Magazine article New Internationalist

Ace in the Hole

Magazine article New Internationalist

Ace in the Hole

Article excerpt

IN an era when the issues of press freedoms and individual privacy are themselves consistently turned into the stuff of newspaper headlines, one film still stands as the most blistering, honest and concise introduction to the unwritten ground rules of a career in tabloid journalism: Billy Wilder's searing 1951 drama Ace in the Hole (also known as The Big Carnival).

Generally regarded as the most relentlessly cynical film ever to have come out of Hollywood, Ace in the Hole was a flop at the box office and was even banned in colonial Malaya for presenting a facet of American life 'that might be misunderstood'. The film attracted mostly hostile reviews from newspaper critics who refused to admit that the events and characters it depicted had any kind of truthful relationship to their own work practices.

Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) is an experienced reporter who has been fired from a succession of major newspapers back East. Now working on a small paper in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Tatum and his young photographer colleague Herbie stop off at a desert roadhouse and happen upon a man, Leo Minosa, trapped deep underground inside a cave.

With his big - city ear for a story, Tatum realizes that this could be his 'ace in the hole', his way back into the big time. So he hatches a deal with the local crooked sheriff to have exclusive access to the trapped man and also convinces Leo's selfish wife not to walk out on her husband but to play the part of the distraught lover. Then, while Tatum gets busy putting together the perfect human - interest story, the national press, TV, radio and the general public descend upon the desert location in droves, turning it into a grotesque carnival.

However, what Tatum really needs for the story to go well is for Leo to stay trapped for several days. So he makes the fateful decision to rig the rescue. Instead of the rescue team shoring up the tunnel and getting the trapped man out in 16 hours, Tatum contrives to have them drill down to him from above, an operation guaranteed to take at least five days. That's great in terms of a good running story -- the problem is, Leo dies before the drill reaches him...

Douglas's wonderfully vitriolic performance turns sarcasm into an art form in a film that's packed full of memorable lines. However, the most penetrating feature of the movie is the way in which it mercilessly exposes the craft of the gutter journalist. …

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