Ace In The Hole (1952): The Media Circus

Ace In The Hole (1951)

“A brilliant arrangement of cause and effect…
unique as a mirror of the morbid psychology of
crowds… revolting but incontrovertibly true.”
– New York Times

“Terrific drama. Grim tale of a big city reporter
who capitalizes on a disaster to ride himself back
to the big time. Unrelenting in its cynicism.”
– Steve H. Scheuer, Movies on TV and Video.

Ace in the Hole (aka The Big Carnival) is a savage critique not only of a corrupted but also corrupting modern mass media. Perhaps Billy Wilder’s best film, this subversive morality tale was not a box office success when first released. As Wilder said of the audience response at the time: “Americans expected a cocktail and felt I was giving them a shot of vinegar instead.”.

Kirk Douglas as the self-seeking journalist, Chuck Tatum, dominates the screen and develops by the climax as one of Wilder’s more complex characterisations. There are noir elements in the movie, but classifying it as a noir unfairly limits its scope and the depth of social criticism. Only the poor trapped man, his inconsolable parents, and the owner of the small town newspaper, have any true decency. Everyone else, is either corrupt or corruptible, if not downright stupid or plain evil – the trapped man’s floozy of a wife included, and Tatum’s naive young photographer is easily seduced by the reporter’s phoney charisma. The corrupt sheriff who actively conspires with Tatum, even after he is told the poor trapped man is doomed, wants to use this turn of events to his political advantage.

The power of this film resonates today, when countries go to war on manufactured evidence and manipulative spin. Innocent lives are as expendable today as they always have been in the cause of political ambition and warped ideological agendas: a world where the spin doctor rules.

This is a must see movie.

4 Comments

  1. Tony,

    One of my favorite films, and certainly Wilder at his most acidic. The film’s relevance to today’s media circus is unmistakable. With 24-hour news stations having to fill time, they put on every so called pundit from all political directions who go on and on and yet say nothing. Then there are show’s like “Entertainment Tonight” mixing real news with gossipy star fodder. I recently read an article that said news people like Walter Cronkite could never make it today. He just told the news straight without any bent.

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