Friday, December 9, 2011

Happy Birthday Kirk Douglas!

The actor/director/producer/writer/force of nature/legend turns 95 years old today!

Kirks winds up just a hair behind James Cagney as my all time fave and as I have said here before, at times I feel he really is the greatest actor of them all.

My picks for "Essential Kirk"...

"The Strange Love of Martha Ivers" - 1946
Kirks first screen appearance was in this solid Lewis Milestone drama starring Barbara Stanwyck and Van Heflin. Right from the beginning Kirk's screen presence was unmistakable!

"Out of the Past" - 1947
The Archetypal film noir and a must-see weather you're a Kirk fan or not!

"I Walk Alone" - 1948
The First film to pair Kirk with Burt Lancaster is a solid and fascinating look at 2 bootleggers and what happens when one of them crosses the other while he's doing time. Lancaster and Douglas are intense and their scenes are electric! This film also contains one of the most brutal beatings from any film of its era!

"Champion" - 1949
This is the film that made Kirk a star and he earned every acolade and then some for his incredible performance as an unscrupulous boxer punching his way to the top. One of THE great boxing dramas of all time!

"Ace in the Hole" - 1951
Billy Wilder's brutally uncompromising look at human behavior at its worst! In his autobiography Kirk said he kept asking Wilder if he was sure he wanted his character to be so unsympathetic...Wilder's response was "Go in with both knees!" me he does! This film is even more relevant today than ever. Watch it and see if you dont agree!!

"Detective Story" - 1951
Kirk plays uncompromising detective Jim McLeod in William Wylers film adaptation of Sidney Kingsley's play. Kirk gives a performance of almost non-stop mind numbing intensity! At times it literally feels as if he is reaching out, grabbing you by your shirt and yanking you out of your seat! This one get my highest recommendation.

"The Bad and the Beautiful" - 1952
"One of the best movies about making movies, ever made!" - Steven Speilberg
He's right!

"Lust for Life" - 1956
The only thing about this film that's more astonishing than Kirks' performance as tormented artist Vincent Van Gogh is the fact that he did not win the Oscar for best actor! A beautifully realized production in every sense with oustanding supporting performances by Anthony Quinn and James Donald and incredible color cinematography by Russell Harlan and Freddie Young. My favorite Vincent Minnelli film.

"Paths of Glory" - 1957
Stanley Kubrick's searing anti-war masterpiece is simply one of the greatest films ever made. The fact that it ever got made at all is something we can all thank Kirk Douglas for!

"Last Train from Gun Hill" - 1959
Not as well-known as "Gunfight at O.K Corral", the other western that Kirk made with director John Sturges a few years earlier, but this is a solid, gritty and tense little film with a cat and mouse give and take between Kirk and Anthony Quinn that is really something to see!

"Spartacus" - 1960
Kirk is probably associated with this character more than any other he played in his career! Excellent film with a great cast, beautiful cinematography and an amazing score by Alex North, definitely NOT to be missed! Historically important as the film that smashed the blacklist by giving screenwriter Dalton Trumbo credit and also for being Stanley Kubrick's last Hollywood production.

"Lonely are the Brave" - 1962
This is one of those gems that didnt do much business on its initial release but has developed a following over the years. Kirk has long mentioned this as his own personal favorite of his films because "I got to play a nice guy for once!" but anyone who's seen it and knows a bit of Douglas' story will realize it goes WAY deeper than that! A small, intimate picture about a modern day cowboy coping with the onslaught of progress. Beautifully written by Dalton Trumbo with a heartfelt, understated performance from Kirk Douglas. The poignancy of this film grows only more intense for me as the years go by. And that final shot is a doozie!

"Seven Days in May" - 1964
My favorite of all the Douglas/Lancaster team ups and one of my fave films of the 60's, period! A tense, incredibly well-acted political drama with a brilliant screenplay by Rod Serling and masterful direction from John Frankenheimer. This one also gets my highest recommendation!

"The War Wagon" - 1967
Rip-roaring silly western fun with Kirk and the Duke! Sit back and enjoy!


Francy Flicks said...

Such a fantastic career ... I agree Out of the Past is a must-see!

Thanks for telling me about the Paul Muni film. I, unfortunately, do not get TCM anymore :-( Enjoy, though!

Patti said...

I am just browsing some of your old posts.

First of all, I wanted to say that I always love the comments you leave. What I love the most about blogging is the ability to communicate with others who share my passion for old films. You always leave great, insightful comments...ones which enable us to actually discuss a subject. Thank you for being one of the best commenters in blogland!

I think I've told you before that I am really only getting to know Kirk Douglas. I wouldn't have called myself a fan. I have seen "Martha Ivers," but it's been a few years, and I got it for Barbara Stanwyck.

Last year, though, I discovered "Detective Story," and I was literally blown away by Kirk's acting. That he didn't even receive an Academy Award nomination for his performance was shocking.

Based on your recommendation, I have put "Champion" in my Classic Flix queue. Not sure when I will get it, as it's in some sort of pre-sale status.

I also discovered "Strangers When We Meet" last year. Another terrific, intense performance.

I'm right there with you on James Cagney. He's one of my 6 top guys...all who are about even on my faves list. I do happen to think he may be the greatest actor who ever lived.

Artman2112 said...

Detective Story is Kirk at his best and that supporting cast has no slouchers either! Strangers When We Meet haha very glossy soaper but i enjoy it, its actually one of Kim Novak's better films imo! i am very interested to hear your thoughts on Champion after you see it because i know you have a fondness for some of the great boxing noirs and to me that one is right up there with the best of them. thanks for the kind words about my comments, i get very excited talking about the films, stars, and behind the scenes people that i love, they're like my old friends! i havent been to that classic film forum since i joined, but i do wanna get more active there. need more time in the day or less time wasted on other things i dunno, haha! no arguements on Cagney, he's the greatest!