Ace in the Hole: on DVD and Blu-ray

Sunday, 27 April 2014 23:00 Written by 

Ace In The Hole - out on Dual-Format DVD and Blu-rayKirk Douglas stars in this biting drama about the power of the media and one reporter's willingness to do anything to rebuild his flat-lining career. Chuck Tatum (Douglas) muscles his way into a job on a lowly Albuquerque newspaper having been fired from all of previous roles. He happens across the story of a treasure hunter pinned down in a partially collapsed ancient Indian cave-dwelling, and spies potential media gold.

Having gained the confidence of Leo, the unfortunate victim (Richard Benedict, who went on to be best known as a Director on the likes of Run For Your Life and the original Hawaii Five-O), Tatum takes advantage of the local sheriff's absence and seizes control of the situation, rounding up a local doctor, policeman and a mining contractor. On hearing how quickly they can rescue Leo, the reporter craftily talks them round to drawing the incident out by days by using safer but much slower methods, thereby maximising publicity of the event.

This Oscar-nominated black and white film by famous director Billy Wilder (“Some Like it Hot”, “Sunset Boulevard”) is as relevant today as it was 63 years ago when it was shot. Tatum deftly seeks out the hooks in the story and spins it to stir up human interest. What begins as a serious but parochial matter quickly escalates into a nationwide sensation.

Within a matter of days, the parched New Mexico terrain outside the fragile caves becomes the rescue effort's base of operations but also a massive car-park and campsite for altruistic volunteers, self-promoting opportunists and rubberneckers. If there is a quick buck to be made on the back of Leo's predicament, you can be sure someone has spied the opening and is selling the t-shirt!

The phrase ‘media circus’ is bandied about all the time but this film literally embodies it. Wilder paints a pretty distasteful picture of human nature; many of those present are more interested in scrabbling to secure their own five minutes of fame than they are helping to save Leo, like echoes of Tatum's own selfish goal. The tide of human interest is as brittle as the rock under which poor Leo is trapped.

Douglas' delivers what is surely one of the best performances of his career, full of determined, assertive drive and with a seemingly unerring ability to persuade or strong-arm others into doing his bidding. For example, Leo's bored wife (Jan Sterling – “The Harder They Fall”) is drawn to the massive influx of business at the family gas station, and when he returns from a rattlesnake hunt, the sheriff (Ray Teal – Sheriff Roy Coffee in 98 episodes of Bonanza) is convinced that a successful outcome will catapult back into office.

Other strong characters and performances include Porter Hall (“Double Indemnity”) as the editor at the local rag, one of the few honest folk in the picture. His motto of 'Tell the truth' is one that Tatum does his best to circumvent, embellishing his story until it is barely recognisable from reality. The aforementioned Teal is also excellent; the sheriff resents the reporter's new-found influence but the lure of political corruption is potent.

As a smart and chilling study of human greed, manipulation and selfishness, this film is hard to beat. Wilder makes his point clearly amidst the utterly compelling drama and I strongly urge people to seek this brilliant release out.

Special features include:

  • Gorgeous 1080p transfer of the film
  • 40 page booklet with a new essay, vintage interview material, rare archival imagery, and more!
  • Interview with Neil Sinyard (Professor of Film Studies at Hull University)
  • “Portrait of a ‘60% Perfect Man’: Billy Wilder” (made in 1980)

Sinyard proves to be a very stimulating and highly knowledgeable speaker on Wilder's work; the director himself discusses his career and his love of art in the 'Portrait' featurette whilst puffing on the obligatory cigar!

The HD transfer of the black and white film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.35:1 but I rarely became aware of the black borders to the sides. The picture quality is pretty flawless and displays impressive scale in the whites, greys and blacks.

“Ace in the Hole” (1951) is out now on dual-format DVD and Blu-ray (two discs), courtesy of Eureka. The main feature has a running time of 111 minutes approx, carries a 'PG' certificate and retails for £17.99, or less from www.culttvstore.com

 

Last modified on Wednesday, 30 April 2014 09:21

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