Ace in the Hole moves while the script–from director Wilder, Lesser Samuels and Walter Newman–never races. In fact, it’s deliberate and methodical, maybe even redundant at times (especially in the first act). The redundant moments aren’t actually a problem since Kirk Douglas is in almost every scene of the film and, even when he doesn’t have the best scene, his performance is fantastic.
Douglas plays disgraced newspaperman trying to make it in a world of journalism students and publishers who believe in ethics and so on. Douglas believes in selling the most newspapers and getting paid for it. Most of the first act has Douglas spreading the gospel, which makes for great scenes.
The story then has Douglas happening across a tragic situation and exploiting it. All he has to do is convince a handful of people to do the wrong thing. And here’s where Hole’s eventual problems start showing up. Douglas has this perverted relationship with Jan Sterling; she’s married to Richard Benedict, who’s stuck in a hole and Douglas is turning it into a big story. Wilder and the other writers never really explore Douglas’s motivations (alcohol provides a fast answer) in that situation. Instead, Douglas gets a more traditional, epical arc. An overcooked one.
But that overcooked character arc is in a gorgeously made film. Wilder has excellent composition, whether for dialogue scenes or the big vista shots of New Mexico.
Douglas and Wilder, somewhat separately, make Hole worthwhile. It’s just got its problems.
Produced and directed by Billy Wilder; written by Wilder, Lesser Samuels and Walter Newman; director of photography, Charles Lang; edited by Arthur P. Schmidt; music by Hugo Friedhofer; released by Paramount Pictures.
Starring Kirk Douglas (Chuck Tatum), Jan Sterling (Lorraine Minosa), Robert Arthur (Herbie Cook), Porter Hall (Jacob Q. Boot), Frank Cady (Al Federber), Richard Benedict (Leo Minosa), Ray Teal (Sheriff Gus Kretzer) and Frank Jaquet (Sam Smollett).