Did anybody ever get angry on screen the way that Kirk Douglas did? I mean murderously angry in an oh my God, get out of the way, look out for this nut, kind of way. I'd have loved to have seen Kirk play son Michael's role in Falling Down (1993). But as over the top as that hair-trigger anger could spark it was nonetheless believable. Kirk got pissed off the way you and I do.
While I automatically think of Kirk Douglas red-faced with clenched jaw and bulging eyes there was obviously quite a bit more to him than that. September 20 at 8 pm TCM airs my favorite Kirk Douglas performance, his Oscar nominated Van Gogh in Lust for Life (1956).
Yes, we get angry Douglas here, but rather than a lightning strike it's a pent-up torture that leads to his explosion, punctuated this time by the famed severed ear. Douglas' Van Gogh is innocent and amoral all at once, the combination caused by ignorance and a complete absorption in his own mind and world. Douglas as Van Gogh seems to be discovering everything for the first time, accentuated by the arrival of Anthony Quinn's outgoing Gauguin into his life.
Lust for Life is my favorite Kirk Douglas performance, though Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory (1957) is my favorite Kirk Douglas movie. Here the jaw is clenched in profile as Douglas storms from the trenches to lead his men to disaster, but the outrage is later, amongst his own commanders inside hotels and courtrooms. I usually try to pair movies* when I watch them and Paths of Glory is the perfect companion piece to All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), but on September 20 TCM airs it at 10:15 pm, right after Lust for Life, discussed above.
*And I typically pair Lust for Life with The Moon and Sixpence (1942) starring George Sanders as Charles Strickland, Somerset Maugham's fictionalized Paul Gauguin.
Kirk Douglas was born Issur Danielovitch, December 9, 1916 in Amsterdam, N.Y., where he was raised Issur Demsky. I'm about halfway through Douglas' first autobiography right now, The Ragman's Son published in 1988. Douglas tells the fascinating story of his rise from poverty and injects a bit of a split personality into his words every so often with Issur, in italics, interrupting Kirk's tale to tell us how he really felt at important moments in Douglas' life. Moments Kirk would otherwise suppress.
It's no surprise that much of that anger we see on screen came from Issur-Kirk's real life. He had a difficult relationship with his father and was sensitive of his Jewish heritage throughout his life. Douglas also seemed to have an especial fondness for women just over 18, especially if they looked younger, but I hope that's going to calm down some now as in my reading he has just finished an awkward relationship with Pier Angeli and met Anne Buydens, the woman he's been married to since 1954.
A more complete biography of Kirk Douglas is archived elsewhere on Immortal Ephemera: Kirk Douglas by Scott D. O'Reilly
Douglas' career has been interesting in that he never seemed to have that one break-out role so many Hollywood superstars came to prominence with. Instead he started with supporting roles in big movies and his talents were gradually recognized.
What break-out there was came after Champion (1949), the film he'd receive his first Academy Award nomination for as boxer Midge Kelly. This one is notably absent from TCM's Star of the Month tribute. After that the classic starring roles came quick, but not until after he'd climbed those few rungs on the ladder to stardom.
Kirk Douglas was nominated three times for an Academy Award as Best Actor: Champion (1949); The Bad and the Beautiful (1952); Lust for Life (1956), but wouldn't take home an Oscar until winning an Honorary Award in 1994. Despite their not airing Champion, TCM gets it mostly right with their 28 film tribute to Kirk Douglas throughout September. While not running in perfect chronological order, it's close, and in a month where the TCM schedule is somehow littered with movies from the 1970's-1990's, the latest Kirk Douglas film to air is 1967's The Way West.
TCM Star of the Month Kirk Douglas Schedule
*All times EST; Schedule for TCM in the U.S.
Tuesday, September 6-7:
- 8:00 pm - The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) starring Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin, Kirk Douglas
- 10:00 pm - Out of the Past (1947) starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas
- 11:45 pm - I Walk Alone (1948) starring Burt Lancaster, Lizabeth Scott, Kirk Douglas
- 1:30 am - A Letter to Three Wives (1948) starring Linda Darnell, Ann Sothern, Kirk Douglas
- 3:30 am - Mourning Becomes Electra (1947) starring Rosalind Russell, Michael Redgrave, Kirk Douglas
- 6:15 am - Along the Great Divide (1951) starring Kirk Douglas, Virginia Mayo, Walter Brennan
- 7:45 am - The Juggler (1953) starring Kirk Douglas, Milly Vitale, Paul Stewart
- 9:15 am - The Story of Three Loves (1953) starring Ethel Barrymore, James Mason, Kirk Douglas
- 11:30 am - Act of Love (1953) starring Kirk Douglas, Dany Robin, Robert Strauss
Tuesday, September 13-14:
- 8:00 pm - Young Man With a Horn (1950) starring Kirk Douglas, Doris Day, Lauren Bacall
- 10:00 pm - Ace in the Hole (1951) starring Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling, Robert Arthur
- 12:00 am - The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) starring Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Dick Powell
- 2:15 am - The Big Sky (1952) starring Kirk Douglas, Dewey Martin, Arthur Hunnicutt
- 4:45 am - The Big Trees (1952) starring Kirk Douglas, Eve Miller, Edgar Buchanan
- 6:30 am - Top Secret Affair (1957) starring Susan Hayward, Kirk Douglas, Jim Backus
Tuesday, September 20-21:
- 8:00 pm - Lust for Life (1956) starring Kirk Douglas, Anthony Quinn, James Donald
- 10:15 pm - Paths of Glory (1957) starring Kirk Douglas, Adolphe Menjou, George Macready
- 12:00 am - Last Train from Gun Hill (1959) starring Kirk Douglas, Anthony Quinn, Carolyn Jones
- 1:45 am - The Devil's Disciple (1959) starring Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier
- 3:15 am - Town Without Pity (1961) starring Kirk Douglas, Barbara Rutting, Christine Kaufmann
- 5:15 am - Two Weeks in Another Town (1962) starring Kirk Douglas, Edward G. Robinson, Cyd Charisse
- 7:15 am - The Hook (1963) starring Kirk Douglas, Robert Walker, Jr., Nick Adams
Tuesday, September 27-28:
- 8:00 pm - Spartacus (1960) starring Kirk Douglas, Sir Laurence Olivier, Charles Laughton
- 11:30 pm - Lonely Are the Brave (1962) starring Kirk Douglas, Gene Rowlands, Walter Matthau
- 1:30 am - Seven Days in May (1964) starring Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, Frederic March
- 3:45 am - The Way West (1967) starring Kirk Douglas, Robert Mitchum, Richard Widmark
- 6:00 am - The Heroes of Telemark (1965) starring Kirk Douglas, Richard Harris, Ulla Jacobsson
- 8:15 am - Cast a Giant Shadow (1966) starring Kirk Douglas, Angie Dickinson, John Wayne