Review: Ace In The Hole (1951)


My all time Favorite Wilder!

Written By: Lesser Samuels, Walter Newman & Billy Wilder
Directed By: Billy Wilder

Picking the best or a favorite Billy Wilder picture is like picking between your dogs, it’s impossible to go wrong. But, unlike with my dogs, I can pick a Wilder film as my favorite and not feel bad about it. While I love many of his films, Ace In The Hole is easily my favorite Billy Wilder as well as his best. If you took every ounce of creativity Wilder put into his films through the years and broke it down and cut off all the fat, Ace In The Hole is the end result. More than any of his pictures, Ace In The Hole is the epitome of what I look for in a Billy Wilder picture and that is why it instantly vaulted to the top of my Wilder filmography.

The dialogue in Ace In The Hole is, to borrow a phrase, off the chain. When Charlie Tatum utters this,

“I’ve lied to men who wear belts. I’ve lied to men who wear suspenders. But I’d never be so stupid as to lie to a man who wears both a belt and suspenders.”

I knew I was in for a treat, and Ace In The Hole never lets up. It is chock full of brilliant double entendres, one liners and lines that are so true they almost hurt.

Billy Wilder finds ways to be just as inventive with his camera as he is with the dialogue in Ace In The Hole. There are fade-ins and outs that work off of the same frame of reference, the subtle bus drive-by to illustrate Jan Sterling not leaving and more. The best shot of the picture is probably the long panning shot delivered when Mr. Minosa is on top of the mountain giving food to the workers and turns to look at the new village below him. Then again, maybe it is the menacing and yet simple shot of Kirk Douglas grabbing the back of Jan Sterling’s hair, or the sudden drawback after Douglas has been stabbed.

Ace In The Hole is an obvious critique of journalism and the lengths people will go to in order to get a story. Anyone who dismisses the potential for an incident such as the one brought on by Charlie Tatum needs to grow up and look at the world around them and what the media does on a daily basis. The fact that it is an obvious critique isn’t a problem because it is an honest and truthful critique that is well handled. The movie takes it a step further however, not only taking the media to task but also asking about the people who crave these media stories. Who is worse, the journalists causing the news or the public perpetuating a world where this type of news is desired and needed for a news outlet to survive?

Jan Sterling is tempestuous as the wife who doesn’t want to be a wife any longer and the rest of the cast is full of great character performances. But, Ace In The Hole is Kirk Douglas’ movie from start to finish. He is reprehensible, he is vicious, he is everything his character needed to be. That is why we believe in Charlie Tatum, why we know he could and does exist and why we know that even in the end when he has lost control he isn’t confessing or becoming a good man but is trying to turn the situation to his advantage once again.

The story in Ace In The Hole is great, the acting is excellent, the direction is superb. For oh so many reasons Ace In the Hole isn’t just my favorite Billy Wilder but it is his best as well as the best the noir genre has to offer. Surprisingly Ace In The Hole is a slept on classic, it garners nowhere near the pub that it should. If you haven’t seen Ace In The Hole then you need to rectify that situation as soon as possible, only make sure you don’t go through any Indian mountains in your attempts to see this all time classic.





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