Reference DVD Review: Ace in the Hole

The Criterion Collection
Movie ••••½ Picture ••••½ Sound •••• Extras ••••

Billy Wilder's underrated 1951 masterpiece - a bitingly sarcastic tale of a ruthless reporter exploiting a trapped miner to score a good story - finally gets the deluxe two-disc set that it so richly deserves.

This new 1.33:1 transfer is taken from the most stupendous sourceprint. Boasting near-high-def detail, each grain of desert sand and every sweaty pore of star Kirk Douglas's skin now has pinprick clarity. Cinematographer Charles Lang's gritty Southwest location shots are dazzling, with a sun-drenched, simmering look - a visual parallel to the blistering dialogue. In the mono soundtrack, all background noise and hiss has been digitally removed, creating a rich, clean, full-bodied sound that resonates with plenty of punch.

A fascinating collection of extras is highlighted by an hour-long 1980 documentary on Wilder's life and work, with lots of input from the always acerbic writer/director. Equally excellent is the 24-minute excerpt from a 1986 American Film Institute event, where a more subdued but nevertheless sardonic Wilder bemoans the deterioration of the movie industry. Both contain choice observations on the making of Ace. In a 1984 featurette, Douglas gives a first-hand account of Wilder's production methods and discusses the benefits of playing an unsympathetic character. A 1970 talk with co-writer Walter Newman, a perceptive commentary by scholar Neil Sinyard, and a recent Spike Lee-filmed afterward all provide insightful (and ironic) observations. This is easily one of the finest DVD presentations so far this year.

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