local sheriff Kretzer, who is game for what the deal will mean to his status in the community. In exchange for his efforts, he wants to be the exclusive rights to the situation. Tatum meets the miner's wife, a one time saloon girl, Lorraine, who Leo rescued from an uncertain life and brought her to the family's restaurant in the dusty desert area. Lorraine sees an opportunity to flee the scene, something that she has done before, but Chuck Tatum wants her as part of the scheme he has plotted in his mind.

When the human story hits the airwaves, it finds a captive audience. Soon, all curiosity seekers descend on the area next to the mine to witness whatever happens. Instead of using conventional methods, Chuck decides to "milk" the situation by not doing what reason dictates must be done. He decides to direct the drilling from the top, a process that will delay the rescue operation, but will give Tatum a chance to gain the notoriety he seeks, at the expense of the man pinned down in the mine.

This film, directed by the great Billy Wilder, is one of his finest efforts in Hollywood. Yet, the film didn't find an audience, unlike the one attracted within the film. Written in collaboration by Mr. Wilder, Lesser Samuels and Walter Newman, the screenplay is one of the most ambitious in the director's distinguished career. He knew exactly where he wanted to know, using as a theme the manipulation of the news by people that only want to show sensationalism, at the expense of a human suffering.

Kirk Douglas had one of his finest moments in the movies with his Chuck Tatum. He knew exactly what the public wanted and he gives it to them. In a way, he was a great impresario, setting the scene for the curious to come to the show to be on the front row to witness the suffering and pain Leo Minosa was experiencing. Jan Sterling, who plays Lorraine, matches Mr. Douglas all the way. She could see inside the man who didn't care about a husband that she was going to abandon, anyway. The rest of the cast does a fine job.

Charles Lang's cinematography captures in vivid detail the carnival atmosphere that is at the center of the film. His camera angles enhance the film tremendously. Hugo Friedhofer provided the musical score that blended perfectly with the action. Arthur Schmidt editing works well. Ultimately this was a Billy Wilder film that will stay in the viewer's memory for quite a long time.
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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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This hard-boiled egg is twenty minutes
MissIlsaLund11 June 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Meet Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas). With a low growl and a sizeable assortment of personal affectations, he turns the tow truck driver into his personal chauffeur, he lights a match on the sliding typewriter, mocks everyone he charms and vice versa. With pride and self-contempt, he manages to sell himself to a newspaper by convincing the editor-in-chief that he is indispensable--even though he's been fired from eleven papers for good reasons. "I can handle big news and little news," he declares, "and if there's no news I'll go out and bite dog." He is machismo and self-hatred, and he will do anything for a buck. In other words, he is a typical Wilder anti-hero. A year later, Tatum has taken up his boss's habit of wearing belt and suspenders. To stave off boredom, he pesters his affectionate co-workers. His promised big break comes a year later: when covering the story of a rattlesnake hunt he hears of a treasure-seeker, Leo Minosa, trapped in a coal mine.

Enter Mrs. Minosa (Jan Sterling). The sneering bottle blonde would be as iconic as Norma Desmond and Phyllis Dietrichson had ACE IN THE HOLE been popular at the time of its release. Like Cora in THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, she is trapped in a marriage with a man she doesn't love in a remote diner that doesn't generate any cash. Along comes the attractive but amoral man who offers both cash and sex. Most importantly cash. Cash is the name of the game for all characters in ACE IN THE HOLE. Leo gets trapped in pursuit of ancient Indian artifacts to sell, the implication being that the pursuit of wealth is imprisoning and that nothing is sacred. When Tatum successfully feeds off the sympathies of the masses, the S&M Entertainment Company trucks roll in to erect a lucrative circus. Folk singers, carnies, and thousands of people more interested on appearing on television than worrying about Leo amass. Everyone profits but the victim. When Leo's wife, after having drained the cash register of its last $11, retorts that "Honey, you like those rocks just as much as I do," she is not speaking just to Tatum but to the masses.


Never has a film noir more explicitly dealt with the theme of entrapment. Leo Minosa becomes a physical manifestation of the claustrophobia surrounding all the characters: Tatum's desperation to make a big story, Mrs. Minosa's desperation to transcend her dull existence, even the sheriff's desperation to be re-elected. In the mine shaft, dust streams down ceaselessly to pool on his face and body. Leo is being slowly buried alive while the drill makes a ceaseless, solemn pound. As it gets closer and closer it feels like the drums of death approaching, tormenting Leo. Grit gathers like fur on Leo's face, and the lighting becomes even more striking, casting ghastly shadows over his face. Here comes what might be Kirk Douglas' finest acting moment: The priest administers last rites for Leo and the camera cuts to Tatum's face during the words "bless me father for I have sinned. *I'm sorry*." Everything is there: profound guilt, shame, grief, a self-loathing that goes deeper than that ever-pounding drill. The consequences of his pathological ambition have finally crept up with him, and he too is being buried alive. The motif of suffocation comes full circle when Tatum wraps Mrs. Minosa's anniversary present--a fur that resembles a "skinned couple-a hungry rats"--around her neck and keeps pulling tighter. "I can't breath!" she gasps. He snarls back, "He can't breathe either."

This film is dismissed as cynical by people who don't want to acknowledge how close to reality it is. Acerbic? Absolutely. Sleazy? You bet. But there has never been a film--much less an old film--that so perfectly captured the bloodlust for the sensationalized human interest story. To write it off as cynical is to ignore the existence of yellow journalists who litter flashbulbs on their subjects, who ask them to confide their deepest anxieties before splashing them on the front page news, who alter and rewrite reality to make a better story. There have been other films such as NETWORK and A FACE IN THE CROWD that are praised for being crystal balls into the future of American media, but neither of which were nearly as condemning. There are traces of irony in ACE IN THE HOLE that can only be attributed to the fact that a story so excessive and absurd was actually based on *fact.*

57 years from its release and it hasn't aged a day. The only thing that separates the film from the world of today are the radio and newspaper journalists in lieu of television. There is a basic meanness, a violence, a grit that makes today's edgiest dramas look like white-washed fluff. Even Mrs. Minosa's wardrobe (a factor that ages the timeliest films) looks perfectly modern with its men's plaid shirts and rolled-up jeans. Billy Wilder has made half a dozen great films that could each be argued to be his masterpiece, but it is my opinion that ACE IN THE HOLE has and always will be Wilder's finest.
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Rats and snakes
schappe120 September 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Kirk Douglas has often expressed his theory of acting: find the good in the bad and the bad in the good. In no role of his career do we see this at work more than his performance as Chuck Tatum in Billy Wilder's classic "Ace in the Hole". Tatum is a relentlessly ambitious and overtly cynical reporter exploiting a man's misfortune in being trapped in a cave for his own ends. But if that's all he was, he'd be driving away with a smile on his face at the end. But that's not all he is.

He's not the worst character in this gallery of rogues. Jan Sterling's non-suffering wife of the victim is a very cold fish and Ray Teal's sheriff is more of a cold-blooded reptile, like his pet snake. They don't give a damn if Leo lives or dies. It might be better if he's out of the way. But Tatum, even if he's the instigator of the drama, can't go that far. He's merely a rat, dangerous but warm-blooded. And that destroys him. Sterling and Teal move on, better off than they were. Tatum falls dead into the camera. You can have him for nothing.

Tatum's problem is that he isn't quite as bad as he wants to be. He's been treated ruthlessly by life some time in the past and he's in a competitive profession where compassion seems a weakness and the victor gets the spoils- and all the excitement. He put himself on overdrive to compete and show the world he can be as tough on it as it is on him. But he's not quite bad enough to not care about what he's doing to Leo. He's disgusted when he looks at the wife and sheriff and thinks that he's put himself on their level. He punches the sheriff and almost strangles the wife, but finds that doesn't liberate him form his own actions. Those actions have deprived him of the respect of anyone with any goodness left in them, including himself. You can have him for nothing because there's nothing left.
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Mmm. Two Scoops.
Robert J. Maxwell25 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
What a good movie. It's hard to believe that the audience was considered so sensitive in 1947 that the original title, "Ace in the Hole," had to be dropped and replaced with this less ironic one. Viewers were thought unprepared for a film in which a reporter misbehaved, with lethal results.

"The Big Carnival" is one of the reasons the director, Billy Wilder, earned a reputation as a cynic. It was probably deserved. He had a keen sense of humor as well (Wilder: "I laugh at everything. I laugh at Hamlet.") but it's not much on display here. Instead we have a naive veteran pinned underground and an ambitious reporter (Kirk Douglas) who deliberately delays the rescue in order to squeeze the most out of the story. Instead of extracting the victim from the heart of the mountain the quick and easy way, Douglas talks the corrupt sheriff and engineer into doing it the long, slow, and ultimately lethal way. The tubby engineer caught in the middle is the unhappy Frank Jaquet. He mops his brow and imitates digging with none of the icononoclastic pizazz of William "Strata" Smith. Just a schlubb. Except for the victim, I felt sorrier for the engineer Smollett than for anyone else. Poor Louie Minosa. He catches pneumonia and dies after being given extreme unction. Douglas dies too, as the code of the time required.

Wilder's direction is fine. Douglas acquires a young acolyte and when they last speak together, the light is behind Douglas so that Douglas's sharp shadow blacks out almost all of the kid's face. In the last shot, from floor level, Douglas collapses and his dead face flops almost into the camera lens although the face is too dark to make out, his features, like his soul, in deep shadow. In another scene, Douglas is busily reading his mail and concocting additional material for the Big Story. Douglas again is in deep shadow. Beside him is the bright figure of Louie Minosa's wife, the trashy, blond Jan Sterling. She's a tough and narcissistic cookie out of Baltimore and, impressed by Douglas's power and his ability to bring in the bucks, she comes on to him with a wide and seductive smile. Douglas looks at her over his shoulder and says, "You're the grief-stricken wife, so stop smiling." "Make me," she replies, and he slaps her twice, hard, across the face.

It's a shocking moment and, despite Douglas's earlier casual chatter about his ambitions, the viewer suddenly realizes that this guy will stop at nothing. That is, he not only claims to be ruthless, he really MEANS it. "That's the expression I want to see," Douglas tells her smoothly. "Don't wipe those tears away." Everyone gives performances that are at least decent. Porter Hall, whom you will recognize, does a comic/dramatic turn as the stuffy and conservative editor of an Albuquerque newspaper. One of the few chuckles the viewer is allowed is when Douglas first asks Porter for a job and analyzes Porter as a small-time fellow because he wears both belt AND suspenders, compared to Douglas's flashy suit. A year goes by and we see Douglas too wearing both belt and suspenders. (He shucks the suspenders when he gets a job offer from New York.)

This is a finely made movie about two parallel scoops: an attempt to dig Louie Minosa out of his underground prison and Douglas's attempt to turn the story into a heady drama.
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"Go home! The carnival is over."
Patrick R. Pearsey5 May 1999
This is a movie I have loved since the first time I saw it as a child. Kirk Douglas plays the lead role in "The Big Carnival", or "Ace in the Hole" as it was originally titled. As down and out former ace newspaper reporter Chuck Tatum, he finds himself broke in the southwest and manages to talk himself into a reporting job with a small town newspaper. He and a cub photographer are sent to cover a snake hunt and on the way they come across a more interesting story. A man hunting Navaho artifacts got caught in a cave in.

Tatum, after visiting the man, Leo Minoso in the cave, has visions of Floyd Collins and a Pulitzer prize dancing in his head. Through blackmail and manipulation of the story, Tatum sells his soul and his journalistic ethics in his quest for a chance at the big time again.

This movie was ahead of it's time in estimating how low the media would go to sell a story. Tatum leads the carnival of onlookers, vendors and other reporters wanting a piece of the story until the inevitable tragic ending occurs. He realizes too late how he has turned a simple event into a tragedy and become part of the story instead of a reporter. Kirk Douglas turns in a powerful performance.
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Far Ahead Of Its Time
David (Handlinghandel)24 January 2005
"Ace In the Hole," which used to turn up on local TV as "The Big carnival," was far head of its time. It wasn't very successful and its cynicism shocked people.

Along comes Andy Warhol almost two decades later with his notion of "fifteen minutes of fame" and everyone buys that concept. It's not quite the same as the concept of this. Nor is that of the very popular "Network," which came even later. But the premise here is that reporter Kirk Douglas will literally jeopardize a man's life in order to get a series of big newspaper stories. And does anyone today doubt that such things happen? Wilder was often cynical, though here it is to the most meaningful end. "the Fortune Cookie" and "Kiss Me, Stupid" are cynical also and they are both fun but this one makes a very trenchant point and they do not.

The acting is superb. Kirk Douglas gave many brilliant performances. This is one of them. The trailer included in the DVD I just saw crows that with this Jan Sterling will be immediately elevated to the top rank of female stars. That never happened but she is excellent here, as generally elsewhere.

The interviews of Wilder by Cameron Crowe tell a funny story about the genesis of one of her lines. I'd better not quote it; so get that book. It's very entertaining, informative, and touching.

Wilder was one of =this country's great directors. This will probably never be one of his most popular movies but I'd certainly rank it as one of his best.
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Indian Giver or No
Thou Art-130 November 2001
With the pairing of Wilder and Douglas we get best of both world's.Best director of his day {or arguably any other} and best actor for that decade and beyond{somewhat arguable}In this drama {not Film Noir enough} because there is no dark urban setting or real femme fatale,exist's a very fine vehicle for Kirk Douglas.As the proragonist who is relentlessly absorbed in his work as hard-boiled reporter looking in earnest for big breaking story,he packs more than the usual Kirk true grit.And any actor worth his salt knows Kirk rules on that domain.His facial countenance of clenched jaw and wild-eyed demeanor was his stock in trade,and made for this type of movie.And we,as audience are privvy too and enveloped by sheer ease at which it is demonstrated. The storyline revolves around less than big city newspaper and Kirk's rather new undertaking as somewhat jaded journalist who has trouble dealing with authority and anyone incapable of seeing things his way.Therefore getting the boot from many a newspaper due to intranisigence and lack of good manners.Which makes for really good drama about his new plight and overall character flaws and strenghts. With a good backdrop of out of the way desert to establish the plot and suspence and plenty of foil to go around,the movie is rive with possible deals and double crosses and film noir aspects of storyline.And again who better than Kirk{one of his absolute best roles}to play the lead character and establish all action around.At the pinnacle of his carreer and it shows,he has more than enough grit and sassiness,and tough-guy bravura to go around.In fact,maybe too much.He is so utterly central to overall plot and story as to render other's in scene to be much less important.Nevertheless a very compelling and outstanding display of character depth and emotion,with a quite dramatic flair for ending.An absolute must see for any fans of Kirk,or great character drama,or journalist's-who seem to be getting a raw deal of late.After watching Mr.Douglas play a hard-edged journalist,then journalism will never be the same.Or will it?? 5 out of 5 star or 10/10 for a very complicated character brought to life,with all the gusto and spirit that makes great movies worth watching.Dig Daddio's.
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Gritty ugly but necessary storytelling.
Takeshi-K4 October 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Kirk Douglas is marvelous in this film. He plays a loathsome creature called Chuck Tatum, a scheming manipulative journalist who will stop at nothing to regain the position he once held - as one of New York's most successful tabloid journalists. Initially we aren't really told what Humpty did to have a great fall, but we see glimpses of his true nature along the way.

He stumbles into a small town newspaper where he demands a job hoping its the first step in regaining his former glory. It takes an entire year for a juicy story to fall into his lap - A stricken miner becomes trapped after a cave-in - and Tatum wrings it for all its worth. His headline grabbing flair and salesmanship brings in droves of curious onlookers, glory hunters and of course the men required to save the stricken miner. The latter of course choose the most logical course, bolster the fallen ceiling enough to reach the stricken man. However Tatum decides to drag things out, so that he can play the story for as much tension and drama as he can, driving newspaper sales and his own bank account and inflated ego all the while. He enlists and thus corrupts the rescue foreman and local sheriff to make this happen. These are simple folk and are easily bamboozled by the slick and cunning Tatum. This of course has tragic consequences for the stricken minor whose cheery demeanor belies a much worse condition. ** The next paragraph will spoil this movie so stop now if that's a problem for you. **

Movies in this time period had to show that "crime doesn't pay" so the ending is a downer, but logical given Tatum's hubris and all the tragic consequences it brings. It's ending poses a similar question to the one in the classic western Shane (1953); does the hero die at the end? Some argue Tatum just collapses in exhaustion, while others say he dies. The way another character just lets himself go toward his demise, gives an insight to that possibility. The one flaw in that death is that Tatum could have just given him ear plugs! Despite that plot hole, Ace In The Hole (1951) is a near perfect film that gives insight into the muckraking art of the con artist and how that relates to mass media. Anyone interested in media, politics and propaganda should watch this film. Its right up there with Network (1976).
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