56 of 57 people found the following review helpful
on May 4, 2007
This 1951 film seems as relevant today as it ever did. Kirk Douglas is perfectly cast as an unethical newspaper reporter who, through his influence over the town's sheriff, keeps a dying man trapped in a mine for several days longer than necessary in order to milk the story for all it's worth - a strategy he hopes will help him claw his way back to the top of the journalistic world. Billy Wilder's incredibly vitriolic film tells many truths about how reality is manipulated by the media to serve personal and political ends without regard to the suffering caused by this agenda. His film spares nobody in its critique: those who perpetuate the lies, those who directly benefit from them, even those who uncritically consume the stories are all complicit in the wrongdoing. Wilder made many great films, most of which are far better known than this one, but "Ace in the Hole" is up there with the best of them.
Criterion's release of this film is definitely cause for celebration.
42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
ACE IN THE HOLE (the studio renamed THE BIG CARNIVAL when it bombed upon rerelease) is Billy Wilder's forgotten masterpiece. Along with Ernst Lubitsch's ONE HOUR WITH YOU and the films of British comic Will Hay, this has long topped my own personal wish list of films that have never been available either on DVD or VHS in the United States (Hay's films are at least available on DVD in Great Britain). To have it appear at last not only on DVD but in a two-disc Criterion edition is truly a wish come true. This will easily go down as one of the most important DVD releases of 2007.
This is among Billy Wilder's greatest films, though this has been long forgotten because the film bombed so badly at the box office (financially it was by far Wilder's worst film, lossing a great deal of money). Anyone who has seen many Billy Wilder films knows that he had a dark side and that while he would turn out many of the greatest comedies in the history of film, he could also turn out some of the bleakest films ever made. Moreover, even some of his comedies contain many cynical elements. ACE IN THE HOLE is the most despairing film Bill Wilder ever made.
The plot is simple. A former ace reporter is so far down on his luck that he has taken a job on a tiny New Mexico newspaper. When a man gets trapped in a mine collapse, he sees an opportunity to resurrect his career. On the inside, he crawls through the collapsed mine to the spot where the miner is trapped, interviewing him, bringing him food and water, befriending him, and giving him hope and comfort. On the outside, he has an affair with the miner's wife, writes a series of stories about the miner that creates a national media frenzy, and manipulates rescue operations to delay the man's release by a few days so that he will have more time to milk the story. The great tension in the story arrives from his cold-blooded manipulation of the man's situation on the one hand, and the enormous guilt he suffers from the expressions of friendship and appreciation from the man who is trapped. Meanwhile, outside the mine, thousands and thousands of onlookers collect, to the point where it has become a virtual city, complete with souvenir sellers and even carnival rides (hence part of the meaning of the original title).
Kirk Douglas has made very, very man great movies in his great career, but I am not sure he was ever better than in this one. Although the movie has a cast of thousands, there are only three truly crucial characters: Douglas's reporter, the man trapped in the mine, and the miner's wife. But of the three, it is Douglas who has to carry the film on his back. And he does so magnificently.
In every way, a very great movie. My hope is that it will come to be recognized as the great film it is along with other box office failures that have since come to be recognized as classics such as BRINGING UP BABY and THE GENERAL. This is a film that simply must be seen by every fan of the movies.
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Ace in the Hole is, plain and simple, deep and true, one of the greatest films ever made.
ACE is a film so hard-hitting that it chills some 60 years after it's release; a film so cynical, acidic, and brutal that it has survived the test of time - indeed, becoming more relevant every day it ages. Billy Wilder's story of journalism and the media gone wrong is one that holds special weight in our modern society, and everything from the acting, to the razor-sharp script, to the cinematography and score (To this day, I still remember the tune to "Leo, Leo, Leo, Leeeooo!") comes together to make an unforgettable gut-punch of a masterpiece.
Kirk Douglas's electrifying performance as Chuck Tatum is still among cinema's greatest. In particular, it is his moralless, qualmless opportunism that sticks in the mind: "I can handle big news and little news. And if there's no news, I'll go out and bite a dog." The film centres around Douglas's character, a washed-up, cynical journalist who, when working for a small-town news agency, finds his big break: a man stuck in a cave. Exploiting the situation for his benefit, the incident spirals out of control into a media circus.
This is but the stage for a razor-sharp, darkly comic, exquisitely constructed masterpiece from Billy Wilder. Wilder above all directors had that talent to make his films "stick". 64 years after Sunset Boulevard hit theatres, we are still enthralled by that story of forgotten fame, and 63 years from the release of Ace in the Hole, audiences are still having their insides turn and jaws drop, at the sight of a Ferris wheel being set up outside a cave inside which a man is being slowly suffocated.
If you have not seen Ace in the Hole, I can only encourage you to do so immediately. It is one of my favourite films I have had the pleasure to experience, and in my opinion, one of the greatest films ever made. The script, decades ahead of it's time, is sharper than a knife, and the dialogue is so bruisingly cynical it hits you like a gut-punch. The characters are unforgettable, and the finale cements itself in your head for a long time. This is Billy Wilder's ACE IN THE HOLE, and without question it deserves the highest award I can possibly give: 3, yes, THREE thumbs up.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on May 13, 2003
Billy Wilder made this film after Sunset Blvd(1950) and before Stalag 17(1953), two of his most popular works. He once referred to "Ace" as "the runt of my litter". It is one of the most brilliant films to come out of Hollywood in the early 1950's.
The idea of a newspaper man covering the story of a trapped miner, exploiting and managing the "rescue" in order to sell the story to the media, was way ahead of it's time, which is why the picture flopped at the box office.
The people at Paramount don't seem to value the artistry inherent in this masterpiece. They probably only look at the numbers and figure, "well, it didn't make any money in 1951, so it won't make any now if we release it on DVD"
But they are wrong. This is a cult classic and on every film buff's must-have list.
Besides the acting and direction and the bitterly pungent screenplay, the arid b&w cinematography of Charles Lang and the moody, impressionist, noir music score by Hugo Friedhofer are absolutely perfect for this story.
By all means, write a letter to Paramount Home Video and demand that this film is given a DVD release. You can get their address from their website. I wrote them last year and they said there were no plans to release it. So that means waiting for it to show up on Turner Classic Movies, where I last saw it about 3 years ago.
But if they get enough letters, well, you never know...............
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on July 29, 2007
KIRK DOUGLAS was always a dependable actor and occasionally brilliant when he had a good script and a good director. Here he has both, and he's in his element with Billy Wilder's direction making the most of a cynical story of a reporter exploiting human drama for his own benefit.
JAN STERLING, as the trapped man's wife, matches Douglas for toughness every step of the way. "I met a lot of hard-boiled eggs in my time," she tells Douglas, whom she sees through with his scheme of profiteering from the accident. "But you're twenty minutes." A few more cynical remarks and he's smacking her across the face twice.
No one looks any good, as far as the characters go. The gawkers are shown to be the sort that stare at accidents and are soon turning Sterling's tacky establishment into a gold mine. The cynical screenplay catches all of the nuances of the exploited situation and Douglas comes up with remarks like, "Tomorrow that will be yesterday's news and they'll wrap a fish in it." As the arrogant man who delays the rescue to milk the situation for the most he can get out of it, KIRK DOUGLAS gives a riveting performance as an opportunistic heel. He never tries to soften the part, nor does director Wilder ever shy away from exposing the hypocrisy at work.
Still a very timely story and expose of hypocrisy on several levels by the press and public. RICHARD BENEDICT as the trapped man and ROBERT ARTHUR as a naive young reporter are both excellent in strong supporting roles.
Summing up: Brilliant film deserves much more attention than it gets.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on September 18, 2007
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
The audience that loved Billy Wilder's "Sunset Boulevard" (1950) turned on his "Ace in the Hole" one year later. Watch the movie and you can guess why. It was easy for middle America to enjoy a decadent Hollywood get its just desserts. When Wilder turned the mirror onto middle America itself, they didn't admire their own reflection.
"Ace in the Hole" endures, however, for some of the same reasons as Sidney Lumet's "Network" (1975): what was satire 30-50 years ago has become reality. In a world of Fox Network and 24-hour infotainment, "Ace in the Hole" is immediately recognizable and could have been filmed yesterday. It's a good thing it wasn't, because there aren't any Billy Wilders around, who directed without fussiness and wrote scripts with razor blades. As a peculiar kind of film noir, this is a movie that had to have been made in black and white. And it's hard to think of an actor in our day who could have played as well this movie's loathsome yet recognizably human lead as did the young Kirk Douglas. As with all Criterion editions, the bells and whistles glisten: particularly the film's pinpoint restoration, the commentary track, and a terrific filmed interview with Billy Wilder at the American Film Institute.
Roger Ebert has noted that, as a German emigré to the United States with the onset of World War II, Billy Wilder loved his adopted homeland but never accepted as truth America's dangerously pious myths about itself. If you leave "Ace in the Hole" angry or thinking it far-fetched, then either the movie has struck a nerve or you might begin paying closer attention.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
A work of unrelenting cynicism, director Billy Wilder's "Ace in the Hole" (1951) did not sit well with postwar audiences and critics. Seen today, this overlooked classic remains a powerful indictment of American media and society. Kirk Douglas gives the performance of his career as Chuck Tatum - a manipulative, unethical reporter who turns a New Mexico cave-in disaster into a full-blown media circus. Equally impressive is Jan Sterling's brilliant turn as the profiteering femme fatale. Playing no favorites, Wilder delivers a vicious blow to this nation's tabloid mentality. The memorable closing shot seals the film like a sarcophagus lid.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on September 17, 2007
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
How this movie got made in its time amazes me. A story about a newsman far more interested in the story than the person. The media circus that follows an event, and how people seem to care more about events than the people involved. But what shocks me is it was made in a time that reporters were heros, and movies showed everyone else as in the wrong. This one specifically attacks the everyman. Applying it to our modern obsession with lawsuits of celebrities, the amy fisher's of the world, and you get a movie decades ahead of itself. I love Billy Wilder, and am thrilled this movie is in my collection.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on February 11, 2008
Ignored, unappreciated, even despised by the majority upon its initial release, Ace in the Hole is a bold social critique that pulls no punches. This movie holds up the public mirror and tries to make people see just how much they suck.
Kirk Douglas delivers another fearless performance as Charles Tatum, a shameless big-city reporter that has been exiled from several lucrative jobs. So he retreats to a small town newspaper gig in New Mexico, in order to reestablish his career.
Tatum hates his new job, and desperately searches for the big break that will propel him back into the limelight. That moment eventually comes when a mine collapses, trapping a worker inside. Tatum takes charge of all the relief efforts, not out of concern for the desperate man inside, but for the fame that accompanies this tragedy. A media frenzy ensues.
One moment that illustrates Tatum's arrogance--other reporters try to move in and capture some of the news coverage. One says "We're all in the same boat". Tatum's cynical response was "No, I'm in the boat. You're in the water."
This movie is an excellent display of humanity's overall decline of morality. How vanity supersedes compassion. How humanity has lost touch with one another. I'm not trying to sound judgemental, heck I'm ignoring all company policies and personal job responsibilities by writing this review. Nobody's perfect. But this is a great movie, with powerful but controlled acting and a significant message.
So now, go hug a stranger. No, on second thought you better not. You'll probably get punched.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on October 1, 2007
Criterion's DVD release of this classic film from 1951 is a great gift to Billy Wilder fans. It's a hard-boiled tale of an unscrupulous reporter that cuts straight to the rotten heart of the news media, where information management and sensationalism have overwhelmed the simple idealism of "telling the truth." Kirk Douglas is terrific as the man who engineers a news event to advance his own career and creates a media circus in the process, at the expense of another man who lies trapped and dying in a cave-in. Meanwhile, Jan Sterling, as the other man's wife, turns in a performance that's even more nakedly self-serving.
Set in what is supposed to be the New Mexico desert, the on-location photography is startlingly realistic for a film of this era. As the story evolves, the visuals and camera movement take on the scale of an epic. The grim vision of the movie and its cinematic style put it in league with films like "Citizen Kane." It certainly deserves the kind of appreciation that Criterion brings to it. The DVD includes a Pauline Kael style commentary by film scholar Neil Sinyard. On a second disc, there are interviews with Wilder, Kirk Douglas, and screenwriter Walter Newman, plus comment by Spike Lee, Molly Haskell and Guy Maddin.