In the winter of 1951, Billy Wilder’s film ‘Ace in the Hole’ was released to harsh reviews. However, seventy years on, its greatly cynical satire is more potent than ever, writes Roger Ebert.
In January 1930, experienced cave explorer Floyd Collins was trapped 16.7m underground in Kentucky. A reporter from the local Louisville Courier-Journal, William Miller, was one of the first journalists on the incident. His coverage of the rescue mission quickly changed a rural tragedy into a nationwide media sensation. Taking benefit of his small stature, William squeezed into the unstable cavity to personally deliver food and even pray with the victim.
This unrivalled access was an important feature of his glaring first-hand reports, which were broadcasted and printed across the country. “Death holds no fear for Floyd Collins, he told me today, more than 100 hours after he was trapped,” one report read.
This hair-raising display did not have a happy ending- Floyd had already been dead for three days by the time a rescue team broke through- but William’s fearless reportage nevertheless scored a Pulitzer Prize.
This ruthless world of scoop journalism was one with which director Billy Wilder would have been familiar.
Wilder received a script loosely based on the Floyd Collins cave-in. With co-writers Walter Newman and Lesser Samuels, he crafted the concept into his most significant projects yet. Ace in the Hole was to be a monologue on the filmmaker’s bleakly cynical worldview.