In the five films they actually starred in together not counting a couple cameo bits in another pair, Burt Lancaster always had billing over Kirk Douglas and in all likelihood that stems from their first teaming in I Walk Alone. It’s Lancaster’s film and he’s top billed while Kirk scores fourth billing though in my mind he’s clearly the second largest character in the film and deserving of above the title billing next to Burt. But this was 1947 and Burt had hit a homerun with 46’s The Killers and Kirk wouldn’t attain true stardom until 1949’s Champion. So for this 1947 Byron Haskin effort from producer Hal Wallis, Lizabeth Scott takes her place next to Burt above the title and the familiar Wendell Corey slides into third just above the soon to be cleft chin icon.
It’s a fast moving tale that plays out rapidly over the course of a day or two of screen time. Corey meets Burt at a train station as he arrives in town. He’s just done a 14 year stretch. The reason as we’ll see in a flashback later on is that he’s a stand up guy. He took the rap on a run of bootleg whiskey that led to men being killed in a car trailing them. His partner who got away was Kirk. Before splitting up they swear that no matter what happens it’s 50/50 right down the line.
So here we are in the present and Kirk didn’t exactly stay in touch while Burt did the hard time. Burt’s got a major chip on his shoulder and has come to collect his 50% of everything Kirk has built for himself in the ensuing years. Kirk has entered high society running a swank nightclub that employs Liz as the featured entertainer while she does double duty entertaining Kirk in the bedroom. Kirk is playing it slippery here and wants no part of Burt who represents his past.
When these two meet for the first time on camera it’s as if we’re watching two baseball pitchers playing catch. They’re throwing words and lines at each other with finesse and determination, catching and releasing another volley right back at the other. It’s one of those pivotal movie moments when you stop and wonder what took them so damn long to wait ten years to do it all over again in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. While Kirk strings Burt along using Liz as a tool to calm the quick tempered Burt down, it doesn’t work and Lancaster swears vengeance if he doesn’t get what’s coming to him.
He will. That is when Kirk calls in his chief goon Mike Mazurki and a couple other hoods who lay a beating on Burt and dump him in the alley. This all but ends Kirk’s romance with Liz who rushes to Burt’s aide as does Corey who is disgusted with himself for signing on with Kirk years ago and all but squeezing Burt out of the picture with some fancy bookkeeping. Kirk’s world is going to come crashing down just as he feared but before we reach that point there’ll be murder and vengeance in the air.
Thankfully this black and white Noir has turned up on blu ray from Kino Lorber who have put out a number of Noirs coupled with both Burt and Kirk singular titles. Aside from the obvious teaming of the movie legends there is much to recommend in this Wallis production released through Paramount. For the Liz Scott fans she looks gorgeous in Edith Head gowns belting out “Don’t Call It Love” for the patrons at Kirks’ Regent Club. Liz had previously appeared with Kirk in his 1946 debut The Strange Love of Martha Ivers and for 1947 appeared in three films alongside Burt. Other than I Walk Alone they both took cameos in the star studded Variety Girl and starred in another Noir titled Desert Fury that also featured Corey.
Aside from meeting ten years later in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Burt and Kirk would star together in The Devil’s Disciple, Seven Days In May and Tough Guys. Burt would turn up in a cameo gag in the Douglas film The List of Adrian Messenger and the pair would appear in a star studded affair for TV, Victory at Entebbe. They’d also play on stage together in 1981 bringing us all up to date with adult versions of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Now that’s a show I would have travelled a great distance to experience had I been a bit older.
Anyone who checks in here for repeat visits knows that I’m a huge fan of both of these men who filled my childhood movies with plenty of adventures and heroic fantasies. When Tough Guys came to theaters in 1986, I was there opening night. Have a look at some of the other films and articles I’ve featured them in here at Mike’s Take. Burt Lancaster … Kirk Douglas.
They also did a great song and dance routine two years running on the Oscar shows for 1958 and 1959. Feast your eyes and be sure to catch a Burt and Kirk movie soon.