A forgotten Billy Wilder masterpiece now on DVD

Thanks to the copious media coverage of the trials of O. J. Simpson and Scott Peterson — and the more recent Anna Nicole Smith child-custody debacle — the lurid media circus is now a permanent and practically ho-hum inevitability of American life. But in 1951, when Billy Wilder premiered his film Ace in the Hole, it was nothing short of shocking.

Kirk Douglas stars as Chuck Taylor, a morals-challenged former ace reporter (thus the title’s pun) at a big-city daily who’s been relegated to working at a small-town New Mexico newspaper. When a miner gets trapped in a cave, Taylor manipulates the situation — and the spotlight — to his advantage, causing a media frenzy. The film shows some ugly truths about human nature — all told with Wilder’s signature acid wit and impeccable dialogue. Though some have criticized its melodramatic ending (and audiences at the time of its release stayed away), Ace in the Hole is a favorite among Wilder cultists, who’ve been eagerly anticipating Criterion’s July 17 DVD release.

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A forgotten Billy Wilder masterpiece now on DVD