Ace in the Hole (Billy Wilder, 1951)

Phone hacking? Sure! I'm well up for that.

What's it about? Disgraced reporter Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) sees his chance to make it back to the big time when he ends up covering the story of a man trapped in a mine, so he deliberately exerts pressure on the authorities to slow the rescue effort and therefore prolong the story. Soon everyone is looking to cash in on the event as the whole thing explodes into a major media circus.

Is it any good? A cynical, misanthropic satire about the public’s appetite for sensationalist stories and the media circus that feeds them. Douglas is superb as the absolutely despicable Tatum, but around him there aren’t many sympathetic characters at all and the whole film doesn’t have much good to say about human nature, which makes it hard to love. Sadly, you only have to look at the current state of media and tabloid journalism, and the ugly details that have come to light in the last week, to appreciate it now seems an impressively and depressingly prescient film.

I don't trust you. What do others think? It was a total flop on initial release and was predictably slaughtered by an insulted American press. A re-release by the studio under the name The Big Carnival fared no better. "Fuck them all," Wilder said afterwards, "It is the best picture I ever made." 50 years later, it got another limited run and critics went wild for it, praising it for skewering the rotten heart of the tabloid media.

Anything else I should know? Based primarily on the real-life story of Floyd Collins, who got trapped in a cave in 1925. His story was enterprisingly covered in dramatic fashion by reporter William Burke Miller, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his efforts and turned the event into one of the biggest media events between the two World Wars. Sound far-fetched? Just think back to the round-the-world coverage of the Chilean miner rescue in 2010 - people love watching this stuff unfold.

What does the Fonz think? Vicious, bitter and all too believable.

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