Magazine article Editor & Publisher

The Best Movie about a Reporter Ever: A Real 'Ace'

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

The Best Movie about a Reporter Ever: A Real 'Ace'

Article excerpt

Large segments of America may distrust or despise them, but Hollywood still loves reporters. They have served as compelling heroes and villains since the dawn of cinema. You only have to go back to 1931 to enjoy "Five Star Final" (if you can find it), with Boris Karloff starring as the shifty journalist. Between the birth of the talkies and today, Hollywood has produced hundreds of films that revolve around newsrooms. But somehow, until last month, I had missed the best, Billy Wilder's "Ace in the Hole."

Rarely seen in recent years, the movie finally came out on DVD this past summer. About 15 years ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing the very friendly (and, yes, hysterically funny) Wilder for a book I was writing on a California political campaign in which he played a tiny role, and he recommended this cult classic during one of our talks. If you haven't seen it, rush out to get it, or do that Netflix thing.

Although something of a box office flop in 1951 -- and later released under a new title, "The Big Carnival" -- it was way ahead of its time in anticipating the feeding frenzy of media coverage today. But like Larry David and "The Simpsons," it is an equal-opportunity mocker, poking malicious fun at everything from gullible common folk to the police. Its most famous line comes from the no-nonsense wife of its chief victim, who says she doesn't go to church because "kneeling bags my nylons."

In this brilliantly written (partly by Wilder) yarn, Kirk Douglas chews the scenery as one Chuck Tatum, a hard-boiled reporter who finds himself at the dusty Albuquerque Sun-Bulletin begging for a job that might be his ticket back to the big time. He brags that he has been fired from 11 newspapers back East. His previous crimes? Everything from libel to fooling around with a publisher's wife.

He actually boasts, "I'm a pretty good liar." (Half a century later, Jayson Blair would say much the same thing.) The fuddy-duddy owner of the paper is portrayed as Mr. Ethics but, naturally, he hires the scum. Cut to fade.

It's a year later and Tatum is languishing in this "sun-baked Siberia," still awaiting his lucky break. Then, by chance, along a remote highway he happens to be first at the scene of a cave-in that has trapped the owner of a local trading post. …

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