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Ace In The Hole (Masters of Cinema) (DUAL FORMAT Edition) Blu Ray

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Since re-emerging in the 2000s Billy Wilder's superb Ace in the Hole so ahead of its time in the 1950s with its acidic and unflinching examination of journalistic ethics and human morality has taken its place alongside Double Indemnity Sunset Boulevard or Some Like It Hot as among the director's greatest works. In one of the most powerhouse performances in American screen-acting the great Kirk Douglas stars as Chuck Tatum a newspaper reporter who stumbles upon a potentially career-making story in Albuquerque New Mexico (nearly sixty years later the setting for Vince Gilligan's Breaking Bad). When Tatum begins to influence the story's outcome a descent beings that finds more than one man caught between a rock and a hard place. An electric narrative that stands as one of Wilder's tautest and most (melo)dramatic plots (penned with Lesser Samuels and Walter Newman) Ace in the Hole plays today as a prescient examination of the modern media landscape and the public appetite for the disastrous news-story that leads to toxic wish-fulfilment. - I can handle big news and little news. And if there's no news I'll go out and bite a dog. - The Masters of Cinema Series is proud to present our third major Billy Wilder release with this stunning Blu-ray edition of Ace in the Hole. Special Features: Gorgeous 1080p transfer of the film More on-disc extras to be announced closer to release! 40-page booklet with a new essay vintage interview material rare archival imagery and more!

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  • 05 May 2014
  • Billy WILDER
  • Kirk Douglas
  • Blu Ray
  • Eureka
  • PG
  • 111 minutes

Billy Wilder directs and produces this classic film noir starring Kirk Douglas and Jan Sterling. Chuck Tatum (Douglas) is an ambitious journalist formerly of the big city who finds himself working for a small local newspaper in Albuquerque, New Mexico, after being fired from eleven previous jobs. When he hears that a man has become trapped in a cave nearby he seeks out the story with a justification that it has human interest. Realising that this may be the biggest story he's ever going to write, he manipulates the rescue workers into changing their plan so as to prolong the drama for as long as possible. He then finds an unlikely ally in the victim's wife, Lorraine (Sterling), as she reveals she no longer loves her husband and wants to get out of the marriage. As hours turn into days with the rescue attempt failing, Chuck begins to wonder if this time he has gone too far for a story.

  • Average Rating for Ace In The Hole (Masters of Cinema) (DUAL FORMAT Edition) [Blu-ray] - 5 out of 5

    (based on 1 user reviews)
  • Ace In The Hole (Masters of Cinema) (DUAL FORMAT Edition) [Blu-ray]
    Arshad Mahmood

    This morally gripping, yet acidic story is about rotten journalism and the public's insatiable appetite for it. I personally have never been keen on the media and found it easy to blame the press for its portraits of self-destructing celebrities, philandering footballers, corrupt politicians or bragging serial killers, but who loves those stories? We the public do.

    Charles Tatum, played by the charismatic and diverse Hollywood icon that is Kirk Douglas in his most savage and merciless role, is a highly skilled, flamboyant, super-confident and intelligent, hotshot city reporter with a drinking problem who's been fired by almost a dozen newspapers for his unscrupulous conduct that includes lechery, slander and boozing. We find him broke and virtually unhirable. The fiercely ambitious, self-centred, wisecracking and now down-on-his-luck newspaperman somehow manages to con his way into a job at a local paper of little consequence, in the backwater town of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

    Resentfully stagnating for a year without any pressing news, the break he's been waiting for finally comes. Dispatched to a remote town to cover a rattlesnake competition, he stops in a desert hamlet and learns that the owner of the trading post has been trapped in an abandoned silver mine by a cave-in. On meeting the miner, Leo Minosa, Tatum smells an opportunity to return to the Big Time. In his bald-faced connivance with the venal local sheriff and Leo's trampish, disillusioned young wife Lorraine - played to perfection by Jan Sterling - Tatum monopolises and capitalises upon disaster. His promotional savvy and ability to understand the human psyche, and all its desires enables him to turn the miner's plight into a national news event, attracting thousands of onlookers, newsreel cameramen, radio commentators and sideshow hucksters who have arrived to exploit the gawkers; hot dog stands, cotton candy vendors and even a merry-go-round. Tatum, pyramids and prolongs what seems like a simple caving disaster ordeal into a nationally sensational tragedy by cooking up a cockamamie scheme and keeping it on the front pages of the papers for as long as he possibly can. He nails down possession of the story, totally and frighteningly committed on spinning it out for as long as he can, and milk it for all the money and fame he can get, therefore controlling his own destiny by getting his old job back in New York.

    Instead of blaming Charles Tatum who ultimately masterminds a media circus, you end up getting angry at the sightseers who pay a few cents admission to learn more about the victim trapped at the bottom of a mine shaft. You feel you're at an amusement park except only this time, a man's life is at stake and yet it makes little difference to the hoards of people gathered. All of the callousness and cheapness of people as they swarm like locusts around the entrance of the cavern in which Leo is trapped provides an acute realism and truth that is rare to find in 50s cinema anywhere in the world. We see first-hand, the ice-cold commercialism and revolting circus atmosphere created outside the cavern that was once a desolate outpost in the middle of nowhere, in which crowds have gathered to watch a slow race with death.

    Through the director, Billy Wilder's genius, we are shown in no uncertain terms how infectious and corrupting sensationalised news can be. Barely anyone seen in the film is immune from the personal degradation of this carnival and it is because of this surrounding that Tatum appears not to be as bad as he is. Lorraine, the victim's wife initially eager to leave Leo and the struggling business has a dramatic change of heart once Tatum wakes her up to the prospects of experiencing a financial windfall from the thousands of tourists that are about to flock to witness the rescue attempt. A young, impressionable photographer at the local paper slowly loses his idealism as he follows Tatum's lead and starts to dream of striking it big himself. Then there's the shifty sheriff, calculating the publicity value to his forthcoming election campaign.

    Ace in the Hole is an unsentimental and uncompromising piece of brilliance now rightly considered a masterpiece that was way ahead of its time. It wasn't a success on its initial release in 1951. Way back when it was made, you could imagine the furore it caused amongst the press who would certainly have accused the film of distorting journalistic practices. In fact you could also understand why the film did so poorly at the box office since it was probably viewed with some disdain amongst the institutions of power and even the audience who are all seen as complicit in determining the fate of Leo.

    Some sixty years later, when countless newspapers and magazines compete to come up with the cattiest buzz terms and giddily celebrate the demise of celebrity relationships for buffo bucks, using as we now know, totally immoral and often illegal methods to gain their scoops, Ace in the Hole is even more relevant than ever and has lost none of its grip and power. It would be hard to imagine anyone in the press not recognising their own hunger for sensation. Having said that, the same could be said about the public. This is a bitter, sordid, trenchant and cynical drama that sets a corrupt newspaperman against a grisly panorama of mob morbidity. The legendary Billy Wilder does a spectacular job of creating a totally plausible vision of the monstrous vulgarity of mob behaviour influenced by a seemingly small accident that becomes a bizarre national catastrophe.

    Kirk Douglas is at his most uningratiatingly forceful and immoral throughout the entire film and has this ability to curl his face into scorn and bitterness as Tatum. Never has the saying "Like father, like son" made so much sense than in the case of Douglas's performance here in comparison to his his son, Michael's acting as Gordon Gekko in Wall Street. There's a great deal of resemblance in their characters and I don't just mean in their appearance. They're worth watching back to back. Kirk Douglas's Tatum takes charge with such confidence you believe he can get away with it. He's a self-loathing guy who just won't bend and this is put into brilliant contrast when Tatum who controls access to the rescue, regularly goes down the mine to visit Leo. Their amiable conversations and Leo's dependence on Tatum who has ingratiated himself as his true friend makes you hope that everything will be fine and humanity will prevail; that Tatum will take pity on Leo's plight and prolonged suffering. Alas Tatum's character is so focused, energetic and strong it's almost scary. Tatum drives relentlessly toward his goal of money and fame. You get a scary feeling every time Tatum appears on screen and this quality makes Ace in the Hole a colossal powerhouse of a film. It would have been easier to show Tatum share our sympathy for the pathetic Leo. It's not that he is completely nasty, in fact he's on a parabola in that direction but wants it to intersect with the moment of his own greatest fame. He truly believes in his own invincibility. Tatum appears to be a tarnished hero whose flaws outweigh his talents. You feel he is on his way down the ladder and only when he hits real rock bottom, will he find redemption and salvation but at what cost?

    The dialogue throughout Ace in the Hole is razor sharp and amongst the best ever committed to film. One such example of this is when Lorraine is ordered to attend a prayer service for her husband Leo by Tatum and she sneers, "I don't go to church. Kneeling bags my nylons." Another perfectly timed punch of a line is delivered early on by Tatum which sums him up brilliantly as he barks "I can handle the big news and little news. And if there's no news, I'll go out and bite a dog." To again emphasise that Tatum's charm, Lorraine, realising his crafty scheme and knowing full well that she will prosper from it says to him half admiringly "I've met a lot of hard-boiled eggs in my life, but you, you're twenty minutes."

    This is a single-mindedly economical film with every shot serving its purpose perfectly, without any exposition. Everything becomes crystal clear like a Polaroid photo as it exposes itself almost instantly. Every shot speaks for itself. Charles B Lang shot the film in a stark, tabloid black-and-white. The interior darkness is contrasted with the blinding desert light to perfection. We see Leo in the darkness and we can't help but feel sorry for him. He's probably the only decent human being in this bleak film other than his doctor. It's also in the back of your mind that whilst he's down in the cave, he has no idea what is going on in the world above, as he remains stuck in the helpless hell of his situation and location. We watch as his human spirit becomes squashed for societal-weary gravitas, hoping and praying that his heart-felt conversations with Tatum will leave the latter changing his ways or that Tatum's protracted scam will pay off and Leo will be rescued. Yet you sense from the start that as long as the scheme is played out, Leo isn't going to be saved, especially when the reprehensible Tatum uses Leo's spiritual panic as an entertainment. He may be figuratively digging Leo's grave. Spectators ogle and compete for on-air time - their 60 seconds of fame -campaign promises are made, deals are brokered, the circus comes to town and prices skyrocket.

    Ace in the Hole refuses to give its audience an easy point of sympathetic identification and in many ways reminds me of another 50s tabloid masterpiece starring Douglas's dear friend and contemporary, Burt Lancaster, though the settings are far apart. In addition Ace in the Hole somehow offers greater hope because Tatum is at close proximity to his subject unlike Lancaster's J.J. Hunsecker who is completely out of touch with his audience's reality. Wilder brilliantly implicates this small town community in Leo's predicament. Ultimately the film's genius also lies in the metaphoric impact the pressure outside the cave has on the inside; as the immorality escalates, Leo inches closer to death. And as the drill moves in on the man, its incessant sound serves to punish the people who've deliberately prolonged his suffering. "Why shouldn't we get something out of it," says someone at one point. This is the film's mantra of greed. It serves as a diatribe against all that is worst in human nature. Some have found the ending to go astray in comeuppance time but it doesn't really diminish the film in any way. Ace in the Hole questions the very nature of human interest stories and the twisted relationship between the media and its public.

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