Unrated, 1 hr. 51 min. Directed By: Billy Wilder. Release Date: Oct 19, 1951. DVD Release Date: Jul 17, 2007.
This is one of a relatively few suggestions that appeared multiple times on recommendations from my readers. Even fewer of the films suggested were like this one, where not only did it appear multiple times, but I’d never even heard whisper of this movie. I knew nothing about it, and it wasn’t until I hit the play button on my PS3 controller that I learned Kirk Douglas was in this movie, too. Perhaps, because of my age, I don’t have much of an opinion of Kirk Douglas. Until April, I’d only seen him in one movies. I think it was called Tough Guys, and he played a con who’d spent most of his life in jail and was being released into 1980s society. I thought then that the character played by Douglas was kind of a tool, and at some point, someone told me most of Douglas’ characters were like that.
Basically, I’d written him off. Even back when I wrote about Spartacus earlier this month, I hadn’t been expecting a whole lot. But, with Ace in the Hole, I’m realizing that it takes a lot to play a character that people are going to hate because they’re supposed to hate him. In fact, we’re supposed to LOVE to hate him, and this story makes it more than a little easy. It takes a lot of talent to play a character like this, who would be so perfectly at home in the modern day that it’s almost startling. I realized a little belatedly that I’ve been dodging Douglas movies for the better part of 30 years because of the parts he played, and those parts took more effort than I would ever have given him credit for, so I’ll be less likely to take a pass on him in the future, and I suspect I do the same thing to Clint Eastwood, so I need to take stock.
One of my complaints about the classics as a group is how few of them actually hold up well over the decades. It’s sometimes hard to feel like the movies are realistic in situations that just wouldn’t occur in modern day. Ace in the Hole doesn’t have that problem. Douchebaggery, like hope, springs eternal in the human breast. You could find another Charles Tatum (Douglas) probably within half a mile of your front door. You might actually find more than one. In that particular way, this movie was decades ahead of its time. Most of the characters we see here fit in better today than they would have in the 50s. What’s clear is that Billy Wilder, the director and one of the screenwriters of this movie, had a REAL good line on what people are really like. He and Sartre had that in common.
This isn’t really a great movie. It has a lot of flaws that seem to center around the lulls in action. There are a lot of characters and dialogue that seems to exist merely to fill in the gaps between the juicier scenes, and that’s not a great filmmaking or storytelling. But it’s enjoyable, and I’m really, really amazed by how easily I could see this being a modern film.