The Great Movies, Episode 17: Ace in the Hole (1951)


“Tell the Truth.” That’s the text of the framed needlepoint hanging in the office of the Albuquerque Sun-Bulletin where Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) is seeking to make his comeback, looking for a return ticket to the big city newspapers who wouldn’t put up with his style of “extreme sport” journalism. The audience at last night’s showing of Ace in the Hole – part of The Great Movies series at the Severna Park Library – met Tatum last night and if you want me to tell the truth, I don’t think Tatum made many friends. But then again, maybe he did.


For those familiar with our series, you know that my co-worker Julia and I take turns each month selecting, introducing, screening, and leading a discussion of films we consider great. Before we screen those films, however, we show a Looney Tunes cartoon, so the savvy movie fans know to show up a few minutes early. (Last night’s feature, by the way, was Bugs Bunny in “Hair-Raising Hare” from 1946.)

Last month Julia picked Buster Keaton’s classic silent The General (1926) and as many people have come to expect from me, I chose something a bit darker for our May feature. I spent a few minutes talking about Ace in the Hole, borrowing a quote from Eddie Muller’s introduction of the film from Noir City 7 as well as mentioning a few things from my own research.

One of the things I pointed out was how big a failure Ace in the Hole was upon its release as well as its re-release as The Big Carnival. (Yes, this is a little risky disclosing this information right off the bat, but fortunately no one left!) Part of this box office failure was due to the film’s showing a journalist in such a negative light and when you consider that most film critics at that time were journalists, director Billy Wilder was fighting an uphill battle. Perhaps more importantly (as we discussed after the film), Wilder is implicating the entire audience in this mad circus. Not exactly the feel-good movie of 1951…

Photo: Dan Burkarth

After the film (which most in the audience had never seen before), we had a great discussion as always. I can’t take the credit for that; the insights, points of view, and observations coming from the audience are always amazing. The audience was split as to whether Tatum ended better than he began. Did he have any redeeming value? Did he do the right thing in the end? Or was he a heel right up to the final shot?

Some of the best insights and comments came from several of the members of the Severna Park High School Movie Club. These folks have so much energy and passion for these movies which is exactly what we need more of in the classic movie world. After the movie, I spoke to a couple of the club members who are very excited about the series and movies in general. One young man told me that he was so excited to have seen Ace in the Hole, a movie that said he might’ve gone years without ever seeing or even hearing about. He said he’s seen many of the popular big-name classics but longs to explore films like Ace in the Hole that sometimes get buried (no pun intended) beneath better-known classics like Casablanca and Citizen Kane. We were so glad to have these young people join us and hope we’ll see them again often.

As one member of the audience mentioned, we could’ve stayed all night talking about this film and others. But we’ll be back. Great films have power and no matter when they were made, they can speak to us today. Please come join us! Our first double feature of 2017 is scheduled for Saturday, May 27 – a Greta Garbo double feature that you can find out more about here and here. Our next Great Movies event will be Thursday, June 1 at 6:15pm. You can find more information here. And if you don’t have a movie series at your local library, go talk to your librarians and find out how to get one started. Spread the word and keep watching (and discussing) great movies!

3 thoughts on “The Great Movies, Episode 17: Ace in the Hole (1951)

  1. Pingback: Noirvember is Coming… Here are 30 Suggestions: | Journeys in Darkness and Light

  2. Pingback: Movies Watched in May 2017 Part I | Journeys in Darkness and Light

  3. A great film but it’s not hard to see how it’s darkness would be too much for the 50’s audience it was presented to but it’s so prescient and viewing now its dark heart doesn’t seem so surprising. In that it relates very closely to A Face in the Crowd. Douglas and Jan Sterling couldn’t be better and while it’s an unsettling view it is wholly worthwhile.


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