Sunday, September 14, 2008

Kirk Douglas' bad guys

TCM are airing The Strange Love of Martha Ivers tomorrow at 8:15 AM ET. It's one of the earliest roles for Kirk Douglas, and he plays a pretty shady character -- a district attorney who, with his wife, has a terrible secret to hide. Kirk's son Michael did a piece for TCM several years ago, and talks about how his father did an excellent job at playing unsavory characters.

I've already recommended The Bad and the Beautiful, in which Douglas plays a movie producer who lets nothing get in the way of his trying to get to the top -- and ehwn he comes crashing down, he still expects people to come running to his aid.

There's also Out of the Past. Here, Douglas plays a mobster who hires Robert Mitchum to find his girlfriend, who has fled to Mexico. Mitchum does that and thinks it's the end of working for Douglas, but years later Douglas decides he wants Mitchum for another job.

However, in both The Strange Love of Martha Ivers and Out of the Past, Douglas only plays supporting roles. It really wasn't until Champion that Douglas got to be a star. In Champion, Douglas plays an ambitious boxer on his way to the top who, as in The Bad and the Beautiful, has no problem hurting anybody he sees as getting in his way.

Champion gave Douglas the stature to get more starring roles, and two more excellent roles are as bad guys in early movies. In Ace In the Hole, Douglas plays a reporter who plays fast and loose with the rules when somebody gets trapped in a mine, because he wants to keep the story going. It's a very ugly story, and one that was so unsuccessful in its first go-round at the box office that when it was re-released, it was given the title "The Big Carnival".

Perhaps the best of Douglas' bad guy roles -- and that's saying something, considering how good he is in all of these movies -- is in Detective Story. In it, he plays a cop with a violent temper, who finds out that a doctor he's trying to catch might also be responsible for his wife's inability to have children. What makes Detective Story extra special is its fairly limited use of sets, which requires much more work on the part of the actors. Douglas pulls it off quite easily.

Indeed, I don't think it was until Douglas went to Disney to make 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea that he got to play a good guy in a big picture.

Fortunately, Kirk Douglas is such a famous actor that all of these movies seem to be available on DVD. They're not all easy to sit through, but they're all excellent movies, and well worth the watching.

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