“BAD NEWS SELLS BEST.”
Plucked lovingly from Billy Wilder’s unforgettable 1951 classic film The Bastard Journo And The Man Stuck Down A Mine.
SETTING THE SCENE On its release in 1951, Ace In The Hole was a headache for director Billy Wilder: it did lousy box office, got panned by critics and resulted in Wilder getting sued for plagiarism. Decades on, though, it has not only acquired masterpiece status but plays as a chillingly prescient vision of gutter journalism. In this early scene, cynical reporter Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas), en route to a rattlesnake hunt with young colleague Herbie Cook (Robert Arthur), lays out his approach to the job. It’s easy to imagine Nightcrawler’s Lou Bloom nodding along.
EXT. NEW MEXICO HIGHWAY — DAY
Tatum and Cook are in Tatum’s open car. Cook is driving, Tatum stretched out next to him, hat over his eyes. Their press identification badge is mounted on the windscreen.
Cook: You know, this could be a pretty good story, Chuck. Don’t sell it short. It’s quite a sight — a thousand rattlers in the underbrush and a lot of men smoking them out, bashing in their heads.
Tatum: Big deal. A thousand rattlers in the underbrush. (He pauses) Give me just 50 of them loose in Albuquerque. Like that leopard in Oklahoma City. The whole town in panic. Deserted streets. Barricaded houses. They’re evacuating the children. Every man is armed. Fifty killers on the prowl. Fifty. One by one, they start hunting them down. They get ten, 20. It’s building. They get 40, 45. They get 49. Where’s the last rattler? In a kindergarten? In a church? In a crowded elevator? Where?
Cook: I give up. Where?
Tatum: In my desk drawer, fan. Stashed away, only nobody knows it, see? The story’s good for another three days. Then when I’m good and ready, we come out with a big extra: “Sun-bulletin snags number 50.”
Cook: Where do you get those ideas?
Tatum: Herbie, boy, how long d’you go to that school of journalism?
Cook: Three years.
Tatum: Three years down the drain. Me, I didn’t go to any college, but I know what makes a good story. Because before I ever worked on a paper, I sold them on a street corner. You know the first thing I found out? Bad news sells best. Because good news is no news.
A smile playing on his lips, he glances down at the fuel gauge.
Tatum: Better get some gas.