Ace In The Hole (1951) ★★★★★ 5/5
Long before James Franco found himself trapped under the rocks in 127 Hours, Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict) found himself in the same sort of predicament. Trapped in the rocks of Escadera, New Mexico while trying to steal ancient Indian artifacts. Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) is a newspaper reporter who has basically been banned from the industry for his nonprofessional behavior and lack of ethics in reporting. Tatum finds himself the first on the scene of Minosa's situation and sees nothing but opportunity.
Tatum recalls the real life story of W. Floyd Collins, who suffered a similar fate in the 1920's. He goes to see Minosa trapped in the rocks and when he hears Minosa talk about how he was afraid he became trapped as the result of an Indian curse, Tatum likens it to the story of the curse of King Tut's tomb. Immediately he puts himself to work to get the story. However, he doesn't just get the story, he dictates it and wants Minosa to be trapped for as long as possible so he can write.
Minosa has a wife (Jan Sterling) who was ready to leave him. The couple run a small cafe in the middle of nowhere. She despises her life and with her husband being trapped, she knows she can leave. Tatum manipulates her way of thinking. As a family drives up to ask where the trapped man was they read about, Tatum shows Mrs. Minosa the paper and how he had written about how she was a wife in distress over her husband being trapped. He went on to explain that the people would be coming in droves and from it, the cafe would prosper. Indeed it did, and like Tatum, she too saw the benefit of dragging the story on.
Tatum works his angle to get in good with the sheriff (Ray Teal) to ensure that he is the only one with full access to the scene, thereby blocking out all other reporters. Likewise, he works his magic with the doctor and the rescue crew. He ends up in complete control of the situation and completely fabricates what could have been a simple rescue into "The Big Carnival," which was the original title of the film.
Jacob Q. Boot (Porter Hall) runs the small newspaper that Tatum works for and sees through Tatum's story. Boot is in opposition of the sheriff's politics and condemns Tatum for what he has been doing. In reaction, he quits on the spot and decides to make his fortune telling his story to the larger papers throughout the country. Mrs. Minosa also has expectations about making her fortune and moving to New York . . . in hopes of being with Tatum.
The ending rather intense. Yet knowing what the movie was saying as it progressed, it was not necessarily an unexpected ending. Alcohol and the weight of the situation the Tatum created ultimately become his own demise.
Media's portrayal of news is scrutinized very well in this film without belittling the industry. Two sides are given, the side of the professional, upstanding newsman (Boot), and the unscrupulous newsman more concern about money and fame then integrity. It draws a clear picture of how the media can manipulate an event to it's advantage in order to sell papers. Tatum saw a story and steered it in a direction that would benefit him. With his twist and writing, he drew interest so great that the location became a fairground, songs were written with Leo's rescue as the topic, trains rolled through and the entire country rallied around a man who was not a victim of the rocks, but a victim of the media using him to his advantage.
This film is still just as relevant today as it was when it was released. Paparazzi and entertainment shows like TMZ easily target people and situations and present them in a less then becoming matter to make money. This film really makes you stop and rethink what is being reported and how a story could be manipulated, jeopardizing the lives and livelihoods of the people being covered.