An American icon died this week at the ripe old age of 103, actor Kirk Douglas. He was an imperfect man in an image making business. Yes, he had affairs, but he also gave a job to a blacklisted director who was caught up in the Senator Joe McCarthy communist witch hunt. And, his roles were not always the heroic ones. He played many gray characters and some who were the antagonist.
Here are four movies that are worth the effort, which provide a glimpse of Douglas. He made countless movies, some great, some good and some OK. But, he was a highly prolific actor.
The Vikings – Released in 1958, this movie has an excellent starring cast, Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh, and Ernest Borgnine. Douglas plays the antagonist to Curtis’ hero. It was my first exposure to Leigh, who I would bet many a boy had a crush on. The movie was directed by Richard Fletcher and written by Dale Wasserman and Calder Willingham.
Spartacus – Released in 1960, this movie stars Douglas as the hero Spartacus, whose men are so devoted to him, are willing to take his place at his crucifixion. “I’m Spartacus,” is the often imitated line. It stars Laurience Olivier, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton and Peter Ustinov. It was directed by Stanley Kubrick and written by Dalton Trumbo .
Last Train from Gun Hill – Released in 1959, this is a personal favorite because of the plot and cast. It stars Douglas as a Sheriff whose Native American wife is raped and killed as she tries to escape. Anthony Quinn plays an old friend whose son Earl Holloman is involved. And, any movie with the wistfully beautiful Carolyn Jones will be good. The movie was directed by John Sturges and written by James Poe and Les Crutchfield.
The Man from Snowy River – Released in 1982, this Australian movie stars Douglas in two roles (brothers) – the antagonist father and the supportive old man. It stars Tom Burlinson, as the protagonist, Sigrid Thornton as the his love interest and Jack Thompson who is excellent in any movie he does. The movie has a terrific score and was directed by George Miller and written by Banjo Peterson and Cal Cullerson.
These are only a few of his great roles. He played Ulysses, he played Vincent van Gogh, he played a boxer, and he played cowboys, war heroes and detectives. His son Michael had an excellent career as an actor and director. He did have a great line about his wife. He said if she ever left him, he was going with her. Douglas was an icon. And, he was a great actor.