Sunday 25 September 2016

Kirk Douglas turns 100 - Noel Bjorndahl appreciates the work of a Hollywood star

I'm reflecting on the long career of Kirk Douglas as this brave, risk-taking actor is turning 100, following closely in the footsteps of Olivia De Havilland. A multi-talented man, he published 2 novels (Dance with the Devil and The Secret) and was one of the great film stars of Hollywood's golden years. 

Even early in his career he exhibited his raw power and was nominated for Academy Awards in Champion (1949), a tough boxing film directed by Mark Robson, The Bad and the Beautiful (1953) and Lust for Life (1956, as Van Gogh). He immersed himself completely in Minnelli's masterful biopic and he did some of his best work for that director. Besides Lust for Life, he appeared to advantage for Minnelli in two fascinating films about the film industry itself, The Bad and the Beautiful (1953) and Two Weeks in Another Town  (1962). He was at home in several important Westerns, Along the Great Divide   (1951) for Raoul Walsh, The Big Sky (1952) for Howard Hawks, the excellent Man Without a Star (1955) for King Vidor, The Indian Fighter (1955, for the underrated Andre De Toth, Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957)and Last Train From Gun Hill  (1960) both for John Sturges, The Last Sunset (1961) for Robert Aldrich, Lonely Are the Brave, (1963) a wonderful modern Western directed by David Miller, and There Was a Crooked Man (1970), opposite Henry Fonda and directed vigorously by Joseph L Mankiewicz. 

His work for Stanley Kubrick produced, in spite of their differences, a powerful war film Paths of Glory (1958) and of course Spartacus (1960), revealed as one of the few intelligent epics in its restored form. Douglas was often effective, too, in non-action films like Strangers When We Meet (1960), an intelligent suburban saga of infidelity in which he becomes involved with Kim Novak, also married. His last good film was The Fury, (1978) directed by Brian De Palma, in which Douglas shared billing with John Cassavetes and Carrie Snodgress It was quite a violent but effective SF film. Happy 100th birthday, Issur Danielovich!!!

Editors note: Not sure how Noel managed to overlook Douglas's work on The Man From Snowy River (1982), an opus which required him to have not one but two roles. I also have a very soft spot for Douglas's work on John Frankenheimer's military/conspiracy thriller Seven Days in May (1964) and for Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole (1951). Douglas also worked with another Oz director, the illustrious Fred Schepisi in the comedy drama It Runs in the Family (2003).

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