This week, the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Cinematheque will screen Billy Wilder’s 1951 film Ace in the Hole as part of a celebration of Kirk Douglas’s centennial. Based on real-life events, Wilder’s biting exposé of the American media stars a ferocious Douglas as Chuck Tatum, a washed-up New York City journalist who takes a job at a newspaper in the middle of the New Mexico desert. Cynical and shameless, Tatum learns about a treasure hunter trapped in a cave and does everything in his power to turn the story into the biggest scoop of his career, even prolonging the ordeal to milk it for headlines. Though commercially and critically unsuccessful upon its release, Wilder’s film is now widely acknowledged as a searingly prescient satire of media sensationalism and, as Molly Haskell wrote in the liner notes for our release, a harbinger of “the direction noir would take in the fifties.”
Those in Madison can see the film presented on 35 mm this Sunday. In the meantime, check out the below gallery of photos from the set, watch Spike Lee’s appreciation of the film, and read filmmaker Guy Maddin’s essay on Douglas’s performance (and dimpled chin!).