The iconic film star, Kirk Douglas, only directed two movies in his lengthy career, the first was a misfire titled Scalawag in 1973, the second being this off kilter western that plays well and puts Kirk back into familiar territory, meaning western surroundings and portraying a character who harkens back to the days of his early acting triumphs as an ego driven son of a bitch.
Thanks to Karen of Shadows and Satin, it’s time for the celebrations to begin as Kirk Douglas celebrates his 100th birthday which allows us self appointed film buffs and historians to remind one and all of some of his finest moments on movie screens all the world over.
Produced by Kirk’s own company, Bryna, Posse is a male dominated western casting Kirk as an aging lawman planning on making a run at the senate and capturing the Governor’s seat for the state of Texas. He heads a posse of first rate gunmen who behave as if they are a trained army troop under Kirk’s stoic commander. The number one outlaw in his sites is portrayed by the colorful Bruce Dern. His capture would all but guarantee Douglas his ticket to the political seat he covets.
Before the opening credits roll Douglas and his crew including Bo Hopkins and Luke Askew are seen closing in on the Dern gang as they slumber in a barn hide out. Among them they have their very own Judas played by David Canary. Canary rides off in the night to accept payment under the watchful eye of Dern. Bruce wisely separates himself from the gang’s hide away and steals away in the night while Kirk’s men lay siege to the remaining gang members inside, leaving them all dead by rifle shots or the fire that rips through the barn.
Post credit sequence, we’ll find turncoat Canary riding into the nearest town to spend his fifty pieces of gold. Offering a drink to a cowboy at a table with his hat tipped low, Canary is in for a surprise when Dern looks up. Bruce will leave his man dead in the streets and when confronted by the local sheriff, Dern tries to dodge the next fight, though he will have to put him down to. Dern may leave two men dead in the streets during this sequence, but we’ll see that he’s a colorful, somehow honest outlaw and thoroughly likable compared to Douglas’ righteous lawman/politician who is just the opposite. Throughout the film Dern will continue to make you smile with his tongue in cheek attitude toward his outlaw lifestyle.
The movie will take a turn when Douglas captures Dern at his next hideaway supplied by the always grinning Alfonso Arau. This segment features a stylish shot from our director that should be considered a plus to the film where a rider goes over a short drop while atop his horse to a river pool below. With Bruce in custody, the film allows the duo to converse and discuss the future that awaits each of them. Kirk can’t help but let his ego gloat and Dern keeps feeding it. With Dern’s capture recorded by Kirk’s travelling camera man word spreads fast that Kirk has succeeded in his mission of bringing down the territory’s last great outlaw.
In the backdrop of this cat and mouse game that has been waged by our two leads are Kirk’s troop of a posse. With Douglas’ coming appointment to congress, they’re worried about what will happen to them. Dern wisely begins to hit upon this weakness from his cell and later the locked up area of his railway car. Bo Hopkins who is a most welcome “good ole boy” in any western is starting to listen.
The final third of the film is when Dern turns the tables back on Douglas with a daring escape and stand off right back in the town that the whole chase started from where Kirk’s eager public has been eating up his legend. Everyone that is except local newspaper man James Stacy who sees through the façade of the public Kirk versus the ambitious and overly influential self promoter that is the real Douglas. The casting of actor Stacy was an interesting one in that he had recently lost both an arm and a leg in a motor cycle accident. Sad as that may be, his casting somehow adds an authenticity to the film.
Far from the standard western that had been hitting theaters in the fifties and sixties, Posse fits in with a number of seventies titles as the western’s popularity was pretty much grinding to a halt. It’s also the last true western that Kirk Douglas, long associated with the genre would make. Still to come were two satirical scripts, The Villain and Draw while also turning out one well received Aussie western, The Man From Snowy River.
Casting Bruce Dern as the lead opposite him was a good choice and Kirk points out in his autobiography, “I had always admired Bruce as an actor.” Dern had at one time portrayed a minor role opposite Kirk in The War Wagon where his character foolishly tries to back shoot Kirk and Duke Wayne in a funny segment meant to liven up the on screen rivalry as to just who is faster on the draw between the two icons of western cinema.
Not a great film but a damned good one here from Kirk as both actor and director. One that he wisely gives plenty of screen time to his co star who in the end steals the film mainly due to his characters likability. Let’s be honest, Bruce has had a long habit of stealing films. As is the case with many stars of his stature, directing at least one or two films seems to be part of the overall career. Kind of ironic that Kirk’s frequent co star, Burt Lancaster would also direct just two films in his long career.
For more on the Douglas films I have featured here recently and others over the past three years, click this big … K … and have a look.
I also want to welcome you all to look over the other articles featured by those writers participating in the festive Kirk Douglas 100th Birthday Celebrations by clicking right here …. KIRK.