1001 Movies – Ace in the hole (1951)

ace in the holeA frustrated former big-city journalist now stuck working for an Albuquerque newspaper exploits a story about a man trapped in a cave to rekindle his career, but the situation quickly escalates into an out-of-control circus.

Brief Thoughts

Before: This is another one that I didn’t know existed until I wrote it down on my list. I knew who Kirk Douglas was but that’s about it.

After: I’m amazed that there aren’t more films with a similar premise to this one, especially now social media and fake news allowing stories to get out of control like this.

Idea

If you were to pitch the idea of this film now people would say it’s a very modern films looking at the bias of the media and the individual journalists. With the whole ‘fake news’ thing and people being more aware of the various biases I’m amazed that this film isn’t talked about more. It would be a great one to watch at secondary school to get kids to really discuss how things haven’t changed we’re just more aware of it and because of the way that news is reported in social media it’s a larger phenomenon.

This film is an in-depth look at journalism and how stories are told and can get away from you the bigger it gets until you are no longer in control. It really looks at how journalism isn’t just about telling the news but it’s about writing it as well and how that comes with multiple bias’. The news doesn’t appear from nowhere everyone has their own angle.
It also looks at the impact that media and the news has on people’s lives. This story grows from being one man trapped in a cave in to a literal circus with thousands of people appearing to watch it happening live. And actually that’s not changed much either except how we watch it happen – I remember the Chilean miners being trapped in 2010 and it was all over the news and the radio. I remember doing my college work listening to them being rescued. Yes in that case there was 33 of them and is was for 3 months rather than one man for a week, but it’s the same fascination with human stories of survival and being desperate to be up to date as possible.
They talk about it in the film, if it’s hundreds of people you don’t care but if you focus on one or two people remember it, human interest stories are the ones that stick with you because we all see something recognisable in them.

Media and news have a massive impact on our lives and this film did a really good job of showing both sides of it, the way that people care but also how that’s manipulated.
I’d love to see more films like this and I think this is one that should be brought back into public consciousness – but not via a remake.

Plot

This is a really simple plot which allows the focus to be on the consequences and just how big and out of control everything gets.

Chuck is a journalist thrown out of New York and ending up in a small backwater town, so when he’s finds out that a man (Leo) is trapped in a cave-in in an old Indian dwelling he turns it into the biggest story possible. He takes over the rescue attempt making it as long as possible and getting the mayor onside and extending the rescue from a possible 36 hours to a week.
With Leo’s wife wanting to run away he persuades her to stay and see it out so she can get more money and it becomes a literal circus. Songs are written for Leo, fairground rides appears, trains and coaches are being put on to ship as many people in as possible. Chuck has ‘complete’ control over the story and is the only one allowed to go in and talk to Leo but his condition continues to worsen.

Characters

There are three characters I want to talk about; Chuck (the reporter), Lorriane (Leo’s wife) and Herbie (a young reporter who gets swept up along in it all by Chuck)

Chuck is the lead and from the minute we first meet him we know just how much he thinks of himself and what he’s apparently worth. He walks into a newspaper office and says that by hiring him they’ll make $200 a week because he’s willing to join them for just $50. He also says quite openly that he was fired from the big newspapers because he made stuff up, or made them to be bigger than what they were. As the film goes on we see him lose more and more control over the story, he appears to actually care about Leo Minosa and not just because of the story and how famous it’s making him. By the end he openly says that the story isn’t that Leo died, the story is that Leo was murdered.
“I can handle big news and little news. And if there’s no news, I’ll go out and bite a dog.”

Lorraine is an ‘interesting’ character. She clearly doesn’t love her husband and has tried to leave him multiple times before. The only reason she stays is because Chuck promises her that he can make this story big enough that she’ll have enough money to be able to properly leave and never be caught. She plays up the caring wife in front of the public but doesn’t give a shit about Leo. She’s both a willing and unwilling particpant in this circus because she wants the money but she doesn’t want what comes with the money and isn’t great at keeping up the pretence. The way Leo talks about her he clearly adores her but Lorraine is a city girl and only realised just how much she loved the city once she was married and in the middle of New Mexico.

Herbie is interesting because he gets swept up in the story in a very different way to the rest of the public. He’s not able to see everything that Chuck is doing to manipulate the masses but is able to truly see the power of journalism and how one man can make a difference. He’s idealistic and young, so when Chuck says he’s leaving the small local paper for the NY Times he quits alongside him, thinking this is his chance to make it to the big times. I really appreciated him as a character because he’s so naive but also because it shows that just because you are aware of the power of the press it doesn’t make you immune to it. Theoretically he shouldn’t fall for Chuck’s stories and should be able to see right through them because they work alongside each other but Chuck is larger than life and good at spinning a tale. Herbie wants it to be true, he wants to see a reporter from a small town newspaper make it big, he wants to see people care about the small stories and so he looks the other way until it’s no longer possible.

Music

The music in this film was used to great effect. It really built up the atmosphere and was tense and claustrophobic every time they were in the cave.
As the story got bigger and the fairground appeared there was a great contrast of the light fun music in the background – including a song that was written just for Leo’s rescue – and the conversations and lies that were being told.

Even if I wasn’t purposefully listening for how the music was used I still would have been able to notice how it was used here to highlight the contrast between what’s being told and what’s actually happening.

Did I enjoy it? Yes although I did get distracted at the end,
Am I glad I watched it? Yes.
Would I watch again? Probably not, and if I do it won’t be for many years. But I think it’ll stay with me.
Would I have watched it if not for this challenge? Definitely not, I didn’t know it existed and even if I did I wouldn’t have rented it from youtube. As a general rule outside of my blog if a film isn’t on Netflix or Sky Movies I’m not going to watch it –  I have enough options available to me.

Next week – The Actress (1953)

 

I’m aware that I fell behind a week due to ComicCon so I’m going to try and catch up and do two films in a week.

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