Ace in the Hole ★★★★½

When this film premiered in 1951 it was denounced by critics for attacking the noble field of journalism. At this time journalism had been an extremely important and lauded tool in the recent years of WWII, so a blatant attack to its legitimacy would reasonably be condemned by the general public and those in the field. What the critics didn't see what how spot-on Wilder was in exposing the dangerous mania associated with sensationalism in America.

Over the past couple decades, sensationalism in journalism and media has only been increased. The American attention span has decreased to the point where people only become excited by big news that causes a sympathetic reaction. Tatum even explains that in America, "Good news is no news." In recent years, mass shootings, terrorist attacks, police brutality, etc. seem to be the only stories that get the biggest attention. In the beginning, these events would be up front in the American conscious for an extended period of time because of their novelty, tragedies, and fear-inducing mindsets. Nowadays, the American public has become so numb to these sensationalized events that they leave the conscious within days, maybe even hours, of seeing the initial reports. Wilder comments on how journalism, even if it's not intentional, capitalizes on American tragedies and empathetic events due to their captivating nature.

When people begin to show up to Escudero to find see site of the man stuck in the cave, the viewer, in their optimism, may believe that they have come to pray, set a vigil, or try to assist in his rescue. Instead, the first couple to come through describes the event as another landmark they stop to see on the way to their final destination. Tatum's character deduces this initial interaction as "Mr. and Mrs. America," to which the audience can only assume that the masses will son enter the town. Indeed, hundreds of people all over America flock to the location. At first, there is interest in Leo, his health, a fabricated "curse" on the mountain, and the rescue plan. Once enough people have gathered and the news story has gained traction, carnival rides and games go up, food stands are erected, and more and more spaces for cars and visitor gatherings are arranged. Instead of growing support to get the poor man out of the cave, people use this situation as a celebration with joyous music playing in the background.

Tatum is an exploration of the dangerous aspect of human nature where one distances themself from the personal emotional reactions to tragic events in order to justify its exploitation. This dilemma is not specific to journalism, which is where the critics who originally condemned this film were misled. America sees this dissociation from humans subjects in the stock market, military, corporations, etc. where distanced officials can exploit undeserving people for their own gain. In 1957's Paths of Glory, Kirk Douglas similarly explores the manipulation of soldiers by high military officials. This subset of filmmaking in this era that comments on a lack of public human decency was just the beginning of how far society's disconnect would expand.

Wilder's examination of exploiting public interest doesn't stop at exposing America's lack of genuine compassion, but reveals how these situations involve corruption and capital gain. Tatum is shown push-back from local law enforcement when originally crafting the story, until he explains to the sheriff that he can manipulate the narrative into gaining supporting for the sheriff's reelection. The use of one man's tragedy seems wrong, until someone can gain something from it for themselves. The local businesses are receiving much more customers and income, the local parks are receiving more payment for entry, and the carnival owners have hundreds of paying guests.

It isn't until Leo dies in the cave that people begin to see what they're doing is wrong, and the masses depart. Tatum even comes around by the end to see the damage he wrought, declaring that Leo Minosa didn't just die, but was murdered by his and the public's negligence. Every step of the way, Wilder is explaining the dangers of the use of others' tragedies to make one seem empathetic, when it's really for their own gain. Virtue signaling was real back in 1951, and with the endless tragedies seen daily in the world, is no stranger to modern America.

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