Ace in the Hole (1951)

“Bad news sells best. Cause good news is no news.” A devastating critique of American culture directed by the legendary Billy Wilder, Ace in the Hole (AKA The Big Carnival) is an offbeat film noir that stars Kirk Douglas as “Chuck Tatum,” a ruthless, overly ambitious reporter seeking a big story in order to make a comeback. Down on his luck after being fired from several big city newspapers for unethical behavior, boozing and womanizing, a desperate Tatum ends up in New Mexico working for the lowly Albuquerque Sun-Bulletin. However, Tatum sees the opportunity of a lifetime when he heads out to cover a rattlesnake hunt (not kidding!) and stumbles upon “Leo Minosa” (Richard Benedict), a hunter of Native American artifacts trapped during a cave collapse. With Tatum manipulating the tragedy, the small local event rapidly turns into a media circus that captivates the entire nation and brings out the worst in just about everyone, including sleazy “Sheriff Kretzer” (Ray Teal) and Minosa’s wife, “Lorraine” (Jan Sterling), who could care less about her husband and sees dollar signs everywhere. In fact, you need less than one hand to count the number of sympathetic characters in this thing. Just when you think that Tatum couldn’t possibly sink any lower, he even makes a play for Lorraine. The site becomes a tourist attraction as Tatum does everything possible to prolong the rescue and milk the incident for all its worth. As you can probably expect, everything ends up badly. Although the film bombed at the box office, it definitely retains its power – especially in our age of grotesque media overload. The cast includes Robert Arthur as “Herbie Cook,” Porter Hall as “Jacob Q. Boot” and Frank Cady as “Mr. Federber.” The film was inspired by the actual case of cave explorer Floyd Collins, who became a media sensation when he was trapped in Sand Cave in Kentucky in 1925 and died after spending 14 days underground.

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