If you haven't seen Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole, head to your DVR and set it for Turner Classic Movies at 5 PM today (Friday) in Los Angeles -- that's 8 PM in the east.
We hear about movies that were "ahead of their time." Ace in the Hole is about 40 years ahead of its time. But being Billy Wilder, it looks and sounds and feels as fresh as today. It was made in 1951, but you could have been watching it this year when CNN interrupted its coverage for days to follow a cruise ship having troubles. Or a couple years ago when miners were trapped in Chile in 2010, and networks stopped everything to cover it. Or when "Baby Jessica" McClure fell down a well in 1987, and it swarmed all the news.
Ace in the Hole tells the story of a down-and-out reporter, played Kirk Douglas, who stumbles on a small accident, man has fallen down a mine and is trapped. It serious, but not critical, however Douglas sees this as a way to get back to the big-time, as having the exclusive rights to the story. He builds it into something big -- and then the story keeps building, getting far out of his control, and it takes on a huckster life of its own. (In fact, an alternate title of the film is The Big Carnival.) And that's what happens, this little accident becomes almost literally a circus, filled with journalistic, political, social and deeply moralistic questions that swirl around the site and eventually tear at Kirk Douglas, who knows far more about the truth than he's able to handle.
It's a riveting tale, at the very beginnings of the TV Age with a lot of twists that I don't want to give away. Just know that it's brilliant. It wasn't very successful when it was first released, but it was so prescient and has stood the test of time, and then leaped past.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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