I’ve got a song in my head about a guy trapped in a collapsed cave in Albuquerque. His name is Leo Minosa, and he’d been searching for loot in an Indian burial site, deep in the hills. His rescue operation has become a rolling news story, lashed on by an immoral journalist, and the area has been turned into a carnival site, complete with a cheap song that promises deliverance.
This is the gist of a magnificent 1951 film called Ace In The Hole. It’s been in my imagination for a quarter of a century, and I’ve recalled snatches of the song since then. Finally, it’s been released on a double DVD set, smartly restored by Criterion. Kirk Douglas plays Chuck Tatum, the pitiless hack who stokes up the drama in the cave to enhance his own profile. His muscles are flexing, the eyes are pinballing and that Douglas jaw line is clenched with heroic regularity.
Billy Wilder is the director, and he gets deep into the moral disease. Like proper film noir, there’s a double-timing wife (Jan Sterling) who also wants to escape this hick life. The final scene in the newspaper office is awesomely over-cooked, and we would have been disappointed with less. It’s amazing how many of the scenes have stayed intact in my head since the first and only time I viewed this, in the days of black and white.
Stu Bailie presents The Late show on Radio Ulster, every Friday from 10pm until midnight