Thursday. 30.03.2023

Five films to understand the genius of Kirk Douglas

The last great star from the Golden Age of Hollywood died yesterday at the age of 103.
Kirk Douglas in a promotional photo. Image: Public Domain.

Kirk Douglas was the only remaining link to the old and legenday cinema. He appeared in more than 80 movies and worked with some of the best directors, Vincente Minnelli, Billy Wilder, Stanley Kubrick, Elia Kazan...

Douglas never got an Academy Award for a playing role, but he was nominated three times ('Champion', 'The Bad and the Beautiful' and 'Lust for Life'). However, in 1996, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded him an honorary Oscar.

He also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and a lifetime achievement award from the American Film Institute.

He created his own production company in 1955. Many of his movies, such as Kubrick's 'Paths of Glory', 'The Vikings', 'Spartacus', 'Lonely Are the Brave' and 'Seven Days in May' were produced by his own firms.

Douglas had been retired from the movies for more than a decade. His last appearance was in 2004, in a film by Michael Goorjian: 'Illusion'.

Next we recommend five movies so you get to know Kirk Douglas.

'Ace in the Hole' (1951)

Maybe the most pessimistic of Billy Wilder, Douglas embodies a desperate journalist who orchestrates a media frenzy around the collapse of a mine, and even sabotages intentionally the rescue attempts to prolong the emotion. The film went on to receive an Oscar nomination for best story and screenplay.

'Gunfight at the O.K. Corral' (1957)

Spectacular recreation of the legendary shooting of Tombstone by the director John Sturges. The film is based on the confrontation between Burt Lancaster,  who plays the role of Wyatt Earp, and Kirk Douglas as the gunman Doc Holliday, an unforgettable character with lots of charisma, irony and fatalism.

'Paths of Glory' (1957)

Set during a suicidal offensive by the French army during World War I, anti-war masterpiece of Stanley Kubrick is an attack on stupidity and arrogance of military commanders, who treated soldiers like dogs.

In this movie, Douglas plays a compassionate officer who vainly tries to defend three men accused of treason for refusing to participate in a suicide mission. Douglas represents the defeat of decency against the absurdity of the war machine.

'The Vikings' (1958)

This splendid adventure, a story that reaches tints of Greek tragedy, tells the story of the rude Viking Einar (Douglas), who confronts his bastard half-brother Eric for the love of the beautiful Morgana. The rivalry between the two brothers culminates with an emotional sword fight.

Spartacus (1960)

In his most famous role, the actor exhibited physical power (and tanning) giving life to Spartacus, who leads an uprising of slaves against the powerful Roman Republic.

His own company, Bryna Productions, retained most of the creative control of the film and Douglas himself made the decision to hire screenwriter Dalton Trumbo when he was banned in Hollywood, accused of being a communist. In that sense, it is especially appropriate for the film to function as an allegory of the political tyranny and solidarity of the exploited.

Five films to understand the genius of Kirk Douglas