Talking Pictures

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Ace in Hole, Paramount 1951.

Posted by keith1942 on December 23, 2020

As the 49th President of the USA prepares for his final [hopefully] Christmas in the White House it is worth discussing this film which presents a world modelled on the values of Donald Trump.

The basic plot is simple and contemporary for the 1950s. A journalist covers the developing story of the rescue of a man trapped in a network of ancient Indian caves in New Mexico. The journalist’s dream of a Pulitzer Prize leads him to organise the rescue in the most news-worthy fashion. However, the values of the film are embodied in the characters.

Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) is the reporter, driven by unbridled egoism and ambition. He is prepared to use every person and every event to achieve his goals.

Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict) is the man trapped in an inaccessible cave. He is dominated by Tatum’s personality and right up until the end remains an uncritical fan.

Lorraine Mimosa (Jan Sterling) is the venal wife of Leo; her wedding vows are subordinated to every dollar that goes into the cash register.

Herbie Cook (Bob Arthur) is the junior photographer dazzled by Tatum’s power and apparent success.

Sheriff Kretzer (Ray Teal) is the corrupt local official whose only concern is his re-election to this sinecure.

Construction contractor Sam Smollett (Frank Jacquet) is easily persuaded to set up a news worthy rescue.

Dr. Hilton (Harry Harvey) tends the patient, Leo, as best he can but never seems to question the method of rescue; with Leo’s condition becoming more and more serious.

Mr. Federber (Frank Cady), is a tourist and voyeur; the representative of the crowds that come to follow the dram. He happily claims to have been the first onlooker to arrive.

Jacob Q. Boot (Porter Hall) is the editor, publisher and owner of the Albuquerque Sun-Bulletin. He employs Tatum despite the journalist’s previous escapades which led him to leave New York and work for a local newspaper. Boot never really confronts Tatum.

The competing journalists from national titles are solely concerned with Tatum’s monopoly of the story and press coverage. A New York editor is willing to pay a high p[rice for that story despite his previous [negative] experience with Tatum.

A local priest comes to give Leo the last rites [he is a Catholic] but the minister shows no awareness of the larger event.

Papa Minosa (John Berkes) and Mama Minosa (Frances Dominguez) are the only characters who wholly sympathise and worry about Leo. Both are either migrants or descendants of the indigenous people in the lands stolen from Mexico.

It is intriguing that Salt of the Earth (1954), a truly radical film, is also set in New Mexico among the Mexican people exploited by a US mining company; the latter aided and abetted by the US law enforcement officers.

Billy Wilder, the writer and director, is known for his critical and often satirical treatment of US culture. This is probably his most sardonic treatment of what is known as ‘the American dream’; that ‘dream’, an illusion and a delusion, which Hollywood so frequently valorised.

Ace in the Hole provides a world that certainly existed in its time but which has now appeared in its most grotesque manifestation. Sadly this actuality following fiction differs in one important respect; we do not [yet] see the resolution in the film repeated in reality.

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