Friday, January 12, 2007


The only trouble was the name. Billy Wilder’s ninth American film was a virtuoso feat for the seasoned director; it was 1951, and his career had reached its zenith. His new movie, called Ace in the Hole when production began the year before, borrowed from real events with a justifiably cynical tone; the primary inspiration came from the 1925 death of cave owner Floyd Collins, who was trapped for several weeks under a landslide and slowly expired while the world gripped its seat through the hyperbolic coverage on radio and in newspapers. Wilder was pitched the story by former radio writer Walter Newman, whose initial treatment took the unsurprisingly literal title The Human Interest Story. The plot, however, was too vile for such a subdued headline: It starred Kirk Douglas as the ferocious anti-hero Chuck Tatum, an irredeemably vicious reporter who plays every trick in the book to hold the trapped cave traveler Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict) in place to keep the big story alive -- unlike Minosa himself, whose mortality gets short-shifted by Tatum’s elegantly orchestrated exploitation. In this case, the ace in the hole has strikingly immediate and chilling significance.

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