For Reel


Ace in the Hole (1951)
June 20, 2015, 1:58 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Billy Wilder
5 Stars
Ace in the HoleEarly in Ace in the Hole, journalist Chuck Tatum finds himself stranded in Albuquerque and makes his way to the local paper. He brags about having been fired from eleven papers, scoffs at the small-town journalist’s blunt motto of “tell the truth”, and quips that if there’s no story to be found, he’ll “bite a dog.” His villainy represents something problematic about his trade, that reporters with little sense of moral responsibility are seemingly at an advantage. But Billy Wilder isn’t focused on skewering just the media, but rather the consumers of said media. Late in the picture, the media circus is made literal by an impromptu carnival that just happens to be on the eventual gravesite of the man who has been made spectacle. If Ace in the Hole is easily Wilder’s most cynical picture, it is complicated by the issue that Tatum is a storyteller–a spin artist who knows just the right angle to hook an audience. Certainly Wilder would not have been oblivious to his complicity in telling stories for masses who are hungry for them? Cinematographer Charles Lang was one of the classical era’s greats, and here his most remarkable achievement is in the filming of the cave, which serves as the physical manifestation of Tatum’s deteriorating mental state. The cave is the home of his darkest secret, his personal hell. Even if his change of heart is delayed–in true Wilder fashion, it happens just before he is killed–the constant banging of the drill within the cave’s walls plays like a riff on “The Tell-Tale Heart”, suggesting that even the misanthropic bastard has his limits.

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