Ace in the Hole (1951)
AKA The Big Carnival
Starring Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling, Robert Arthur, Porter Hall, Frank Cady, Richard Benedict, Ray Teal, Lewis Martin, John Berkes, Frances Dominguez, Gene Evans
Directed by Billy Wilder
Expectations: Very high. This has been on the watchlist for years.
Many years ago, my good friend Uncle Jasper told me about this movie Ace in the Hole. He said something like, “You gotta see it, Will. You’ll love it.” At the time we were both heavily into Billy Wilder’s films, so I made a mental note to see it when I could. The film proved rather hard to track down, though, as it had never been released to DVD and its VHS release had long since gone out of print. But the real reason is most likely my penchant for procrastination, because even when Criterion put out a stunning edition of the film in 2007, I decided to watch it later. This time it was because sometime in the mid-2000s I had tired of watching classic films, so I thought I’d wait until a better time presented itself. But as those who also procrastinate will know, there never is a better time and before you know it another five years have passed. So that’s why Ace in the Hole was the first film I locked in for my Blind Spot list, and honestly, I think the experience was even better for waiting.
Ace in the Hole starts with a pompous journalist riding in his car into Albuquerque, NM… behind a tow truck. Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) is a big-time journalist from New York, but he’s a little down on his luck. He lost his job so he’s come to Albuquerque in hopes of landing something quick and repairing his reputation through a dynamite story that makes headlines nationwide. Even though the paper in Albuquerque mostly covers local interest stories like fairs and rattlesnake events, he’s confident he can drum up something. Tatum’s confidence is his overwhelming trait, but his entrance via tow truck shows us that he’s also something of an unreliable force and not as self-sufficient as he’d like us to believe.