Ace in the Hole (1951)

Dir. Billy Wilder. In the New Mexico Dessert, failed journalist Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) hustles his way into a job at a rural newspaper, hoping for a story to resurrect his career when he finds his literal ‘ace in the hole’ — a prospector trapped in an old mine. Chuck manipulates the trapped miner, his long-suffering wife, and eventually the entire media landscape in an effective yet cynical scheme to line his own pockets. Kirk Douglas plays his newspaper man as a gangster, brutishly standing over his colleagues, editors, shopkeepers, and corrupt lawmakers. This harsh and humourless performance is in keeping with the dim film noir tropes of the tragic story. The film is often viewed as foreshadowing the cynical profiteering of future media conglomerates, which is a bit of a stretch — in the world of ‘Ace in the Hole’, the only hero is the honest rural newspaper editor, even the New York City editors bristle at Chuck Tatum’s dishonest dealings. The film was originally released under the blander title ‘The Big Carnival, which more accurately describes the media circus that Chuck Tatum conjures. Produced, written, and directed by Billy Wilder, it’s interesting to see how a powerful and influential creative force deals with toxic social forces in a film, and the direct line to recent films like Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up (2021).

By Nicholas Hudson-Ellis

Co-Founder & Film Programs Manager of Bangkok Screening Room.