Ace in the Hole (1951) starring Kirk Douglas


With a career spanning more than 7 decades, Kirk Douglas has long since earned his place in Hollywood history. December 9, 2016 was the iconic actor’s 100th birthday (WOW)! His is a real-life “up from nothing” story; Douglas is the son of Jewish immigrants (from modern-day Belarus) who settled in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. As a youngster, he was a good student and athlete (even wrestling competitively at St. Lawrence University). Douglas discovered an acting scholarship and was talented enough to get into the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

After working on the New York stage (alongside good friend Lauren Bacall), he began his film career in the 1946 Barbara Stanwyck vehicle The Strange Loves of Martha Ivers, which was soon followed by memorable roles in Out of the Past, Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s A Letter to Three Wives, among others. Douglas also developed his own projects behind the camera, releasing the historical epic Spartacus through his own production company. 

Movie Review: Ace in the Hole 


[1] This movie fits nicely into the film noir genre, although it takes place largely under the hot, harsh glare of the New Mexico sun, highlighting the sweat and grime visible on the characters’ skin and creating a visual metaphor for the sorry state of their souls. 

[2] Perhaps the cause of failure of this film [at the box office] is that there are no sympathetic characters here… The screenplay, and the lead performances are top class. The extensive location photography, and somewhat documentary look of the film makes the film feel more modern than most 1951 films.

[3] The world described here is so depressing, so disheartening that it takes drama to new limits. Not only Tatum is evil, but so are the miner’s wife and family who take advantage of the situation, regardless of any morals. So is the faceless crowd, who has a wild time, near a dying man. You and me, we could be part of this populace, and maybe we’ve already been! 

Excerpts from IMDB reviews

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This film, featuring Douglas (who plays Chuck Tatum) as an antihero, is on Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list. I rented it on YouTube recently. Aside from the length (it could’ve used more editing), I thought it was pretty good. It was co-written by Billy Wilder, so you know the dialogue (esp. that for Chuck) will be fast, funny, and VERY interesting. Wilder’s wife, Audrey Young, came up with the funny, yet irreverent line spoken by Jan Sterling (Lorraine Minosa): “I don’t go to church. Kneeling bags my nylons.”

No chopped chicken liver! No garlic pickles. No Lindy’s. No Madison Square Garden. No Yogi Berra! -Chuck complains re: missing NYC


Chuck has been fired from a few different newspapers (drinking too much, chasing a publisher’s wife, etc.)  He manages to get on the staff of an Albuquerque paper. Finally, Chuck learns re: Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict), a man who got trapped in a mine while digging for Indian (Native American) relics. Herbie Cook (Robert Arthur) is the wide-eyed young reporter who tags along w/ Chuck.

Human interest. You pick up the paper, you read about 84 men or 284, or a million men, like in a Chinese famine. You read it, but it doesn’t say with you. One man’s different, you want to know all about him. That’s human interest. -Chuck explains to Herbie 


Leo is trapped inside a mine in the Mountain of the Seven Vultures. Chuck manipulates the (politically-ambitious) sheriff, the Army engineer running the rescue operation, and Leo’s wife, Lorraine. Chuck, with his wily words, manages to prolong the rescue efforts; what could’ve taken just twelve hours lasts six days. Leo’s story becomes known nationwide, making Tatum a star reporter (yet again), and creating a circus around the desert town.  

3 thoughts on “Ace in the Hole (1951) starring Kirk Douglas

  1. For you intrepid film-location-trekkers, the film’s large outdoor desert setting (cliff dwelling site, etc.) is precisely 2.7 miles EAST of the Arizona/New Mexico border, on New Mexico State Highway 118 (formerly Route 66), which parallels I-40. The property is now privately-owned and inaccessible, and the buildings are gone, but one can plainly see the now-empty cliffside niche just 200 yards from the highway (while facing north) and the now-settled landscape area featured in the film. (And, no, the similar-looking cliff AT the borderline is not the one featured in the film–keep driving 2.7 miles east to get there!)


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