An ace in the hole is like a last trick up one's sleeve, something one hides until the crucial moment. The "in the hole" part of this phrase insinuates two meanings: One, that the owner of said "ace" is "in the hole," as in being the underdog or losing in a game or situation; and two, that the ace itself is hidden, though the first meaning is the intended one. Obviously the phrase refers to playing cards, as an ace is often a highly-valued card, but this phrase generalizes to many other situations.

American idiom meaning to have a secret advantage. Comes from stud poker, where one or more cards are dealt face down, the rest face up. The face down card is the "hole" card. An ace there is often the best advantage you can have in the game.

Billy Wilder film, starring Kirk Douglas as a down-at-heel journalist looking for work in a small New Mexico town in the early fifties. A big-city shark, wandering into the chintzy offices of the local daily, he makes an offer to the editor (Porter Hall): "I'm a hundred dollar a day reporter, but you can have me for ten."

Soon after Douglas lands the job, a cave-in traps a local man (Frank Benedict) who's gone to find Native American artifacts at an old burial site. The classic baby down a well story. Douglas exploits his relationships with the trapped man and with the local sherrif to maximise the story potential of the situation. Perfidiously, he persuades the sherrif to adopt the rescue scheme with the most visual impact, a drill from the top, whereas a less visible but more practical approach will effect the rescue in half the time. This will look much better in the press, as the election approaches, Douglas insinuates.

The whole operation rapidly becomes a national media circus, fed by a sensation-hungry public, and Douglas cynically exploits his position to claw his way back up the greasy pole of top-rank journalism.

But things don't work out the way he's planned. The entrapped man dies and the botched rescue attempt is blamed.

At the end of the film, Douglas, wounded and dying, stumbles into the editor's office. His last words as he slumps to the floor, in one of the most melodramatic and stylish low-angle shots in cinema, are "I'm a thousand dollar a day newspaperman, but you can have me for nothing."

The film was also released as The Big Carnival, alluding to the fairground situation that develops around the rescue site as the story gains national prominence.

Douglas turns in a great performance (it's about the only film I've seen of his where I would say that, in fact) and the cinematography and direction are considerably better than the B-movie status the film has enjoyed would suggest. The plausible and cynical view the picture presents is anachronistic - in many ways it seems more relevant to today's media-driven world than to the comparative innocence of the early 50s.

Director Billy Wilder
Cast Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling, Bob Arthur, Porter Hall, Frank Cady, Richard Benedict, Ray Teal, Lewis Martin
Screenplay Billy Wilder, Lesser Samuels, Walter Newman
Cinematography Charles Lang
Music Hugo Friedhofer
Released 1951
112 min., Paramount.

"Ace in the Hole" was the name of a country music band best known for jumpstarting the career of George Strait. The band was formed in 1975 at Southwest Texas State University. After the original lead singer left to pursue a solo career the rest of the band put up flyers at the college looking for a new lead singer. Singer and guitar player George Strait answered the advertisement and launched his career.

Soon after joining George became famous and they started touring as "George Strait and the Ace in the Hole Band". For the last twenty years they have been known as one of the best backup bands in the business. The group has put out one solo album called Ace in the Hole Band.

In the winter of 1989 George Straight released his platinum selling record called Beyond the Blue Neon. The fourth track called Ace in the Hole was a tribute to his backup band and the single was successful in its own right - getting played on the radio and occasionally appearing on a movie soundtrack. Strait's early work was heavily influenced by swing and this song is no exception.


A sample from the lyrics:

No matter what you do
No matter where you go
You've got to have an ace in the hole
--written/performed by George Straight

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