Kirk Douglas, R.I.P.


Kirk Douglas passed away today in Beverly Hills, California.  He was 103 years old.

Kirk Douglas was one of the last surviving stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age.  Douglas began his career in the 40s and he made his last film appearance in 2008.  Interestingly enough, that final appearance was in a film that was made for French television, called The Empire State Building Murders.  The film was meant to be a mockumentary and a tribute to old detective and crime films of the 40s.  It was full of archival footage of Douglas contemporaries like James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, and Lauren Bacall.  Douglas played a character named Jim Kovalski.  As a result of a stroke that he suffered in 1996, Douglas did not speak in the film but his very presence was powerful just because he was Kirk Douglas and he was still with us.  Even though he was noticeably frail, Kirk Douglas remained an icon.

Indeed, if there was any Golden Age star that you would have expected to reach 100, it would have been Kirk Douglas.  Douglas played several different characters over the course of his career but almost all of them had one thing in common.  They were all tough.  On screen, Kirk Douglas always came across as someone who laughed at death.  One could imagine the Grim Reaper showing up at his front door and Douglas simply saying, “Get the Hell out of here.”  If anyone could bully Death into submission, it would have been Kirk Douglas.

Kirk Douglas was a survivor.  In several interviews, he described himself as being a “tough son of a bitch.”  Kirk Douglas was not the type to allow himself to be pushed around and the fact that he even had a career in Hollywood during the studio system is kind of amazing.  It wasn’t just that Douglas had a reputation for not suffering fools.  It’s also that Douglas was an actor who was willing to put his career on the line for what he believed in.  By not only hiring Dalton Trumbo to write the script for Spartacus but also giving him onscreen credit, Douglas has been credited with helping to bring the blacklist to an end.  At the height of his stardom, Douglas appeared in Stanley Kubrick’s antiwar film, Paths of Glory.  He stood up for the state of Israel and defended it against it’s most vehement critics, even rebuking his friend Jimmy Carter at one point.

What’s my favorite Kirk Douglas performance?  In Spartacus, Douglas made “I am Spartacus” a rallying cry for revolutionaries everywhere.  In Ace In the Hole, he was the perfect representation of an amoral journalist.  Playing a gangster, he was both charming and dangerous in the classic film noir, Out of the Past.  Lust for Life was an imperfect film but he gave a strong performance as Van Gogh.  Paths of Glory featured Douglas at his most compassionate and outraged.  Later in his career, he starred in the campy but entertaining Holocaust 2000.  That said, my favorite Kirk Douglas film remains The Bad and The Beautiful, which is one of the best films ever made about Hollywood.  Douglas played a real heel in The Bad and the Beautiful and, watching the film, you get the feeling he loved every minute of it.

Kirk Douglas’s death is not really a shock.  When he appeared at the Golden Globes in 2017, he was noticeably frail.  With his passing, though, we’ve lost a true icon of American cinema and one of the last living links to the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Kirk Douglas, R.I.P.

Robot In Lust: Saturn 3 (1980, directed by Stanley Donen)


The time is the future and Earth is so polluted and overcrowded that the survival of humanity is dependent on space stations that are located across the galaxy.  On one of the moons of Saturn, Adam (Kirk Douglas) and Alex (Farrah Fawcett) are researching and developing new ways to grow food.  Alex is young and has never experienced life on Earth.  Adam is in his 60s and says that Earth is the worst place in the universe.  Alex and Adam are not just colleagues but lovers as well.  Inside the tranquil facility, Adam, Alex, and Sally the Dog live a lifestyle that feels more like late 70s California than 21st century Saturn.

Adam is disturbed when a cargo ship arrives.  The ship is piloted by Captain James (Harvey Keitel, giving the film’s only interesting performance despite having had all of his dialogue dubbed by Roy Dotrice), who immediately takes an unwelcome interest in Alex.  (“You have a great body,” he says, “May I use it?”)  Captain James starts telling Alex stories about life back on Earth and encouraging her to abandon Adam.  Captain James also reveals that he’s accompanied by an 8-foot robot named Hector.  Hector is designed to replace one of the scientists.

If that’s not bad enough, it also turns out that Captain James is not really Captain James but instead, he’s Captain Benson.  Benson was originally assigned to fly the cargo ship but, after a psychological profile deemed him to be psychotic, Benson was replaced by James.  So, Benson killed James by pushing him out of an airlock.  Now, Benson is on Saturn 3 and he’s uploaded both his homicidal impulses and his lust for Alex into Hector’s programming.  Soon, Hector is rampaging through the facility, determined to have Alex for himself.

For an ultimately forgettable film that plays like an Alien rip-off (even though the two films were actually shot at the same time), Saturn 3 has long been infamous for its troubled production.  Martin Amis, who wrote an early draft of the script, even wrote a novel, Money, based on the filming of Saturn 3.  (In the novel, Kirk Douglas is renamed Lorne Guyland and insists on getting naked as much as possible in order to prove that he’s still virile.)  The film was originally meant to be the directorial debut of John Barry, the famed British production designer.  However, Barry departed the film after two weeks, with reports differing on whether he left voluntarily or if he was fired.  The film’s producer, Stanley Donen, took over as director.  Stanley Donen, who also directed legitimate classics like Singin’ In The Rain, Charade, and Two For The Road, confessed to having no affinity for science fiction and it’s obvious from watching his one foray into the genre that he was not exaggerating.

The idea behind Saturn 3, with Hector taking on the personality of it creator, is an intriguing one but the film doesn’t do much with it and the film’s choppy pace indicates that there was extensive executive tinkering both during and after filming.  Harvey Keitel is convincingly strange in his role but Farrah Fawcett is miscast as a scientist and Kirk Douglas does his usual grin and grimace routine, usually while naked.  (It doesn’t seem that Martin Amis had to stretch the truth too far.)  The 8-foot Hector looks impressive until he actually has to chase Fawcett through the facility.  That’s when it becomes obvious that anyone with two functioning legs could easily outrun the lumbering robot.

In space, no one can hear you scream.  But they might hear you laughing at Saturn 3.

When It Comes To Halloween, Should You Trust The IMDb?


Dr. Sam Loomis

Like a lot of people, I enjoy browsing the trivia sections of the IMDb.  While it’s true that a lot of the items are stuff like, “This movie features two people who appeared on a television series set in the Star Trek Universe!,” you still occasionally came across an interesting fact or two.

Of course, sometimes, you just come across something that makes so little sense that you can only assume that it was posted as a joke.  For instance, I was reading the IMDb’s trivia for the original 1978 Halloween and I came across this:

Peter O’Toole, Mel Brooks, Steven Hill, Walter Matthau, Jerry Van Dyke, Lawrence Tierney, Kirk Douglas, John Belushi, Lloyd Bridges, Abe Vigoda, Kris Kristofferson, Sterling Hayden, David Carradine, Dennis Hopper, Charles Napier, Yul Brynner and Edward Bunker were considered for the role of Dr. Sam Loomis.

Now, some of these names make sense.  Despite the fact that Sam Loomis became Donald Pleasence’s signature role, it is still possible to imagine other actors taking the role and perhaps bringing a less neurotic interpretation to the character.

Peter O’Toole as Dr. Loomis?  Okay, I can see that.

Kirk Douglas, Sterling Hayden, Charles Napier, Steve Hill, or Lloyd Bridges as Dr. Loomis?  Actually, I can imagine all of them grimacing through the role.

Walter Matthau?  Well, I guess if you wanted Dr. Loomis to be kind of schlubby….

Abe Vigoda?  Uhmmm, okay.

Dennis Hopper?  That would be interesting.

Mel Brooks?  What?  Wait….

John Belushi?  Okay, stop it!

Dr. Sam Loomis

My point is that I doubt any of these people were considered for the role of Dr. Loomis.  Both director John Carpenter and producer Debra Hill have said that they wanted to cast an English horror actor in the role, as a bit of an homage to the Hammer films of the 60s.  Christopher Lee was offered the role but turned it down, saying that he didn’t care for the script or the low salary.  (Lee later said this was one of the biggest mistakes of his career.)  Peter Cushing’s agent turned down the role, again because of the money.  It’s not clear whether Cushing himself ever saw the script.

To be honest, I could easily Peter Cushing in the role and I could see him making a brilliant Dr. Loomis.  But, ultimately, Donald Pleasence was the perfect (if not the first) choice for the role.  Of course, Pleasence nearly turned down the role as well.  Apparently, it was his daughter, Angela, who changed his mind.  She was an admirer of John Carpenter’s previous film, Assault on Precint 13.  Carpenter has said that he was originally intimidated by Donald Pleasence (the man had played Blofeld, after all) but that Pleasence turned out to be a professional and a gentleman.

Laurie Strode

Of course, Halloween is best known for being the first starring role of Jamie Lee Curtis.  Curtis was actually not Carpenter’s first choice for the role of Laurie Strode.  His first choice was an actress named Annie Lockhart, who was the daughter of June Lockhart.  Carpenter changed his mind when he learned that Jamie was the daughter of Janet Leigh.  Like any great showman, Carpenter understood the importance of publicity and he knew nothing would bring his horror movie more publicity then casting the daughter of the woman whose onscreen death in Psycho left moviegoers nervous about taking a shower.

There was also another future big name who came close to appearing in Halloween.  At the time that she was cast as Lynda, P.J. Soles was dating an up-and-coming actor from Texas named Dennis Quaid.  Quaid was offered the role of Lynda’s doomed boyfriend, Bob but he was already committed to another film.

Not considered for a role was Robert Englund, though the future Freddy Krueger still spent some time on set.  He was hired by Carpenter to help spread around the leaves that would make it appear as if his film was taking place in the October, even though it was filmed in May.

Robert Englund, making May look like October

Interestingly enough, Englund nearly wasn’t need for that job because Halloween was not originally envisioned as taking place on Halloween or any other specific holiday.  When producer Irwin Yablans and financier Moustapha Akkad originally approached Carpenter and Hill to make a movie for them about a psycho stalking three babysitters, they didn’t care when the film was set.  It was only after Carpenter and Hill wrote a script called The Babysitter Muders that it occurred to Yablans that setting the film during Halloween would be good from a marketing standpoint.  Plus Halloween made for a better title than The Babysitter Murders.

And, of course, the rest is history.  Carpenter’s film came to define Halloween and it still remains the standard by which every subsequent slasher movie has been judged.  Would that have happened if the film had been known as The Babysitter Murders and had starred John Belushi?

Sadly, we may never know.

6 Good Films That Were Not Nominated For Best Picture: The 1940s


Gary Cooper. Joan Fontaine, Mary Astor, and Donald Crisp at the 1942 Oscars.

Continuing our look at good films that were not nominated for best picture, here are 6 films from the 1940s.

Shadow of a Doubt (1943, dir by Alfred Hitchcock)

Amazing, Alfred Hitchcock never won the Best Directing Oscar.  In fact, it was rare that his films were even nominated.  (Though Rebecca did win Best Picture, it could be argued that film’s style was as much to due to David O. Selznick as it was to Hitchcock.)  One of the best of Hitchcock’s unnominated films was Shadow of a Doubt.  With its dark sense of humor and wonderful performances from Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright, Shadow of a Doubt was Hitchcock at his best.  It was also, perhaps, a bit too darkly subversive for the Academy.

Detour (1945, dir by Edgar G. Ulmer)

The ultimate film noir nightmare, Detour was actually well-received when it was originally released, though it would take a while for the film to be recognized as a true classic.  Still, there was no way that the Academy was going to nominate a low-budget B-movie about a guy who hitchhikes across America and manages to accidentally kill two people.  Detour was far too nightmarish and surreal for the Academy but it’s remained one of the most influential films ever made.

Gilda (1946, dir by Charles Vidor)

Another classic film noir, Gilda is the film that, for many, will always define Rita Hayworth.  Through the film was a financial and critical success, it was ignored by the Academy.  The success of this film and the popularity of Hayworth’s performance led to the fourth atomic bomb to ever be detonated being named Gilda.  Rita Hayworth was reportedly not happy to hear it.

Black Narcissus (1947, dir by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger)

One of the most visually stunning films ever made, Black Narcissus won Oscars for Best Cinematography and for Art Design but it received no other nominations, not even for the outstanding performances of Deborah Kerr and Kathleen Byron, as two nuns who have very different reactions to the Himalayas.

Out of the Past (1947, dir by Jacques Tourneur)

A world-weary private investigator (Robert Michum) is hired by a slick and psychotic gangster (Kirk Douglas) and ordered to track down the gangster’s girlfriend (Jane Greer).  So beings this rather melancholy and introspective film noir, one that is distinguished by wonderfully shadowy photography and which features one of Mitchum’s best performances.  Sadly, the Academy recognized neither the film nor Mitchum’s performance.

Portrait of Jennie (1948, dir by William Dieterle)

This haunting and dream-like fantasy stars Joseph Cotten as a painter who meets, paints, and falls in love with a mysterious woman (Jennifer Jones) who may not be what she seems.  The film was apparently not a huge success when it was first released but, seen today, it’s hard not to get swept up in the film’s romantic sadness.  Though it received a nomination for Best Cinematography, it was otherwise ignored by the Academy.

Up next, in about an hour or so, the 1950s!

Embracing The Melodrama Part III #5: Jacqueline Susann’s Once Is Not Enough (dir by Guy Green)


“Only in the movies, baby.” 

— Mike Wayne (Kirk Douglas) in Jacqueline Susann’s Once Is Not Enough (1975)

Jacqueline Susann’s Once Is Not Enough (for that indeed is the unwieldy title of this little movie) opens with a shot of two Oscars sitting on an end table.  Those Oscars belong to Mike Wayne (Kirk Douglas), a legendary Hollywood producer who hasn’t had a hit in way too long.  He’s struggling financially.  He may even have to fire his maid (Lillian Randolph), despite the many years that she’s spent making sure he wakes up and remembers to take a shower before leaving the house.  What choice does Mike have but to marry Deidre Milford Granger (Alexis Smith), the world’s sixth richest woman?  Mike doesn’t even mind that Deidre is having an affair with Karla (Melina Mercouri).

That makes sense to everyone by Mike’s daughter, January (Deborah Raffin).  As Mike explains it, January’s name came about as a result of January being born in January.  So, I guess if I was Mike’s daughter, I would have been named November.  Everyone in the film thinks that Mike’s being terribly clever by naming his daughter after her birthday but, to me, that just sounds lazy.

Does January have some issues?  Well, when she returns to America after getting into a serious motorcycle accident in Europe, she greets her father by cheerfully saying, “I hope nobody thinks we’re father and daughter.  I hope they think you’re a dirty old man and I’m your broad.”

Agck!  That sounds like the set up for a Freudian nightmare but instead, the film’s rather blasé about the whole incestuous subtext of January’s relationship with her father.  Mike is soon pushed to the side as the movie follows January as she tries to make a life for herself in New York City.  Fortunately, she’s able to land a job at a magazine, working for her old college friend, Linda (Brenda Vacarro).  In college, Linda was smart and homely but she has since had so much plastic surgery that January doesn’t even recognize her.  Linda’s either found the greatest plastic surgeon in the world or else January is just really, really stupid.

Linda gets all the best lines.  While talking about all of the work that she’s had done, she takes the time to brag that she had everything fixed by her navel, which she declares to be perfect.  When January comments that Linda is beautiful, Linda replies, “And now ugly is in!  I want my old nose back!”

Linda is stunned to learn that January is still a virgin but that problem is solved once January goes out on a few dates with David (George Hamilton), who is Deidre’s cousin.  David and January go out to a club and January is shocked when a random woman throws a drink in David’s face.  Later, January goes back to David’s apartment, which turns out to be the epitome of 70s tackiness.  When January asks David why the carpet and all of the furniture is red, David replies, “I wanted it to look like a bordello.”

Things don’t really work out between January and David but don’t worry!  January soon meets the world-renowned author, Chest Hair McGee (David Janssen)!  Okay, actually his name is Tom Colt.

Tom spends almost the entire movie drunk and acting obnoxious but January falls in love with him.  And, of course, it has nothing to do with the fact that he’s the same age as her father.  No, of course not.  Instead, she’s charmed by the way he slurs the line, “Forgive me, I can’t take my eyes off of your ass!”

January is convinced that she and Tom are going to be together forever.  Of course, Mike hates Tom.  And there is the fact that Tom’s married.  Literally everyone in the movie tells January that Tom is never going to leave his wife but I guess we’re still supposed to be shocked when Tom tells her that he’ll never leave his wife.  He does, however, thank her for allowing “a broken-down old man” to “feel like a stud.”  In the end, nothing really works out for January but she’s such an annoying and vacuous character that you really don’t mind.

Based on a novel by the same author who gave the world The Valley of the Dolls, Once Is Not Enough is a movie that manages to be both remarkably bad and also surprisingly watchable.  Some of that is because the film is a time capsule of 70s fashion, 70s decor, and 70s slang.  A lot more of it is because the cast is made up of such an odd mishmash of performers and acting styles that nobody seems like they should be in the same movie.  Kirk Douglas grimaces.  George Hamilton looks embarrassed.  David Janssen lurches through the film like a drunk trying to remember where he lives.  Alexis Smith and Melina Mercouri chew every piece of scenery they can find while Brenda Vaccaro shouts her lines as if hoping the increased volume will keep us from noticing what she’s actually saying.  Poor Deborah Raffin wanders through the film with a dazed look on her face.  Can you blame her?

Interestingly enough, Jacqueline Susann’s Once Is Not Enough actually was nominated for an Oscar.  Brenda Vaccaro was nominated for Best Supporting Actress.  Admittedly, Vaccaro does probably come the closest of anyone in the cast to creating an interesting character but I still have to wonder just how weak the Supporting Actress field was in 1975.

Anyway, this incredibly silly and tacky film is a lot of fun, though perhaps not in the way that it was originally intended to be.  Between the nonstop drama, the unintentionally hilarious dialogue, and the weird performances, the film plays out like a cartoon character’s dream of the 70s.

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at another silly and tacky film from the same decade, 1978’s The Betsy!

Insomnia File #28: The Arrangement (dir by Elia Kazan)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If, on Saturday you were having trouble sleeping at three in the morning, you could have turned on TCM and watched the 1969 film, The Arrangement.

The Arrangement is one of those films where a rich guy gets hit by a sudden case of ennui and, as a result, spends the entire movie acting like a jackass.  However, as often happens in films like this, The Arrangement makes sure that we understand that it’s not the guy’s fault.  Instead, it’s his wife’s fault for not being as much fun as his mistress.

In this case, the guy is an ad executive who goes by the name of Eddie Anderson (Kirk Douglas).  His original name was Evangelos Arness but he changed his name when he was younger because he apparently didn’t want anyone to know that he came from a Greek family.  When we first meet Eddie, he’s attempting to commit suicide by driving his car into an 18 wheeler.  If he had died, the movie could have ended quickly.  However, since Eddie survived, the audience is now required to spend two hours watching Eddie as he tries to figure out what it all means.

Eddie’s father (Richard Boone) is dying.  His long-suffering wife (Deborah Kerr) just doesn’t understand that Eddie needs more than a big house and a nice pool to feel like a man.  Eddie’s mistress is Gwen (Faye Dunaway), whose new baby may or may not be Eddie’s.  Who could blame Eddie, the film demands to know, for being disillusioned with his comfortable life?

The Arrangement was one of the last films to be directed by Elia Kazan, who was a big deal in the 40s and the 50s and whose goal with The Arrangement was apparently to prove that he should still have been a big deal in the 60s and 70s.  Kazan’s way of doing this is to fill The Arrangement with all types of tricks that were designed to make young filmgoers say, “Man, that Eliza Kazan may be old but he’s one of us!”

Freeze frames?  Kazan’s got them!  Flashback after flashback?  Kazan spreads them all throughout the movie, even when they don’t really have anything to show us.  Scenes where the action is sped up for no identifiable reason?  Just watch Kirk Douglas trot down that hallway!  Rack focus shots?  Zoom shots?  A scene where the young Kirk Douglas argues with the old Kirk Douglas?  Casual nudity that’s still filmed in such a way that it feels oddly reticent, as if the filmmaker was just including it to try to establish his rebel credentials?  The Arrangement has it all!

It also has a lot of close-ups of Kirk Douglas.  In far too many scenes, he’s just sitting around with this blank look on his face and it doesn’t quite work because, as an actor, Douglas has never exactly come across as the type to get trapped in an existential crisis.  We’re supposed to view Kirk as being depressed and conflicted but, in all of his films, Kirk has always come across as someone who hasn’t known a day of insecurity in his entire life.

There are also a few scenes of Kirk just laughing and laughing.  For some reason, movies in the late 60s and early 70s always seemed to feature at least a handful of closeups of people laughing uncontrollably.  I’m not sure why.  (If you want to see the most extreme example of this, check out Getting Straight.)  These scenes are always kind of annoying because there’s only so much time you can spend watching someone laugh at the absurdity of it all before you want them to just close their damn mouth.  Especially when the person in question is a middle-aged man.  I mean, shouldn’t have Kirk figured out that the world is absurd before his 50th birthday?

Anyway, The Arrangement is a pretentious mess.  Of course, most films from the 60s are pretentious.  The problem with The Arrangement is that it’s also boring.  If you’re going to be pretentious, at least have some fun with it, like The Graduate did.  The Arrangement goes on forever and it’s never quite as profound as it seems to think that it is.  I once read a short story that a former friend of mine wrote.  She explained that writing the story had caused her to realize that, the longer you know someone, the more likely your initial impression of that person is going to change.  “You had to write an entire short story to figure that out?” I replied.  (That’s one reason why she’s a former friend.)  But that’s kind of how The Arrangement is.  For all the drama and the technique and the pretension, it has nothing to teach us that we shouldn’t already know.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name

The Main Event: Kirk Douglas in CHAMPION (United Artists 1949)


cracked rear viewer

Kirk Douglas  slugged his way to superstardom in director Mark Robson’s CHAMPION, one of two boxing noirs made in 1949. The other was THE SET-UP , helmed by Robson’s former RKO/Val Lewton stablemate Robert Wise. While that film told of an aging boxer (Robert Ryan) on the way down, CHAMPION is the story of a hungry young fighter who lets nothing stand in his way to the top of the food chain. The movie not only put Douglas on the map, it was a breakthrough for its young independent producer Stanley Kramer .

Douglas is all muscle and sinew as middleweight Midge Kelly, and a thoroughly rotten heel. He’s a magnetic character, a classic narcissist with sociopathic tendencies drawing the people around him into his web with his charm. Midge has no empathy for others, not even his loyal, game-legged brother Connie (Arthur Kennedy in a solid performance), after…

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Here’s What Won In Las Vegas!


las-vegas

Yesterday, the Las Vegas Critics announced their nominations for the best of 2016!

Today, they announced the winners!

And here they are, in all of their glory:

Best Picture
La La Land

Best Actor
Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea

Best Actress
Natalie Portman – Jackie

Best Supporting Actor
Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals

Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis – Fences

Best Director
La La Land

Best Adapted Screenplay
Nocturnal Animals

Best Original Screenplay
La La Land

Best Cinematography
La La Land

Best Film Editing
Moonlight

Best Score
La La Land

Best Song
“City of Stars” – La La Land

Best Action Film
Captain America: Civil War

Best Documentary
O.J.: Made in America

Best Animated Film
Kubo and the Two Strings

Best Foreign Language Film
The Handmaiden

Best Costumes
The Witch

Best Art Direction
La La Land

Best Visual Effects
The Jungle Book

Best Comedy
The Nice Guys

Best Horror/Sci-Fi
The Witch

Best Family Film
The Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Best Ensemble
Hidden Figures

Breakout Filmmaker
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

Youth in Film
Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea

William Holden Lifetime Achievement Award
Kirk Douglas

Happy 100th Birthday Kirk Douglas: THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (MGM 1952)


cracked rear viewer

badand1

Today is the 100th birthday of movie legend Kirk Douglas! Like Olivia de Havilland earlier this year, Kirk is one of the last living Golden Age greats. Bursting onto the screen in film noir classics like THE STRANGE LOVES OF MARTHA IVERS and OUT OF THE PAST , he first received top billing in the 1949 boxing noir CHAMPION, earning an Oscar nomination for his performance. Later, Kirk starred in some of the best films Hollywood has to offer: ACE IN THE HOLE, 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA , LUST FOR LIFE (his second Oscar nom, though he never won the statue), PATHS OF GLORY, SPARTACUS, LONELY ARE THE BRAVE. One of my personal favorites is 1952’s THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL.

One of those Hollywood movies about making Hollywood movies, THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL is expertly directed by insider Vincent Minnelli, who knew this material like the back of his hand. Aided…

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The Fabulous Forties #42: The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (dir by Lewis Milestone)


StrangeLoveofMartha

The 41st film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was the 1946 film noir, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.  While The Strange Love of Martha Ivers is definitely a superior example of noir and features Barbara Stanwyck in one of her best femme fatale roles, the film is best remembered for being the film debut of a Hollywood icon.

In December of this year, Kirk Douglas will turn 100 years old.  He is one of the few stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood left.  (Olivia De Havilland is another.  She’ll be turning 100 on the 1st of July.)  Though he’s had his share of health issues over the past few years, it is somehow not surprising that Kirk Douglas is going to make it to a hundred.  In fact, it probably wouldn’t be surprising if he lasted for another hundred after that.  Regardless of how old or young he may have been at any point in his career, Kirk Douglas has always epitomized virile masculinity.  Whenever you see Kirk Douglas in a film, you know that you might not like or trust his character but you definitely want him around if things start to get tough.  That remains true whether you’re watching Kirk in The Bad And The Beautiful or in Holocaust 2000.

That’s why it’s interesting to see Kirk cast very much against type in his very first film.  In The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, Kirk Douglas plays Walter O’Neil.  Walter is the district attorney of a Pennsylvania mining town called Iverstown.  He is married to Martha Ivers (Barbara Stanwyck), the niece of the widow of the man who founded Iverstown.  Walter owes almost all of his success to the influence of the Ivers family and he knows it.  He’s also in love with Martha but she doesn’t love him.  And he knows that as well.  Walter deals with his insecurity by drinking.

Walter and Martha have a secret.  Seventeen years ago, Walter witnessed Martha murder her abusive aunt.  (The aunt is played by Judith Anderson, the creepy housekeeper from Rebecca.)  Walter helped Martha to cover up the crime, lying that he saw a burglar beat the aunt to death.  As a result of their lies, an innocent man was executed for the murder.

Now, many years later, Sam Masterson (Van Heflin) has returned to Iverstown.  Sam was a friend to both Martha and Walter when they were younger.  Sam came from the poor section of town and ran away shortly after the death of Martha’s aunt.  Walter has always suspected that Martha truly loves Sam.  When Sam — now a drifter and a gambler — shows up in town, Walter fears that he knows the truth about the aunt’s death.  Walter is scared that Sam is going to blackmail him.  Even worse, he’s scared that Sam is going to steal Martha away from him.

Walter has reason to be worried.  Having met a troubled young woman named Toni (Lizabeth Scott), Sam believe he is no longer in love with Martha.  However, Martha does claim to love Sam and Sam finds himself being drawn back to her.  In fact, Martha loves Sam enough to suggest that maybe he should murder Walter…

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers is an entertaining melodrama, one that features great performances from Heflin, Stanwyck, and Scott.  However, in the end, it’s mostly interesting because Kirk Douglas is not only making his debut in a totally atypical role but he also does a fantastic job.  If The Strange Love of Martha Ivers had been made in the 50s, Kirk probably would have been cast as Sam but he’s unexpectedly perfect in the role of the angry, self-loathing, and ultimately tragic Walter.

You watch The Strange Love of Martha Ivers and, even with Kirk Douglas cast against type, you can’t help but think, “No wonder he made it to a hundred!”

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