Sunday, July 26, 2009

Day 186: Ace in the Hole (1951) - Rank 5/5


There have been dozens of pictures that have examined the corruption behind the media or its emissaries, but "Ace in the Hole" is not only the earliest I've seen, but it's also one of the darkest. Kirk Douglas stars as "ace reporter" Chuck Tatum, an egocentric writer who lauds himself with great braggadocio to anyone who will listen, despite the fact that he's been axed by every respectable media firm in the country. When he makes a wrong turn in Albuquerque (literally) and finds himself broke with no car, he sells himself to the editor of the town's small rag. But small town news ain't what Chuck Tatum really wants. Tired of covering bake sales and other minutia, he declares to his loyal cameraman, Herbie: "Bad news sells best. Cause good news is no news."

So you can imagine the joy Chuck experiences when he happens across an old mine where a man by the name of Leo Minosa has become trapped, for he views it as literary gold. Chuck orchestrates one of the most elaborate farces in film as he turns a routine, twelve-hour rescue job into a week-long circus, all so he can milk the story for what it's worth in order to end up on top and on the payroll of a renowned paper once again. But the higher Chuck gets, the worse things get for Leo and we begin to realize that there's no one on the victim's side. Leo's wife goes along with the scheme because of the tourist trade the spectacle brings to her hotel/cafe/gift shop. The sheriff also plays ball, because he's angling for his corrupt past to be overlooked when he's praised as a hero by Tatum's words. And once both the viewer and Tatum begin to realize that Leo really doesn't have any allies, Leo comes down with a case of pneumonia that may prove fatal before he can be saved.

Billy Wilder has brought some fantastic films to the screen - "Sunset Boulevard," "Double Indemnity," "The Lost Weekend' - but this may be his most powerful work. Apart from exploring the corrupt underbelly of the news, he displays the true ugliness of humanity for all to see. Outside the cave-in, a carnival is set up and people bring their kids around to play games, listen to folk songs about Leo and buy souvenirs. They do this because they're operating under the guise that they're helping Leo - showing him support. But this sea of hypocrisy comes as no comfort to Leo because he's slowly dying and all he needs is just a few hours and a handful of men to rescue him. And as Tatum begins to realize what he's done, who he's become and suffers disgust at his own circus, the film really delivers.

Watch the Trailer

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