Richard Lutz pays tribute to a classic newspaper movie on the box this week.
Anyone involved in the news media has a ‘hack’ film that rings true. It could be the madcap banter of The Front Page, the intensity of last year’s Spotlight or the sheer tension of All The President’s Men.
But many have to at least bow a knee to the 1951 noir classic Ace in the Hole (Tuesday, Sky Select, 16.00). Kirk Douglas (now a venerable 100, with cleft chin intact) is a down and out New York reporter scraping the barrel in a no count backwater New Mexico newsroom. He stumbles Into a breaking story of a man trapped in a deep cave. And in a cynical move to re-start his failing career, he ensures the man isn’t rescued immediately but stays trapped to guarantee his exclusive copy. …and a ticket back to NYC. Boy, what a creep.
Anyone who has stuck a ragged press card in a battered fedora knows what drives Kirk’s nasty newsman: Keep a story alive, keep my story in the front page or on the top of a programme or bigtime on a media site. It’s a meal ticket to another better job, a better contract, better stories, better expenses and unparalleled success…maybe.
Of course, reason and human kindness usually kicks in at this point. Unlike Kirk’s Chuck Tatum, who cares only about his tacky, self-serving step back to the city newspapers, most stories end naturally. Not neatly, but naturally. A tale on the front page is ephemeral, forgotten in 48 hours and a meal ticket to nowhere special.
Back in 1951 when this black and white Billy Wilder classic hit the moviehouses, there was no-one who came close to Old Big Chin to profile such cunning nastiness on the big screen. Kirk could do almost anything..one eyed Viking, tough guy gangster, be bop trumpet man, Roman slave rebel, hard nosed cowpoke – and the reporter who cared for nothing or no one but himself in a lonely world.
Remarkably, the studios didn’t like Ace in the Hole, though critics dug it. Roger Ebert said fifty years after its distribution that it never dated, despite its age. And director George Stephens (Shane, Giant) remarked that only Kirk could so savagely show the “dark desperate side of human nature.”
And dark and desperate is this movie that shows the depths a dark and desperate man will go to succeed.