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U.S., 1951
Directed by Billy Wilder
Starring Kirk Douglas
Screenplay by Billy Wilder, Walter Newman, and Lesser Samuels
Approx. 111 min. DCP.

“I can do big news, small news, and if there’s no news, I’lll go out and bite a dog.” Erstwhile East Coast “thousand dollar a day” hotshot reporter Kirk Douglas (already “fired from eleven papers with a total circulation of eight million”), reduced to working for an Albuquerque rag and covering the local snake hunt, smells Big Story when he stumbles on an Indian relic hunter trapped in a cave-in. And so do gawking tourists, radio and TV reporters, a traveling carnival, a sleazeball sheriff, and tough tomato Jan Sterling, who scorns the role of tearful wife at prayer: “Keeling bags my nylons.” But what happens if the rescuers get there in time? Inspired by the actual 1925 Floyd Collins case—the real reporter won a Pulitzer—Wilder’s most venomous and cynical attack on American vulgarity and greed made studio head Y. Frank Freeman so nervous that it was re-titled THE BIG CARNIVAL before its release to make it sound fun, not fooling the less-hardened audiences of the time, who made it Wilder’s first-ever flop. Explained the director, “Americans expected a cocktail and felt I was giving them a shot of vinegar instead.”


“Etched in acid and steeped in bile…with Douglas spitting out zingers as if they were bullets.”
– Manohla Dargis, The New York Times

“Few opportunities for irony, cruelty and horror are missed.”
– Gavin Lambert

“Dipped in pure vitriol.”
Time Out (London)

“Style and purpose achieve for the most part a fusion more remarkable than SUNSET BOULEVARD.”
– Penelope Houston

“It’s reputation has gathered steam. Maybe the time for ACE IN THE HOLE is now.”
– Sarah Fishko, WNYC

Film Forum