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Overall Rating
4.71

Awesome92.86%
Worth A Look: 0%
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Total Crap: 7.14%

1 review, 8 user ratings


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Ace in the Hole (The Big Carnival)
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by Tony Hansen

"Journalists Can Be Unscrupulous? Wilder, You Fantastical Bastard"
5 stars

"Ace in the Hole" hates everyone. Journalists are conniving, unethical, and immoral glory hounds. Their audience is a pack of insatiable information-suckers. Journalists will stop at nothing to get a tastelessly glamorous story. Their audience will continually demand the tawdriest details imaginable. Even viewers who watch this film are indictable by the film itself. Like those who follow celebrity news, "Ace in the Hole’s" audience is getting enjoyment from viewing a media circus. And Billy Wilder, the master of ceremonies, causes it all. He’s the sensationalist creator of a film about sensationalism.

Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) is an egotistical, careerist newspaper reporter, who has been dismissed from every position he has ever had with a major metropolitan paper. Attempting to continue his livelihood, Tatum finds himself in New Mexico, reporting on stories of little importance. Finally, a stroke of extreme misfortune for one man is an opportunity for Tatum. While looking for Indian artifacts, Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict), the proprietor of a small trading post, becomes trapped in a cave. Understanding his luck, Tatum decides to use Minosa’s plight as a means to gain personal fame and glory. So, with the help of a few corruptible public officials and Minosa’s own wife, Lorraine (Jan Sterling), Tatum turns the attempted rescue of Minosa into a media extravaganza so enormous that it would make Geraldo Rivera blush. Interestingly, it’s also the type of spectacle that would make Cecil B. DeMille proud. Wilder/Tatum has created an event of trash that matches the intensity of a pop culture epic. DeMille, Wilder, and Tatum are one and the same. They entertain through pomp.

Of course, other films in this genre of journalism contain their own take on the job of a reporter. In 1940, His Girl Friday was released and it acted as a love letter to the world of newspapers. The film presents its hero and heroine as glory hounds whose careerism stands in the way of love but is, ultimately, the very expression of love. It’s a satirical film full of cynicism and goodness, all covered in a candy coating of hilarity. When Wilder decided to make his own film on the industry eleven years later, he dispensed with the goodness and he spit out the sugar. Vinegar and vitriol suited him a bit better. Ace in the Hole is not so much a love letter as it is a gigantic “up yours” printed on celluloid. Again, the target of the film is specifically the media, but those who lap up the “news” are not free from scorn. They fuel the need for yellow journalism.

The audience culpability is one of the great parts of this film. Because of Wilder’s indictment and because of their relationship with the characters, the emotional response elicited from the viewer is so complex. Considering that Ace in the Hole was produced during the days of the Hays Code and therefore punishment for troublemakers was a necessity, Tatum’s ultimate fate is precipitously conventional. It’s so conventional, in fact, that one gets the feeling that Wilder just doesn’t care. The damage is complete. Wilder wins, even if Tatum does not. But where does that leave the audience? With Wilder tacking on a morally karmic ending that he possibly doesn’t even take seriously, the viewer can’t truly feel satisfied. We love Kurt Douglas, and in Ace in the Hole, he certainly is as charming to the viewer as his character is to his own audience. But when the hero is a villain, does the audience cheer for his comeuppance or do they lament his suffering? Understandably, back when it was released, Douglas’s character and the film’s general wrath turned away major movie audiences. Apparently, they didn’t want to see bad things happen to a bad man played by a good man, and, of course, because Ace in the Hole is a voyeuristic film about voyeurism, they didn’t want to become implicit partners in a distortion of democratic ideals. What haughty pansies.

Wilder was certainly a cynical filmmaker but he possibly never made a film as contemptuous as Ace in the Hole. Because of its lack of success, Wilder has also called it his favorite film. Certainly, it’s a film that deserves to be recognized. Living in an age where reporters are newsmakers rather than news reporters and where many celebrities are celebrities just because they’re celebrities, Ace in the Hole is particularly prescient. To be sure, Billy Wilder hated Court TV and the E! Network way before you did.

--------------------

The final and most fascinating aspect of Ace in the Hole has nothing to do with what’s contained on the actual celluloid. The most interesting aspect of Ace in the Hole is that the film has only recently been released on DVD. Here we are on the cusp of ditching DVD for a more high definition format and Wilder’s incendiary film is only now being (re)discovered. For most, the film is nothing more than an “oh yeah” afterthought. It’s nothing more than a slot in Wilder’s filmography. It just doesn’t matter.

This is particularly distressing when one considers that there are so many other films that are no doubt suffering the fate that Ace in the Hole miraculously avoided. Ace in the Hole is a lost film and cineaste favorite Billy Wilder directed it. It stars big name Kirk Douglas. How many other films by great directors with great actors are lost in an unavailable limbo? How many great films by not so great, or undiscovered, directors with not-so-great actors have just disappeared from human experience forever? Most importantly, how many classic Hollywood or foreign films that are available now on DVD will not be available on a more advanced format? The sad fact is that reproduction of many of the titles that have been released on DVD doesn’t seem to be necessary. Why? Because so few people care. Virtually no one, save a Criterion collector, walks into a retail outlet and asks, “Do you guys have Ace in the Hole?” It doesn’t happen. So, because of a general apathy, fewer and fewer older films will be reproduced. Access to films like Ace in the Hole will decrease. Our knowledge of films like Ace in the Hole will decrease. Turner Classic Movies can’t save cinema by itself.

Of course, if yesterday’s films are disappearing, where will today’s films be tomorrow? It’s an interesting parlor game. Think of some of your favorite films from the past few years. In fifty years, will they still be available? Will a film like No Country for Old Men disappear into the Coen Brothers’ complete oeuvre only to be seen in a future film encyclopedia? What about a generally admired film like Waitress? Can it survive without being a part of a celebrated director’s filmography? Let’s face it – in 20 years you can make yourself a Directorless-Movies-Disappear Pie because Waitress is gone.

Now one might argue that a proliferation of online films, which can be downloaded and watched directly on your computer/television, is the wave of the future. The absence of the high costs of mass production could create a forum for classic films to be rediscovered. This might save these films. It might. The one thing that makes me leery is that because certain films have been selected over others to be distributed on formats like VHS, Laser Disc, and DVD, patterns have developed as to what constitutes a “classic” film. The great ones have already been chosen. Is there room for more? Are we, as a film culture, malleable enough to alter what we perceive is “great?”

When World War II ended and access to American filmmaking was reinstated, the French devoured all of the films that they had not been able to see for the past five years. Because of this saturation, these cineastes began to see patterns in American films that many in Hollywood had been, perhaps, too close to see. From these patterns came the auteur theory and the concept of film noir. Would a greater access to the films of our past produce similar thought provoking ideas? Would the discovery of good films, interesting films, or even plain bad films contribute something to our knowledge of cinema?

"Ace in the Hole" contributes. It’s a pointing finger film. It’s a moral gutter diving film. After all, it’s a Billy Wilder film.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=16466&reviewer=421
originally posted: 01/09/08 16:36:41
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User Comments

9/25/13 David Hollingsworth Has one of the most scathing screenplays ever written. 5 stars
6/26/12 matthew thompson dalldorf Some of the best dialogue ever written! 5 stars
4/07/12 Carol Miles WOW and again WOW 5 stars
3/17/11 Eva Katz Saw it yesterday in Tel Aviv cinematheque. I shall read the newspapers with different eyes 5 stars
9/06/10 Josie Cotton is a goddess One of Wilder's best 5 stars
12/28/09 PAUL SHORTT POIGNANT AND THOUGHTFUL MELODRAMA, EXPOSING THE SENSATIONALISM OF THE TABLOID PRESS 5 stars
2/17/09 LOLA RAINBOW 1 stars
8/16/07 William Goss Douglas hams it up a bit too much, but otherwise, Wilder pre-nails modern media circus. 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  29-Jun-1951
  DVD: 17-Jul-2007

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