Welcome to today’s show, Ace in the Hole (19510), my name is John. As always you can subscribe to the show on iTunes or follow the links to social media in the podcast show notes. You can also go to classicmovierev.com to read notes, bios, and other random movie thoughts. Remember this show is completely free and independent. All I ask is that you jump over to iTunes and give me a review.
Today’s movie is a film noir classic Ace in the Hole (1951). It is also known as The Big Carnaval (1951). Kirk Douglas plays a down and out newspaper man willing to do anything to get a big story. There are plenty of other corrupt people and a femme fatale.
Ray Teal was cast in the role of crooked Sheriff Gus Kretzer. Teal was covered in Episode 60 – The Command (1954).
Jan Sterling played Lorraine Minosa, the ner-do-well wife of the cave explorer. Sterling was born in 1921 in New York City. Raised mostly abroad, Jan enrolled in a drama school in London. By 17, the stick-thin actress was dominating Broadway playing English women. This continued for 11 years.
In 1948, the pouting blonde had her first credited film role in Johnny Belinda (1948) with Jane Wyman. A large number of her roles were as a cheap hussy in movies like Caged (1950), Ace in the Hole (1951), Flesh and Fury (1952), The Human Jungle (1954), and Female on the Beach (1955). Her softer side was seen in movies like The High and the Mighty (1954).
After the death of her second husband in 1959 Jan did fewer movies. She focused more on stage and television. She dabbled in films until her retirement. After two decades without working, Jan died on March 26, 2004.
Porter Hall played the role of newspaper editor Jacob Q. Boot. Hall did not make his first movie until he was 43. He went on to have a great career as a charter actor playing generally unpleasant people. His movies include Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), His Girl Friday (1940), Double Indemnity (1944), Going My Way (1944), and Miracle on 34th Street (1947). He continued to work until his death in 1953.
Richard Benedict played Leo Minosa, the man in the cave. Benedict was born in Sicily and was a boxer before he headed to Hollywood. His build made him a natural to play tough street guys. His film list, mostly minor roles, reads like a film noir primer – State Penitentiary (1950), Destination Big House (1950), Scene of the Crime (1949), Streets of San Francisco (1949), Homicide (1949), Smart Girls Don’t Talk (1948), and Crossfire (1947) to mention a few.
Iron Eyes Cody played the uncredited role of the Indian Copy Boy in the Albuquerque. Cody is the Native American that cried the one eye tear on the 1970s PSA about pollution.
Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas), rolls into Albuquerque, New Mexico, in a car being towed by a tow truck. He casually rides in his broken car. In front of the local newspaper he has the tow truck operator stop so he can go inside. He walks in and passes a young Native American man played by an uncredited Iron Eyes Cody and says how to which the man replies good afternoon sir.
Tatum looks the place over before he makes his way in to see the editor and owner Jacob Q. Boot (Porter Hall). Tatum is selling right away but Boot isn’t buying. Tatum is a good newspaper man but he has lost jobs for drinking, contempt for authority, and having an affair with an editor’s wife. Boot finally decides to give him a chance but doesn’t want any nonsense out of Tatum. Tatum only plans to stay until he can make it back to the big time in New York or Chicago.
A year later Tatum is still working at the small local newspaper. Boot sends Tatum and photographer Herbie Cook (Robert Arthur) to Los Brios to cover the rattlesnake roundup. This event is also a kind of local political event. On the way, they stop at a desert tourist shop/gas station, Minosa’s trading post, but can’t find anybody around. Herbie sees a praying woman in one of the rooms.
A police car pulls into the cliff dwelling area. On the way they find out from Lorraine Minosa (Jan Sterling) that her husband Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict) has been crawling around in old tunnels behind some cliff dwellings, to find Indian artifact that he can sell to tourist and a cave in has trapped him in the tunnel. Sensing a big story, Tatum crawls into the cave and interviews the trapped man. In this act, he begins his control of the whole event. On the way down Lorraine complains about her life in the wilderness.
Leo’s father is planning on taking his son some food and coffee but a deputy stops him. The deputy asks some local Indians to go in but they refuse, saying the mountain is a holy place and is known as the Mountain of the Seven Vultures.
Tatum tells the deputy to stop running his mouth and that he will be going in the cave with the supplies. Tatum takes a flashlight from the deputy and when the deputy starts to react Tatum smacks him in the chest. The father blesses Tatum for being so brave while Lorraine mocks her husband.
Tatum and Herbie follow the rope deeper into the cave. As the go in Tatum mentions Floyd Collins and the 1925 story. I will cover that story at the end. Just remember – Free Floyd Collins.
When the squeeze gets tight, Tatum goes on alone. He talks the camera and flashbulbs with him. The roof is shifting and sand and stone keep falling. He finds Leo but can only see him through a small hole. Leo is trapped under logs and rocks. Chuck tries to calm Leo and Lo shows a pot he has looted. Leo talks about the Indian ghost not wanting him to take the pots. Chuck takes a picture of Leo. Leo talks about his time in World War II and being scared.
On the way out, Tatum says his story may be bigger than Floyd Collins and King Tut. Outside Leo’s father is worried but Lorraine could care less. They head back to the trading post and Tatum starts making calls and he sees the sheriff is running for reelection. Tatum calls the newspaper first and explains the story. Tatum plays up the angle of the devoted wife, superstition about Indian curse, and the simple loving parents. He sends Herbie back with the photographs. Lorraine looks at Tatum as her ticket out as she takes a big bite of an apple. In the morning, while her husband is still trapped, she comes down dressed and packed ready to leave for the big city.
Lorraine talks about how good looking Leo was in his uniform. She says she is leaving and she has left before. She goes to the bus stop, which is right in front of the trading post. A family towing a trailer stops by and says they heard in the paper that a man was trapped. Tatum convinces Lorraine that there is money to be made with the tourists coming to visit, She decides to stay.
When Herbie comes back the trading post is hopping and the price has gone up. Tatum goes into the cave accompanied by the doctor. The mining crews arrive and begin pumping air. Herbie is getting excited about the publicity he is getting too.
Sheriff Kretzer (Ray Teal) comes to see Tatum and has a rattlesnake in a box on his table. They have an argument about Tatum strong arming the sheriff. Tatum says it is an ace in the hole. Tatum says he will give Tatum great press if he plays along.Tatum finds out that the mining crew will only take 16 hours to reach Leo by using wooden shoring as they go. The sheriff forces them to drill down from the top to drag the job out for 6 or 7 days or he will lose his county contracts. The deal between Tatum and the sheriff allows Tatum to control all of the press and the sheriff will get enough attention to get reelected.
Lorraine is raking in the money. She comes into Tatum’s room and she says the 7-day scheme will make her $1000. She keeps smiling and Tatum says to knock it off. When she says make me, he double slaps her.
The drilling starts and the thumping will have a bad effect on Leo later and is kind of like a Chinese water torture. An entire village of tourist is in front of the cliff dwellings. Tatum keeps making daily visits to Leo and Lorraine has a large stack of money. Tatum says he isn’t sending any more copy to his editor to see if he can start a bidding war. The sheriff is keeping all of the other reporters in a tent.
Tatum is interviewed and a man starts telling them that they should use shoring to get him out. Tatum deflects the man. Leo is looking pretty bad as he stares up at the sound of the drilling. The sound is driving Leo insane. Leo tells Tatum that he is his best friend. Tatum feels like a human for a minute. Leo says that Friday is his five year anniversary with Lorraine. She is upstairs arranging for a carnival to come into the property. Tatum is disgusted with himself, Lorraine, and all the gawker.
When he gets into the room Boot is waiting for him. Boot knows what Leo has done and he is not happy about it. Tatum tells Boot that he has quite the paper. When Herbie comes in Boot tells him to come back. The phone keeps ringing until finally New York calls. Tatum says that the story has four more days. He asks for $1000 a day and his old job back.
The area is more of a circus now and they even have bands with songs about Leo. They have a special train running to bring people out. Tatum begins sending the exclusive copy to New York. He sees Lorraine talking to some of the other reporters. She negotiates a three part story for $750. She says she is heading to New York and looking forward seeing Tatum in New York. He grabs her by the hair and this may be the start of a relationship.
Leo is getting sick and probably has pneumonia. Leo begins asking for a priest. The doctor says he has 12 hours to live and the drill is at least 24 hours away. Leo knows he is dying and Tatum begs him to hang on.
The sheriff is in the hotel room playing with his pet rattlesnake. The sheriff is planning a speech after Leo is rescued but stops when. He sees that Tatum has sent a wire saying Leo will be out in the morning. Tatum now wants to use the shoring method. The sheriff says they will have a lot of explaining to do if they change the way they are doing the rescue. Tatum and the sheriff get into a fight and he hits the sheriff and doesn’t get shot. The chief of the mining crew comes in and tells them that the shoring won’t work now as the drilling has made the walls too weak,
Tatum takes oxygen to Leo. Leo is hallucinating but he speaks of the anniversary gift he has for his wife. Tatum tries to will him to live. Tatum goes back to Leo’s room and busts in on Lorraine. He digs the gift out of the closet and gives it to Lorraine. She criticizes the gift even before she opens the box. Tatum forces her to wear it and chokes her with the fur until she grabs a pair of scissors and stabs him in the side.
Tatum drives to an adobe chapel and gets the priest to go back to the cave with him. Leo asks if Lorraine had gotten the present. The priest does the rites and uses a stick to make the cross on his head. Leo lets go and dies.
Tatum rides to the top of the mountain in a lift and stops the drill. He announces to the crowd that Leo is dead. Many in the crowd remove their hats. Some kneel and pray. Tatum says the circus is over. The flood of cars depart as other reporters rush to file their stories.
Lorraine grabs her bag and heads for the bus. Tatum goes into his room and finds out that he is fired. Tatum calls New York and tells of the whole setup and that Leo was murdered by him. They don’t believe him and hang up on him.
Herbie takes Tatum back to Albuquerque. As they leave Leo’s father is standing in the field alone. Tatum goes into the newspaper and tries to tell Boot the story but collapses before he speaks and possibly dies.
I want to take a little time to cover a true story and see if it sounds familiar. In 1925, a man named Floyd Collins was looking for a better entrance to Crystal Cave, so he and his family could bring in more paying visitors. He spent 3 weeks exploring what would later be named Sand Cave. On January 30, he was rushing out of the cave as his light was running out. He knocked his light off of his head, and in total darkness, he dislodged a 16-pound rock that pinned his left leg. Since the passage was so narrow he could not reach the rock. He was found the next day by a friend but the rock could not be reached from the front side. Collins was trapped just 150 feet from the entrance of the cave.
Collins was taken food and given a light that added warmth. Collins survived for over a week but he was cut off when the passage collapsed in two places. The rescuers decided that the only way to reach him would be to drill down 55-feet from the top. He was reached on February 17. However, he was already dead from exposure probably having died on the 13th.
During the entire rescue, a newspaperman, William Burke “Skeets” Miller, from the Louisville Courier-Journal reported from the scene. He was a small man and spent time in the cave and aided in the rescue attempts. Miller won the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting. Radio operators were relaying the story from the cave to the telegraph in Cave City. Curious visitors came and at one point there were tens of thousands in attendance.
This story drew so much attention that it lead to the creation of Mammoth Cave National Park, which includes Sand Cave.
World-Famous Short Summary – Free Floyd Collins
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Beware the moors