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Ace in the Hole (The Criterion Collection)

4.6 out of 5 stars 124 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

One of the most scathing indictments of American culture ever produced by a Hollywood filmmaker, Academy Award-winner Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole is legendary for both its cutting social critique and its status as a hard-to-find cult classic. Kirk Douglas gives the fiercest performance of his career as Chuck Tatum, an amoral newspaper reporter caught in dead-end Albuquerque who happens upon the story of a lifetime-and will do anything to ensure he gets the scoop. Wilder's follow-up to Sunset Boulevard is an even darker vision, a no-holds-barred expose that anticipated the rise of the American media circus.


The character of newspaperman Chuck Taylor (Kirk Douglas) is best summed up by an astonished bystander (herself no soft touch): "I met a lot of hard-boiled eggs in my time, but you--you're 20 minutes!" Meet the "hero" of Billy Wilder's corrosive 1951 classic Ace in the Hole (a.k.a. The Big Carnival), a former big-time reporter whose reputation is so tarnished he's now at an Albuquerque rag, chasing down local-interest stuff. Until, that is, a local miner gets stuck in a cave--a situation that Taylor not only exploits but actually manipulates, the better to improve his career chances. Wilder got the idea for the movie from the real-life media circus that followed the Floyd Collins story (Collins was trapped in a cave for over a week in 1925). Needless to say, the opportunities for displaying greed and venality are fully drawn out by Wilder; indeed, the film looks unbelievably prescient from a modern perspective of media overload.

Although Wilder had scored a success with Sunset Boulevard just a year earlier, he misread the public's ability to stare into the merciless mirror he held up to them in Ace in the Hole. The movie bombed. Paramount changed the title to The Big Carnival, thus wrecking one of Wilder's most acidic puns, but it didn't help. It also doesn't matter: Ace in the Hole is one of the truly grown-up movies of its time, and age has only improved it. Wilder's ear for cynical dialogue is honed to its sharpest point, and Kirk Douglas has one of his best parts, which he attacks with customary ferocity. Jan Sterling plays the hard-nosed wife of the trapped man, with Porter Hall as Douglas's publisher--the lone voice of decency in the film's cruel parade. Admirably, Wilder takes this all the way down the line: the ending of the movie might be the best in-your-face finish since Public Enemy. --Robert Horton

Special Features

  • New, restored high-definition digital transfer
  • Commentary by film scholar Neil Sinyard
  • Portrait of a "60% Perfect Man": Billy Wilder, a 1980 documentary featuring in-depth interviews with Wilder by film critic Michel Ciment
  • A 1984 interview with Kirk Douglas by filmmaker and film scholar Michael Thomas
  • Excerpts from a 1986 appearance by Wilder at the American Film Institute
  • Excerpts from an audio interview with coscreenwriter Walter Newman  
  • New video afterword by filmmaker Spike Lee
  • Stills gallery
  • Theatrical trailer
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring new essays by film critic Molly Haskell and filmmaker Guy Maddin

Product Details

  • Actors: Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling
  • Directors: Billy Wilder
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Black & White, Full Screen, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 1.0)
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Criterion
  • DVD Release Date: July 17, 2007
  • Run Time: 111 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (124 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000PKG6OE
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #94,986 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Ace in the Hole (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By R. Sohi on May 3, 2007
Format: DVD
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.
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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.
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Format: Blu-ray
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".
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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...............
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