The Reel Dad recalls his favorite Kirk Douglas movie moments
Our memories of Kirk Douglas are many. For more than 60 years, his personality dominated the screen. But he was much more than a movie star. Kirk Douglas was an actor who dared to stretch himself several times in his career.
Here - from more than 90 films -are seven of my favorite moments that show the care and creativity he brought to the screen.
As Spartacus in Spartacus (1960)
As a slave determined to live in freedom, Douglas captures the essence of the journey when he explains, “When a free man dies, he loses the pleasure of life. A slave loses his pain. Death is the only freedom a slave knows. That’s why he’s not afraid of it. That’s why we will win.” And, as the film reconfirms, a man with that tight a view of self, is clear to win.
As Ned Lane in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1956)
In this delicious fantasy from Walt Disney, Douglas shows a lighter side as a man of the sea at home with the challenges and dangers of his life. So, when he says, “I don’t know about you, Professor, but I feel like a knife that’s just stabbed a friend in the back,” he reveals a fundamental goodness at odds with the intense challenge of the moment.
As George Phipps in A Letter to Three Wives (1949)
Few moviemakers loved cynicism as much as Joseph L. Mankiewicz. And, in this Oscar winner, he gives Douglas a field day as a man well aware of his limits, saying, “the purpose of radio writing, as far as I can see, is to prove to the masses that a deodorant can bring happiness, a mouth wash will guarantee success and a laxative will attract romance”.
As Jonathan Shields in The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)
This ultimate Douglas character brilliantly captures the actor’s mystique while capitalizing on his ability to convey skepticism. As Jonathan relates, “Congratulations, you’ve got it all laid out for you, so you can wallow in pity for yourself. The betrayed woman. The wounded doe with all the drivel that goes with it going through your mind right now.”
As Lomax in The War Wagon (1968)
As sophisticated a gentleman Douglas could play, he always looked at home in a Western. And, in this classic opposite John Wayne, the actor stuck to the essence of what made him so effective on the wide-open plains, as he says, “Now, what am I supposed to do, live with the Indians and open up a bakery?”
As Steve in Town Without Pity (1961)
No matter the character, Douglas always brought a no-nonsense reality to any character he created. As a lawyer defending American soldiers stationed in Germany, Douglas has little patience for exaggerated explanations. He just wants the facts, as he explains, “Don’t try to prove you’re a man to me. Prove it to the girl.”
As Rich Martin in Young Man With a Horn (1950)
Douglas and Lauren Bacall create intense heat on screen in this biopic of jazz cornetist Bix Beiderbecke. His performance reaches beyond the genre’s formula to capture a musician’s ambition, as he explains, “that trumpet’s part of me. It’s the best part. You almost made me forget that.” As he reminds the lady that the lady will never be more important than the music.
Rest in peace, Kirk Douglas, and thank you for a lifetime at the movies.