Ace in the Hole (1951)

Directed by Billy Wilder, written by Billy Wilder, Lesser Samuels and Walter Newman

“I’m a 250 dollar a week newspaperman. I can be had for 50.”

The Ace is a crack reporter (Kirk Douglas) from all the major cities, fired multiple times for being just this side of a hellraiser. The Hole is a mine in a mountain in the middle of Nowhere, New Mexico, where a man lies buried alive while a rescue operation unfolds. Feel-good story, man helping man. So where’s the noir? It’s right there in the setup, without even mentioning the buried man’s hot wife (Jan Sterling) who wants more than she’s getting.

As the rescue operation gains fame with the reporter playing it up, alliances are formed and people begin realizing a quick rescue may not be in everyone’s best interest. Reporters from across the country try to muscle in on the story with no luck.

“We’re all buddies. We’re all in the same boat.”
“I’m in the boat. You’re in the water. Now let’s see you swim. Buddies.”

The real problem is this is all-too-often exactly how it works. We like to think of those we assign to keep us informed as to current events as (at least occasionally) altruistic, but operating in today’s environment often means a story can’t even be considered unless it feeds the big machine. You tell the unvarnished truth and you get squashed by a thousand liars with great headlines, so you play ball.

And this is the cost. Initially bearing little resemblance to traditional noir, with its gangsters and shadowy murderers, when this film gets rolling there’s no mistaking it. If you don’t already, be prepared to start looking at your news reports with a little extra salt, and newscasters from the corners of your eyes. Ace in the Hole is an excellent, prescient noir film, served cold.

“I’m a thousand dollar a day newspaperman. You can have me for nothing.”

4+ stars

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