Ace in the Hole is an excellent film about an unscrupulous city newspaperman who is down on his luck and decides to exploit a man trapped down a mine in order to kick start his failing career. Directed by Billy Wilder and starring Kirk Douglas this is an intelligent and absorbing movie.
Reporter Chuck Tatum has worked for some of the biggest papers in the country but his drinking and womanising got him fired. He´s down on his luck and offers to work for a small New Mexico paper hoping to catch a break and get back to the majors as quickly as possible. When a man gets trapped down a mine and Chuck happens to be passing he goes to take a look and quickly assumes control of the rescue operation.
The mine is in a sacred mountain called the Mountain of the Seven Vultures and Chuck can barely contain his excitement at the prospect of a lucrative and long running news story. As the tale unfolds with Chuck trying to prolong things in order to spin out the story a number of other characters prove equally selfish. The trapped man´s wife sees it as a chance to escape, the local sheriff sees it as a chance to win votes and the gawping public gather round for a peek.
This is a dark tale, the trapped man, his doctor and perhaps the old editor of the small paper Chuck is working for are the only characters with some moral virtue. Everyone else is brutally selfish and happy to exploit this man for their own gain. This serves as a damning indictment of the press and their manipulative ways and also the clamouring slack jawed public who buy the papers and turn up in their droves to try and see for themselves. Apparently the film was inspired by real events. Perhaps because this criticism did not sit well with audiences the film was a commercial flop on release.
The direction from Wilder is excellent, the script is great and the fascinating characters have real depth making this an extremely immersive film. Douglas is incredibly good as Chuck, he is an unpleasant character to be sure but also worthy of pity in his pathetic desperation to make it big. Jan Sterling is very convincing as the repulsively bitter wife. The supporting cast are all good, especially the evil Sheriff played by Ray Teal but there´s no detracting from Douglas as the star of the show and this is one of his best performances.
Ace in the Hole is a forgotten classic and as a cynical tale of human greed it´s tough to beat. If you´ve never seen it you should definitely seek it out.