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Ace In The Hole (free)

  • Central Library 201 West Mifflin Street Madison, WI, 53703 United States (map)

One of Billy Wilder's less-celebrated noir films gets a much-deserved screening. info

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The Madison Public Library's free Cinesthesia series has become a strong presence among Madison's film offerings, thanks to the diverse array of screenings curator (and Tone Madison contributor) Jason Fuhrman has programmed. Billy Wilder's Ace In The Hole (1951) exemplifies what makes the series so valuable. While it's not as popular as other noir classics of the time, like Wilder's Double Indemnity (1944) or Orson Welles' Touch Of Evil (1958), Ace In The Hole has just as much taut storytelling and impeccable direction to offer.

I first saw Ace In The Hole during a Film Noir festival in San Francisco 10 years ago. My first introduction to Wilder's work was Some Like It Hot (1959), a brilliant farce starring Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, and the indomitable Marilyn Monroe. Wilder was a versatile filmmaker, but exceptionally talented at directing film noir edged with merciless social commentary, perhaps most famously in Sunset Boulevard (1950). I could easily see another director attempting a reboot of Ace In The Hole for the social media era, but this would do a disservice to Wilder, and to a film that's already perfect.

Kirk Douglas stars as Chuck Tatum, a skilled but unscrupulous journalist whose penchant for drinking and selfishness leads him down an unsavory path, in a story that takes a rather dim view of humanity. While Tatum cruises through a New Mexico town, his car breaks down. He has been fired from yet another reporting gig back east. He talks his way into a job at a local newspaper. Things move a bit slower out west, and a year later, Chuck finds himself bored and hungry. When he catches wind that a local man has fallen down an abandoned silver mine and is pinned under a rock, he sees it as his big break and tries to milk the story for as long as he can for fame, fortune, and a shot at getting his old job back. He gets a tad more than he bargains for, and Wilder exposes the extent of human greed and selfishness. —Edwanike Harbour