It’s hard to imagine Kirk Douglas at 100, mostly because it feels like he exists outside the normal passing of time. He’s less of a walking man but more of an image captured forever on celluloid in the likes of Spartacus, Paths of Glory and Ace in the Hole. What makes him special is a unique blend of Technicolor heroism, dazzling charisma and more than a hint of darkness. He wraps himself in the latter two qualities for The Bad and the Beautiful, a heady mix of hagiography and cynicism that revels in the only subject Hollywood truly cares for: itself.
Tag: Kirk Douglas
My sophomore year I’m sitting a few rows back to the far left in my Development of Western Civilization class, the hallmark requirement of an undergraduate degree at Providence College. Professor O’Malley, entrusted with the topic of World War I, asks the sleepy room of students, “Just muster a guess, when do you think the film Paths of Glory was released? Just a wild guess…” My hand shot up like Hermione Granger. As I finally came into O’Malley’s peripheral he called on me. “1957”, I said. O’Malley stepped back and put his hand on the podium in disbelief.
Ace in the Hole opens on a young Kirk Douglas behind the wheel of a convertible, carelessly engrossed in a newspaper, as the New Mexico desert sun drenches the setting through the blazing light of the black-and-white imagery. When the camera pans to reveal a tow truck pulling the car, Billy Wilder’s fingerprint jumps off the screen – no shot is wasted and there’s always something more to see in every scene. Wilder’s wry sense of humor sometimes disguises the somber themes in his work, similar to Wilder’s direction in Sunset Boulevard, the comedy and leading man draws the audience into a false sense of comfort before exposing the darker intentions at the core of those sentiments.
“Joey, do you like movies with gladiators?”
For gladiator movies, none can compare to Stanley Kubrick’s 1960 sweeping epic starring (and executive produced by) Kirk Douglas. The film assembled some of the most talented men working in Hollywood to transport audiences into two male-dominated social worlds of the first century B.C.: The Roman Senate, and a school where slaves are trained to be gladiators. Homosexuality was a common practice in ancient Rome, but the production code enforced by the Hollywood studios during the time of Spartacus’ production presented an interesting challenge for Kubrick and infamous screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. How might these artisans tell a story of the political and physical power of men, stay true to the times they sought to capture, and evade the wrath of the censors? Kubrick and Trumbo met this challenge admirably and artfully, creating one of the most homoerotic studio pictures of all time.