Thursday, November 07, 2013

Ace in the Hole

Directed by Billy Wilder with a screenplay by Wilder, Walter Newman, and Lesser Samuels from a story by Victor Desny, Ace in the Hole is the story of an amoral newspaper reporter who uncovers a major scoop in the hopes that he would regain his job in the world of newspapers. The film is an exploration into a man’s desire to regain his position in the world of journalism as he does whatever it takes to get the big story. Starring Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling, Robert Arthur, and Porter Hall. Ace in the Hole is a chilling yet captivating film from Billy Wilder.

The film explores a disgraced yet charming newspaper reporter who arrives to Albuquerque, New Mexico for a job where he learns that a man is trapped in a cave as he decides to make it into a big story. That is pretty much the premise where it explores the desire of Charles Tatum (Kirk Douglas) in his attempt to get the biggest scoop of his career and become the toast of the journalist world. While he hopes that Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict) to survive the ordeal so that it would make a great story. Tatum knew he had to deal with other reporters vying to get the story while he masterminds everything to ensure that things will be great for himself, Leo’s wife Lorraine (Jan Sterling), the town’s sheriff (Ray Teale), and the contractor (Lewis Martin) who is drilling above the cave. Still, there are forces that Tatum couldn’t foresee as well as something inside him as the days to save Leo get closer.

The film’s screenplay is very unique in the way it presents Tatum as this very amoral yet charming man who arrives in Albuquerque with this idea that the only way to sell newspapers is to give them big juicy stories that embellishes and maybe even have lies. Something that Tatum’s new editor Jacob Q. Boot (Porter Hall) believes as he only believes in one thing when it comes to journalism and that is to tell the truth. When Tatum gets the story about Minosa by accident when he was supposed to cover a rattlesnake hunt, Tatum uses his swagger and wit to make one man’s ordeal into a major story. Once is story becomes known all over New Mexico and other parts of the country, people come in to see if Minosa will be saved as it becomes an event with carnivals and such. For Tatum, it’s like a party that is already happening and he is going to reap the rewards while helping out a few including a young photo-journalist in Herbie Cook (Robert Arthur) who wants in so he can get his break with Tatum’s help.

The script’s structure does start out in a sort of upbeat way as Tatum wanders into his newfound situation and the hopes that he can profit and prosper from this event. Yet, things begin to creep in a dark way in its second half where Minosa’s wife doesn’t really love him as she wants something more while the sheriff is eager to be re-elected and get more power. Even as the plan to get Leo out of the cave becomes just as problematic considering the other solutions where he can get out but it’s all due to Tatum’s planning of the event that troubles everything. Even as Tatum has to talk to Leo through the cave where it becomes clear that there’s some things that Tatum couldn’t mastermind in the reality of Leo’s situation. Largely as Tatum has to face some truths as well as the fact that things have gotten out of hand as it plays to not just the sense of cynicism that Tatum has but also the world in general where something has to happen.

Billy Wilder’s direction is very engaging for the way he presents the film in not just the world of journalism that can be very cutthroat and competitive where everyone tries to get the big story. Notably as the newspaper that Tatum works for is just a small paper that only is only successful enough to keep going and pay its workers despite the big competition it faces from other newspapers all over the country. Much of the direction that Wilder creates in the newspaper building is simple while he goes for a wider canvas including some gorgeous wide shots of the landscape that Tatum encounters though it is presented in its 1:33:1 Academy full-frame ratio. Still, Wilder manages to get enough depth-of-field in those scenes as well as the desert land where it seems very wondrous and empty until the circus and many people come in make it into this strange fundraiser.

Wilder does infuse a lot of noir-like touches to some of the scenes that includes Tatum’s encounters with Lorraine as she is definitely intrigued by him as she sees Tatum as her ticket out of New Mexico. Wilder does create some interesting images in those scenes as well as the way Tatum and Leo are shot together inside the cave where Tatum has to talk to him through a whole where they barely see each other’s faces. It’s among one of the great moments in the film as it plays into the drama as well as an unexpected development in Tatum’s character who is this very hardened cynic that only believes in selling newspapers where he would realize that there is more to that. Overall, Wilder creates a very mesmerizing yet harrowing film about a reporter’s desire to get a big story.

Cinematographer Charles Lang does amazing work with the film‘s black-and-white photography from the grimy yet entrancing look of the interiors inside the cave to the gorgeous exteriors of the deserts and landscapes in New Mexico. Editors Arthur Schmidt and Doane Harrison do excellent work with the editing with its use of rhythmic cuts to play into some of its suspense and drama while keeping things straightforward. Art directors Hal Pereira and Earl Hedrick, with set decorators Sam Comer and Ray Moyer, do fantastic work with the look of the cave interiors as well as the trading shop/restaurant that Lorraine runs.

Costume designer Edith Head does nice work with the costumes with the clothes that Lorraine wears to convey her look and desire to be part of the world outside of New Mexico. The sound work of Bob Carr and John Cope is superb for the way the atmosphere of the cave sounds like as well as the chaos that goes on outside where carnivals and such are happening. The music of Hugo Friedhofer is brilliant for its low-key yet haunting score with its orchestral arrangements to play into the drama and suspense that clashes with the original song about Leo that was written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans.

The casting by Bert McKay is marvelous as it includes some notable small roles from John Berkes and Frances Dominquez as Leo’s parents, Frank Cady as a tourist who is the first to arrive to the place after reading Tatum’s story, Richard Gaines as Tatum’s old New York editor Nagel, and Lewis Martin as the contractor McCardle who is swayed into Tatum’s plan until he reveals the reality of the situation when an alternate plan wasn’t going to work. Ray Teal is terrific as the smarmy Sheriff Kretzer who hopes to prosper from the event as is he is up for re-election as he’s also obsessed with rattlesnakes. Ray Benedict is excellent as Leo Minosa as the man trapped on some rocks in a cave who hopes to stay alive while dealing with the reality of his situations and everything else as he becomes a crucial element to Tatum’s development as a man.

Porter Hall is superb as Tatum’s editor Boot as a man who carries an old-school idea of telling the truth as he realizes what Tatum is doing as he watches from afar to see how far Tatum will go to tell the story. Robert Arthur is fantastic as the young photo-journalist Herbie as a young man willing to make a name for himself in aiding Tatum while eager to get his break. Jan Sterling is amazing as Leo’s wife Lorraine as a woman who is intrigued by Tatum as she sees him as her way out while unveiling a dark side to herself in the way she speaks about her husband. Finally, there’s Kirk Douglas in a towering performance as Chuck Tatum as this once-revered but disgraced reporter who is eager to get back on top as Douglas has this charm and energy but also a dark cynicism to his role as a man eager to do what it takes only to face the reality of what he’s done.

Ace in the Hole is an incredible film from Billy Wilder that features a remarkable performance from Kirk Douglas. The film is a strange yet intoxicating mix of film noir and human drama that explores the dark side of journalism. Especially as it follows an amoral man’s quest to get back on top with a major scoop only to see a much harsher world of humanity. In the end, Ace in the Hole is a spectacular film from Billy Wilder.

Billy Wilder Films: (Mauvaise Graine) - (The Major and the Minor) - (Five Graves to Cairo) - Double Indemnity - The Lost Weekend - (The Emperor Waltz) - (A Foreign Affair) - Sunset Boulevard - Stalag 17 - (Sabrina) - (The Seven Year Itch) - (The Spirit of St. Louis) - (Love in the Afternoon) - (Witness for the Prosecution) - Some Like It Hot - The Apartment - (One, Two, Three) - (Irma La Douce) - (Kiss Me, Stupid) - (The Fortune Cookie) - (The Private Lives of Sherlock Holmes) - (Avanti!) - (The Front Page) - (Fedora) - (Buddy Buddy)

© thevoid99 2013


Dan Heaton said...

I just caught up with Ace in the Hole during my Billy Wilder marathon over the summer, and it's brutally effective. Few films have such a cynical ending, and the final shot is one of the great ones. I'm surprised that we don't hear more about this film, especially when people consider Wilder's career.

ruth said...

Great review Steven! I REALLY need to see a Billy Wilder film, haven't seen a single one! There are so many I'm interested in, esp. The Apartment and Double Indemnity. This one I'm not sure about as I'm not fond of Kirk Douglas at all, perhaps as I really hated Spartacus, ahah. I loved Ben-Hur so I always thought it was a lame rip-off, sorry if you're a fan :D

thevoid99 said...

@Dan Heaton-I finally saw this film a few days ago and man, it was fucking great. I don't know why it got criticized when it first came out. Kirk Douglas was great.

@ruth-I like Kirk Douglas. The man is a classic example of an actor who brings it. I have a couple of more Wilder films to watch (one of them is a big Blind Spot) while I'm also going to re-watch one of his classics in Some Like It Hot.

Dan said...

Billy Wilder is a genius. The guy's CV reads like the list of the greatest movies ever made. My favorites include The Apartment and Sunset Boulevard but Ace In The Hole is another example of just how great Wilder was.

thevoid99 said...

@Dan-The Apartment is the next film of his I'm going to see and then Sunset Boulevard which is my Blind Spot for this month.