Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Ace in the Hole


Billy Wilder co-wrote and directed this examination of press excesses when confronted by the “big story.” The media circuses we see these days are of course a lot higher tech, and assemble faster, but don’t think they’re anything new. There have been things like the Scopes Trial and other sensationalistic stories for a long time, and a favorite is the “trapped in a hole” story. We saw a long-playing one recently from a remote corner of the globe with the rescue of the miners in Chile. The story is even better if it’s a child stuck in a well. In this case, it’s one man caught in a cave-in. Disgraced “journalist” Kirk Douglas is desperate for a big story to get him out of Scorpion Shit, New Mexico and back in the big time, when he stumbles on this one. From that moment on he manipulates it shamelessly, cynically, and despicably, even to the point of bribing the local sheriff and the man brought in to rescue the trapped man. The contractor tells him he can have the dude out in 16 hours by going in and bracing. Kirk needs it to go much longer than that, and so they start drilling from above, which will take at least a week. Before long there is a literal circus, with thousands of people, outdoor stages where bands sing songs about the guy, even actual carnival rides. Only the guy in the hole ups and dies on us. Kirk repented when the doctor told him the man was dying, but it was too late to go in the front door. Jan Sterling plays the sleazy wife who was planning to bug out for greener pastures, but sticks around to make what money she can. Somehow this is portrayed as being worse than what Kirk is doing. You know, you can tell by the musical cues when a woman comes on the scene in noir movies of this era. If you hear certain notes on a clarinet, you know she’s a tramp. But if it’s played on a saxophone, she’s a slut. Count on it. Her theme is played on the clarinet. This is a damn good movie.