DVD Review: Ace in the Hole (Masters of Cinema)

Masters of Cinema’s beautiful new transfer of Billy Wilder’s superb Ace in the Hole is an absolute treat. Whilst Wilder, one of the best directors of his generation, is better known for Some Like it Hot, The Apartment, Double Indemnity, The Seven Year Itch and Sunset Boulevard, he always considered Ace in the Hole to be amongst his best work.

A former big-city journalist Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) finds himself down on his luck, working at a small-town newspaper in Albuquerque. Frustrated in his search for a big story, when he stumbles upon a man (Leo- Richard Benedict) trapped in a cave he realises that it could be his ticket back to the big leagues. Colluding with the local corrupt sheriff (Ray Teal) and the ambivalent wife (Jan Sterling), he secures exclusive right and holds the national newspapers to ransom. As Leo’s plight worsens, people flock towards the big story and the town becomes a menagerie, Tatum begins to realise that he’s done something irredeemable.

Ace in the Hole is decades ahead of its time – a cynical film which delves into the murky world of journalistic ethics and human morality. Kirk Douglas comes from an almost extinct generation of American actors: men want to be him, women want to be with him. It’s hard to believe that any other actor could have completely embodied the lurid self-centredness of Chuck Tatum, or truly captures the self-loathing of a man struggling to hold on to his humanity. As he realises his damnation, the sheer look of despair and determination on his face is almost grotesque.

Made in 1951, the new transfer makes it look vibrant and fresh. It’s up there with Billy Wilder’s best work, drawing on his experiences as a journalist. At the time of release, it wasn’t well received as it was widely perceived as being un-American; which is testimony to his forward thinking and probable hard-earned cynicism.

Special Features

• Gorgeous 1080p transfer on the Blu-ray, and progressive encode on the DVD

• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing

• New and exclusive video interview with film scholar Neil Sinyard

• Portrait of a “60% Perfect” Man: Billy Wilder, a film by Annie Tresgot and Michel Ciment (direction: Annie Tresgot – interview: Michel Ciment), a 59-minute 1980 documentary discussion with Billy Wilder

• Original theatrical trailer

• 32-Page full-colour booklet featuring a new and exclusive essay on the film by critic Emmanuel Burdeau, and rare archival imagery

Ace in the Hole is released by Eureka Films on Dual Format on 28 April

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