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Sharing the Screen With Kirk Douglas

Count the candles. 103. Yes Kirk Douglas is 103 years young today. Each year since starting up Mike’s Take On the Movies I set aside December 9th to celebrate the birthday of one of cinema’s greatest stars both on and off the movie screen. Up till now I’ve featured 20 of Kirk Douglas’ films since going on line nearly 6 years ago which you can check out by entering his name in the search engine to track them all down should you be interested.

Just last year on number 102, I spotlighted Kirk and his leading ladies. For this year’s celebration I thought I’d have a look at some of the great male stars that he was paired with over the course of his decades long career. I’ve always championed the teaming of actors in movies and just how important it is to the fans in the years ahead. Sometimes the movie doesn’t turn out as memorable or as successful as the producers and stars may have hoped for but looking back I believe it is important to the history of movies that they’ve left a film where certain actors or actresses were paired.

Case in point? Gary Cooper and John Wayne in a western. Never happened and that’s a shame.

Kirk Douglas and John Wayne? Absolutely and what a loss it would have been to film fans if that pairing had never happened. In 1967’s, The War Wagon, the pair form a comedic, uneasy alliance though there is an open offer for Kirk to gun down The Duke that keeps popping up in their verbal sparring.

“I can’t afford to let you get killed, unless I do it!” and then, “You caused me a lot of embarrassment! You’re the only man I shot, that I didn’t kill.”

Though a co-star, he shared the screen with Robert Mitchum in what many consider the greatest of all Noirs, 1947’s Out of the Past.

Mitch, “Why me?” … Kirk, “Well, I know a lot of smart guys, and a few honest ones. And you’re both.”

Gilbert Roland during the 1950’s was a credit to any film as he moved from his Latin Lover days to a supporting player. Seen here with Kirk in The Bad and the Beautiful. One of Kirk’s great screen villains, Hollywood producer Jonathan Shields. “Don’t worry. Some of the best movies are made by people working together who hate each other’s guts.”

The all powerful Paths of Glory opposite Adolphe Menjou gave Kirk one of his finest on screen moments. “I apologize… for not being entirely honest with you. I apologize for not revealing my true feelings. I apologize, sir, for not telling you sooner that you’re a degenerate, sadistic old man. And you can go to hell before I apologize to you now or ever again!”

Not only did Anthony Quinn win an Oscar playing opposite Kirk in Lust For Life following their 1954 film, Ulysses, but he also went toe to toe with Douglas in the first rate western Last Train From Gun Hill in 1959.

Quinn, “Taking my boy ain’t gonna bring your wife back.” … Kirk, “My wife or somebody else’s makes no difference. I took an oath for this job. The oath says bring him in. That’s what I’ll do.I’ve got two warrants, and I’m gonna serve them. I’m leavin’ town with two men, and the long view is this: don’t try to stop me!”

For my money the finest of all Kirk’s movies, Spartacus, with an amazing cast including friend, Tony Curtis.

“I’m Spartacus!”

Sir Laurence Olivier was not only excellent in Spartacus alongside Kirk but in 1959’s The Devil’s Disciple as well. “Martyrdom, it is where one achieves fame without ability.” 

Destined to face off against Rock Hudson in The Last Sunset. Rock, “I got a warrant for your arrest. I’m taking you back to Frio County, Texas, to stand trial. Will you come voluntarily, or will I have to take you?  …. Kirk, “Say, it just happens that I’m headed for Texas right now… to Crazy Horse. Of course, it isn’t Frio County, but you’ll die alot closer to home than if I had to kill you here.”

Somehow neither of these two giants scored an Oscar for a single performance, just doesn’t seem right. Kirk and Eddie G. in Two Weeks In Another Town. Eddie “You know, as soon as you start to die, everybody’s so polite, it’s nauseating.” …. Kirk, “Look at any movie theater. What’s the audience doing there? Hiding in the dark, trading *their* problems for mine on the screen. Actors… what a job.”

Kirk and two time Oscar winner Frederic March in Seven Says in May (1964) … March, “All right, Colonel. Let’s sum it up, shall we? You’re suggesting what?” … Kirk, “I’m suggesting, Mr. President, there’s a military plot to take over the government. This may occur some time this coming Sunday.”

Richard Harris was on the rise at the time of 1965’s The Heroes of Telemark playing second lead to Kirk. “You know what to do? Press this little thing here and the bullets come out there.”

On opposites sides of the law, Henry Fonda plays the warden and Kirk the inmate … Henry,“Why do you work at it so hard proving to yourself you’re a sonuvabitch?” … Kirk, “Because I am. It’s my profession.”

Facing off against a giant in the music industry in 1971’s A Gunfight. It’s Douglas vs. Cash.

Kirk plays the outlaw, Handsome Harry, having some fun with Sheriff James Coburn in the made for cable western, Draw. “It won’t be the first time a lawman holed me in the back, Sheriff, but I always get one or two shots off… in acknowledgement, you might say.”

Sparring with Jason Robards for a TV version of the classic tale, Inherit the Wind.

Finally. He appeared with son Michael in 2003’s It Runs In the Family. Just wish they had done something earlier on that was more memorable. I say this with all due respect.

I know what you’re thinking. Where’s Burt? Not to worry. No way could I forget to feature the man that Kirk is most identified with on screen. His equal when it comes to legendary status among leading men in Hollywood history. Mr. Burt Lancaster.

1947’s I Walk Alone. Their first go around.

The pair go into action in The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral released in 1957 to enthusiastic applause. “If I’m going to die, at least let me die with the only friend I’ve ever had!

Facing off against Olivier in The Devil’s Disciple of 1959.

Plotting rebellion and at odds in Seven Days In May.

One more go around with the tailor made Tough Guys that found me in a movie theater on opening night in 1986 watching a pair of sharp dressed legends. Kirk as Archie Long, “I never thought the great Harry Doyle would turn into a gutless wimp!Burt as Harry Doyle, “Keep it up Arch, I’ll put another hole in that chin a yours!”

Of course there other well known names that Kirk shared the screen with including John Cassavetes, Eli Wallach, Harvey Keitel, Michael J. Fox, Bruce Dern, Ernest Borgnine, Arthur Kennedy, Yul Brynner and Frank Sinatra among so many others. While Kirk has outlived most of his costars and friends it’s nice to know we’ll always have the movies to revisit him and all the rest whenever we feel like inviting them back into our homes all over again.

Now let’s all wish Kirk a Happy Birthday on three …. 1 … 2 … 3 …

9 Comments »

  1. I can’t believe he’s made it to 103, but I’m glad he’s still with us. I’d have to say my favorite of the bunch you’ve listed above is ‘Out of the Past’…not a lot of scenes featuring the two, but those that did were pretty cool. My Dad was a big fan of ‘Seven Days of May’, and recommended it to me years ago…I finally tracked it down, but have yet to give it a watch. And I’m interested in ‘Two Weeks in Another Town’…I know nothing about it, but that photo intrigues me!

    • Out of the Past such a great Noir and made Mitch a poster boy for the genre. Seven Days a great film. Was remade as The Enemy Within in 94 but I’ve yet to see that version. Two Weeks kind of an unofficial sequel to bad and the Beautiful.

  2. Funny, I thought after the helicopter accident and stroke he was done. I think he is going to outlive me! LOL! He often said that the cowboy in Lonely are the Brave was his favorite movie role. I think it is mine too. Love the movie and his performance.

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