The Influence of Billy Wilder’s ACE IN THE HOLE

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For many, legendary director Billy Wilder’s 1951 film Ace in the Hole is not only his best but also one of the most influential films of the last century. Unfortunately, despite its uncanny commentary on the news media that is still relevant today, it’s slightly under the radar for a lot of audiences. Because of it’s perfect mixture of brilliant filmmaking (from the cinematography to the writing to the acting, ah, Kurt Douglas) and a scathing look at the media’s influence to create a news frenzy, we’re excited to screen it here at Nitehawk this Tuesday as part of our Journalist in Film series with VICE News. But before you take our word for it, read what the likes of John Sayles, Martin Scorsese, and Chuck Bowen have to say about the film…

John Sayles (from THE DISSOLVE)
“It’s a really dark film, and it’s got Billy Wilder’s acidic view of human nature. I really reacted to the tawdriness of it, which you rarely really saw done well at the time. Kirk Douglas’ performance—one of the interesting things you see in Michael Douglas is that he’s one of the few lead actors who’s willing to play a heel, like in the Wall Street movies. And his father was the same way. Kirk Douglas could play a hero, but very often, he played a charismatic heel. You know from the start here that this guy’s too big for the world he’s landed in, and he’s going to be pretty ruthless. Film noir is a claustrophobic genre. There’s no escape in film noir. There’s a point in Miller’s Crossing where John Turturro’s character is under the gun, and he says, “Let me go, I’ll leave, I’ll go out of town,” and you wanna say, “There is no out of town in film noir! There’s only this closed system, so don’t believe him! There’s nowhere for him to go!”

With Ace In The Hole, there’s the claustrophobia of the mine, but really, the claustrophobia is in this closed, sleazy system of greedy people with their own agendas, and it’s going to end in tragedy. The only nice guy is the guy who’s trapped down at the bottom of the mine, and of course he doesn’t stand a chance if that’s the world he’s depending on to save his life.”

Martin Scorsese (from MARTIN SCORSESE’S FILM SCHOOL: THE 85 FILMS YOU NEED TO SEE TO KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT FILM)
“This Billy Wilder film was so tough and brutal in its cynicism that it died a sudden death at the box office, and they re-released it under the title Big Carnival, which didn’t help. Chuck Tatum is a reporter who’s very modern–he’ll do anything to get the story, to make up the story! He risks not only his reputation, but also the life of this guy who’s trapped in the mine.”

Chuck Bowen (from SLATE MAGAZINE)
“Ace in the Hole appropriately opens in motion. Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) doesn’t waste time. Consideration, nuance, empathy—words that are anathema to a man who prizes action and momentum. In a striking opening shot, we see a tow truck pulling a convertible behind it as it idles into a small western town. Tatum’s sitting behind the convertible’s steering wheel, though you wouldn’t guess from his cocksure expression that he’s out of work and in dire economic straits; for him, this truck is merely a substitute for the limo he’ll inevitably return to. The truck stops in front of the Albuquerque Sun-Bulletin‘s office, and Tatum marches in and gets himself a crummy newspaper job after launching into a series of double and triple entendres that establish him as a brilliant reporter who can’t work for anybody. Talent, after all, only means so much when you’re drunk or screwing your boss’s wife, though Tatum intends to prove that hunger, more so than even talent, trumps any setback or limitation.”…more