Kirk Douglas turns 100

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 two 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, a tough boxing film directed by Mark Robson, The Bad and the Beautiful and Lust for Life (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 and Two Weeks in Another Town). He was at home in several important Westerns (Along the Great Divide for Raoul Walsh, The Big Sky for Howard Hawks, the excellent Man Without a Star for King Vidor, The Indian Fighter (for the underrated Andre De Toth, Gunfight at the OK Corral and Last Train From Gun Hill for John Sturges, The Last Sunset for Robert Aldrich, and Lonely Are the Brave, a wonderful modern Western directed by David Miller, and There Was a Crooked Man, 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) and of course Spartacus, 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, an intelligent suburban saga of infidelity in which he becomes involved with Kim Novak, also married. His last good film was The Fury, 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!!!

I’d like to add a comment on his early, very brave performance in Ace in the Hole, a corrosive masterpiece from the great Billy Wilder.

He and his son came from different eras. Michael Douglas started out as a sidekick to Karl Malden’s tough cop in the entertaining TV series The Streets of San Francisco.. By 1975, he had covered himself in glory as the Co-Producer, along with Saul Zaentz, of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which also landed Jack Nicholson a Best Actor Award, Louise Fletcher a Best Actress, Milos Forman, Best Director and an award for a Screenplay adapted from other material. He collected his own Best Actor award for his ruthless study in human greed in Wall Street in 1987. It seemed ironic given that the Oscar eluded his father, even though Kirk was nominated for Champion, The Bad and the Beautiful and Lust for Life. However, Kirk won, deservedly the New York Critics Award as Best Actor for his magnificent portrayal of Vincent Van Gogh in Minnelli’s superb film Lust for Life.


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