Quick-Thoughts: Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole (1951)

Damn, Leo got Truman Show-ed, huh? 

As we continue to (and rightfully) praise great 21st century American cinema such as Nightcrawler (2014) and most recently Red Rocket (2021), I tend to naively forget that there usually is always a starting point worth seeking out that led to these worthwhile modern expansions of an introduced narrative blueprint. Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole is one of those blueprints: a cynical piece of storytelling that poses a look at not just how the media chooses to handle dire affairs, in this case one that involves a man trapped in a cave leading into ancient ruins, but one that also understands how capable news is of spreading an incentive which perceives hope of saving another as a warranted opportunity to save yourself, or rather just simply an image or ideal of yourself to broadcast, firstly of course. 

Whether you’re the journalist who started it all (and ironically sought to stop it as if his authority was truly warranted to those he influenced), a sheriff commissioned to protect, the “romantic” companion of the victim in question, a team member presumed to be one of the possible rescuers, or just any ordinary folk who heard about the incident and decided that they should have some pitifully insignificant part of even something as marginally historical as this one, no amount of peril can possibly stand in the way of getting something out of it for yourself.

Billy Wilder has staged one nasty parallel to humans in the form of rats with Ace in the Hole, a 1950s American drama that set the stage for more tales of greed and, at least, more tales of unfortunate “slight” successes to annex similar instances. Remember: “Bad news sells best. Cause good news is no news.”

Verdict: A-

Billy Wilder Ranked

“Ace in the Hole” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

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