Thanks to womanizing, a drinking problem, and a defiant streak, fiery big-city journalist Charles Tatum (Douglas) has been relegated to working a local beat for a tiny New Mexico Daily, but he hasn't lost his taste for the big time. When a miner is trapped in a cave-in, Tatum savvily exploits and prolongs the man's plight in hopes of engineering his own prime-time comeback to the big-city dailies that have discarded him.
Why we love it
Prescient, cynical, and daring for its time, Wilder's acid-tongued satire on media sensationalism stars Kirk Douglas in one of his fiercest early roles. As Tatum, he's a mean-spirited multiple loser pursuing self-glorification at any expense. The luscious Jan Sterling scores points, too, for her portrayal of the trapped man's battered, unhappy wife, Lorraine, who threatens to blow the lid off Tatum's whole circus act. Wilder's astute handling of the chaotic scene around the mine – the media hordes, the gawkers and hangers-on, the souvenir and snack peddlers profiting off the situation – has much to say about our culture's lingering appetite for "human interest" tragedy. A punchy indictment of news-as-entertainment, Wilder's "Ace in the Hole" remains as stingingly relevant as ever.