Ace in the Hole (1951) is probably the darkest Billy Wilder has ever been. Maybe. I mean, he did do Double Indemnity (1944), after all. But Ace in the Hole is a different kind of dark. Not in a noir way, but rather in a raw, real and unapologetic way.
It’s a satirical drama about a reporter who, after being fired from eleven newspapers in New York, settles in a small town and tries to turn a simple story into a big carnival (which is, by the way, the movie’s alternative title). As you can imagine, there aren’t many laughs in this, except for maybe three or four one-liners, which Billy Wilder always excels at.
While other movies about reporters had mostly been screwball comedies up until that point (i.e. His Girl Friday (1940)), Ace in the Hole turned this whole thing around and showed us the dog-eat-dog reality of it all. This movie is the king of ‘doing whatever you can, however despicable, to get the story’ movies. Kirk Douglas gives one of the best performances of his career and, in my opinion, should have been nominated for an Oscar. He would have been up against Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), and Bogie in The African Queen (1951), though, so it’s probably safe to say he wouldn’t have won. But still, it’s a great performance in an equally great yet underrated movie.