Empire (UK) - - CONTENTS -

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.


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.

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