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A Lovely Way To Die (1968)

Not a title one is likely to come up with when naming Kirk Douglas movies. Here I am always professing to be a first line Kirk fan and I haven’t seen this since I was about 14 years old. Let’s just say that was a while back. Thanks to a new eight film set from Universal, I’ve had a chance to revisit this mystery featuring the cleft chinned icon.

Kirk once again plays it tough this time out with a heavy does of Sinatra’s Tony Rome. Over the opening act, Kirk is seen in a montage of one night stands and pursuing any good looking woman in sight. One of which is a young Ali MacGraw making her film debut. It turns out Kirk is a police detective on vacation. It all comes to a crashing end when he lays a beating on four well known criminal types. Police Captain Dana Elcar isn’t happy.

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Concerning Kirk’s record, Elcar has this to say. “112 arrests and half of them needed medical attention.” Kirk doesn’t wait for the suspension, he freely turns in his badge and heads off to see just what southern lawyer and old pal Eli Wallach has lined up for him. Wallach is currently embroiled in a high profile case as a defense lawyer. His client is Euro flavor of the year, Sylva Koscina. She’s the young trophy wife wife of an elderly rich tycoon who has been found floating in their swimming pool with a bullet hole sealing his fate. It’s assumed by the court of public opinion that she and her young lover have killed him for his money.

kirk and sylva

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the course of action that the plot is going to take Kirk on. Our famed tough guy will get one look at Miss Koscina and quickly realize he’ll never need to chase skirts again. But first he’ll have to find the real killer, assuming she didn’t commit such a heinous crime to begin with.

In the end this plays much like a early 70’s cop show and maybe that shouldn’t come as a surprise since it was directed by David Lowell Rich. Here’s a guy who seems to have made a home directing both TV shows and countless TV movies up into the 1980’s. Titles include Route 66, Twilight Zone and a made for TV remake of The Defiant Ones. We shouldn’t forget though that he was recruited for the big screen Concorde – Airport ’79. Then again maybe we should.

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Aside from navel gazing at Sylva, it’s watching Eli ham it up as the southern lawyer and the script catering to the Douglas persona that makes the whole criminal case worth checking into. Mainly working overseas, the late 60’s proved to be the years that Sylva was brought over to Hollywood to work with stars like Douglas and Paul Newman in Harry Frigg. Apparently she wasn’t meant to be the next Sophia or Gina.

Sure Eli gets to slice the ham a bit thick as the lawyer. But then let’s not forget that even the character himself knows he’s doing just that once he’s on the courtroom floor and playing to the jury. Eli is just one of those character players who can make things a bit better then they seem in most any film. Thankfully he lived a long life and gave us many such opportunities on camera. Eli would team with Kirk as the scene stealer Leon B. Little in the 1986 winner Tough Guys as a hitman who has waited 30 years to take out Douglas and Burt Lancaster.

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Kirk really does give it a Sinatra feel in what is essentially a light hearted romp that actually plays like a late 60’s to early 70’s live action Disney mystery that Uncle Walt’s studio was putting out during the era. Kirk does his best at playing the tough, flirtatious private eye but the script went for a friendly tone when maybe a rewrite could have hardened the whole caper into a Douglas styled Philip Marlowe adventure. A missed opportunity? Maybe but it’s still great to see Kirk do his thing.

Star gazers may feel free to look for the faces of John P. Ryan, David Huddleston, Ralph Waite, Conrad Bain and Doris Roberts in the background.

Now just because I haven’t seen this flick in eons doesn’t mean an original ne sheet hasn’t been in the vault for a good twenty years.

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