Billy Winder directed and co-wrote this bitterly satiric comedy-drama which turns a jaundiced eye towards both the news media and its consumers. Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) is a talented but short-tempered reporter whose fondness for booze and unwillingness to bow to authority has cost him jobs at some of America's most prestigious newspapers. When Tatum's car breaks down in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Tatum persuades the editor of the local paper (Porter Hall) to give him a job until he can make enough to get his jalopy running and find a story that will put him back in the good graces of the Big City journals. After a year in Albuquerque, Tatum begins to wonder if a big scoop will ever cross his path, but when he's sent to Los Barios to cover the annual rattlesnake hunt, he lucks into a great human interest story -- Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict), who runs a local diner, motel and curio emporium, is caught in an abandoned mine shaft after a rockslide, which some superstitious locals attribute to an Indian curse. Tatum writes up the story with all the flourish he can muster, and portrays Leo's wife Lorraine (Jan Sterling) as a devoted spouse fearful for her husband's life, even though she can barely stand Leo and is planning to leave him. Tatum's story is picked up by the wire services and he makes friends with local sheriff Kretzer (Ray Teal) to insure he has an inside line on updates on Leo's rescue. When Tatum learns that Leo can be freed in a mere twelve hours, he persuades Kretzer and his men to adopt another rescue method that will take several days, which will generate more copy for Tatum, more press attention for Ketzer's re-election campaign, and more business for Lorraine's diner. Soon Los Barios is the biggest tourist attraction in the state, but as the media circus mounts, Leo begins to fall seriously ill. Also released as The Big Carnival, Ace In The Hole was a major box-office disappointment upon its original release in 1951, even though it was sandwiched between two of Wilder's biggest hits, Sunset Boulevard and Stalag 17. Despite never being released in home video until 2007, Ace In The Hole's bitter tone earned it an enthusiastic cult following, and it's now regarded as one of Wilder's best films of the Fifties.
by Mark Deming synopsis