Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Kirk Douglas

One of the most dynamic, forceful and talented actors to ever step before a camera, Spartacus himself turns 92 years old today! Born Dec 9th, 1916 to illiterate Russian immigrant parents in New York city. The only male of 7 siblings!!! yikes! Hard for me to pick a favorite actor but Kirk is certainly one of the top 4 or 5 on my list. His list of memorable films is substantial but he's always enjoyable to see even if the film he's in is not. I recall what Steven Spielberg said the night he presented the Lifetime Achievement Oscar to Kirk several years ago, it went something like: "Kirk Douglas never played 2-dimensional characters . . . he shaded his villians with conscience and his heroes with self doubt" . . . very well put and a big reason why a Kirk Douglas performance can be so compelling to watch! Anyone interested in reading a fascinating autobiography would do well to pick up a copy of Kirk's "Ragman's Son", it is quite an unflinching and fascinating look at the life of an incredibly intelligent and driven human being. Some pics from just a few of Kirk's memorable films . . .
Kirk made his screen debut in Lewis Milestone's "The Strange Love of Martha Ivers" starring Barbara Stanwyck and Van Heflin. It was one of the few times Kirk would play a weakling.
In 1948 Kirk co-starred for the first time with Burt Lancaster in Byron Haskin's noir classic "I Walk Alone". The 2 men didnt really develop their close friendship until they starred together again in John Sturgess' "Gunfight at O.K. Coral" in 1957. Another memorable team-up with them was John Frankenheimer's 1964 political masterpiece "Seven Days in May". According to Burt, in the old days they were both conceited, wanted to do everything their way and everyone hated them! The public sure didnt hate them, they were both major box-office stars for many years.
After making a pretty good name for himself co-starring in several solid productions, Kirk turned down the chance to once again co-star, this time in "The Great Sinner" with Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner, and instead chose to play the lead in Mark Robson's gritty 1949 noir-boxing drama,"Champion", which was Stanley Kramer's first independent production. Kirk himself stated he needed to know if he could carry a picture as the star. He received the first of his 3 oscar nominations for best actor, losing out to Broderick Carwford in "All the King's Men".
"Those Fat Bellies with the big cigars arent gonna make a monkey outta me, i can BEAT 'em!"
Kirk's unforgettable final scene in "Champion"
"I wanna strap 'em in the electric chair and pull the switch myself!"
Kirk and Eleanor Parker in William Wylers classic cop-drama "Detective Story". I would describe Kirk's performance in this film as one of swirling, almost non-stop, gut-wrenching intensity! For any actor to hold their own with Kirk in this film is a major testament to their own talent and Eleanor Parker, Willliam Bendix (yo ho!!!!) Lee Grant, George MacReady, Joseph Wiseman and a whole plethora of great character actors do just that, but it is Kirk's film from start to finish and to think he wasnt even nominated for an Oscar as best actor for this film was a really HUGE oversight by the Academy that year!

Kirk as Vincent Van Gogh in a publicity still for Vincent Minnelli's magnificent 1956 technicolor production "Lust for Life". Certainly one of Kirk's most courageous performances, apparently he had a hard time "shedding" Van Gogh after production wrapped! Kirk got his 3rd and final oscar nomination that year but lost once again, this time to Yul Brunner for the "King and I". It was a major Oscar upset as Kirk was pegged by all to be the clear cut winner, but . . . *sigh*

A great shot of Kirk as the thoughtful Colonel Dax in Stanley Kubrick's shattering anti-war masterpiece "Path's of Glory". An absolutely unforgettable film with a beautifully understated performance by Kirk Douglas who often described Kubrick as a"talented shit"

Kirk as Spartacus, probably the role he is best remembered for today. An important film for a number of reasons, most notably because Kirk, as producer of the film, decided that blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo would receive full screen credit for the first time in about a decade, thereby shattering the blacklist once and for all. Also important to note is that this was the last Hollywood production Stanley Kubrick would ever be involved in. The film has it flaws but is certainly a rousing epic entertainment with a fine cast, great action scenes and a magnificent Alex North score. And who can forget the classic "I am Spartacus" scene!!!

Kirk as modern-day Cowboy John W. Burns in David Miller's "Lonely are the Brave". This is always the film Kirk names as his personal favorite. A sensitive, understated and realistic performance in a film that has garnered a cult following over the years with its themes of the individual vs. society, authority and the onslaught of progress. The final scene is emotionally devastating, bring your hankies!!!!!!
Kirk with co-star Gena Rowlands in a touching farewell scene. The horse in the film was named "Whiskey" and several years later in "The Villain", Kirk walks into a bar and orders "Whiskey" and in walks a horse!

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