‘Ace in the Hole’ Grim But Compelling

Movie poster. Courtesy/FMPL


Need a pick-me-up? Then don’t watch “Ace in the Hole” (1951, unrated). But if you can take it, this black-and-white classic tells a great story while it teaches one of those grim life lessons.

Journalist Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) is on the outs. He used to rake in the bucks, but hard times and personal proclivities have him stuck in small-time Albuquerque, working for an editor who wants him to, of all things, tell the truth.

This goes against his every fiber. But he toes the line until, on his way to cover a snake hunt, he happens across a woman whose husband was just pinned deep in a mining shaft inside an ancient cliff dwelling.

He volunteers to help. He helps himself to an unbeatable story. He helps the wife (Jan Sterling), who runs a restaurant adjacent to the cliff dwelling, to a full cash register as the curious pull up in their recreational vehicles. He helps the sheriff put on a show worthy of re-election.

The one person he fails to aid is the miner. Unfortunately for Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict), the longer the rescue takes, the more publicity, the more money, the more sensation his predicament generates.

While some of us self-identify as thrill-seekers, willingly risking our own necks for the extra intensity we desire, very few of us would admit to thrill-seeking with other people’s necks. Yet writer-director Billy Wilder’s grim noir lets no one off the hook. While Tatum and a few other key players shoulder the most responsibility for Minosa’s fate, what about the folks camping outside the cave, the average Joes following the story in newspapers, or those of us watching the movie? Do we want Minosa rescued fast or do we enjoy watching the drama unfold?

“Ace in the Hole” screens at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 6 at Mesa Public Library as part of the library’s Free Film Series. The Free Film Series presents a movie the first Thursday of nearly every month, thanks to the Friends of Los Alamos County Libraries.

For more information, call the library at 505.662.8240.