Tag Archives: Kirk Douglas

RIP Tony Curtis

June 3, 1925 – September 30, 2010

Just heard via Twitter that Tony Curtis has died at the age of 85. I think that the first time that I ever saw a movie with Tony in it would have either been Some Like It Hot or The Great Race on TV, both movies that I loved as a kid and still like now. When I grew older I watched other movies such as Spartacus and The Defiant Ones with Sidney Poitier. I wonder how many stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood are still with us. Jerry Lewis, Mickey Rooney, Lauren Bacall, Kirk Douglas… not too many others.

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Spartacus

Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Produced by Edward Lewis
Written by Dalton Trumbo & Howard Fast (Novel)
Starring
Kirk Douglas
Laurence Olivier
Peter Ustinov
John Gavin
Jean Simmons
Charles Laughton
Tony Curtis
Music by Alex North
Cinematography Russell Metty
Editing by Robert Lawrence
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date(s) October 7, 1960
Running time 184 minutes
Country United States
Language English

“I’m Spartacus”

Spartacus is an epic gladiator film from 1960. It is from a time when long movies had intermissions so that patrons could go to the bathroom or buy a Coke, popcorn and a choc-top before watching the second half of the film. These types of films also allow the home-viewer a chance to take a break too, before putting disc 2 into the machine. In fact I actually watched part 1 of the film this morning before going to work and part two when I got home. I should also make a note that I borrowed this DVD from the local public library.

The film follows the life of Spartacus, a slave who is sold to a gladiator school but then causes a revolt, before turning his attention to freeing the rest of Rome’s slaves. While the action and the battle scenes are very good, there is also a good insight into the (fictionalised) political maneuverings in ancient Rome. It is fun to see how the Senators and the generals are at times more willing to find a way to humiliate the other and diminish their rivals’ political standing, than fight the slave army of Spartacus.

The film stars Kirk Douglas as Spartacus and features some of Hollywood’s all-time greats. Kirk is very charismatic as the freed slave but it just feels like Spartacus is an extension of his own natural persona and that he is just playing Kirk Douglas. The only difference here from his performance in 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea is that here he is a little more intense, and less clownish, but the similarities of the two performances are there. That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy his performance here.

In fact I enjoyed Spartacus so much that I will buy the DVD for myself to watch over and over. In fact the only thing I didn’t enjoy about the film is the condition of the DVD that I borrowed, as when it got to the 48 minute mark of disc two the picture kept freezing and jumping. I always thought that DVDs were meant to be indestructible but I do notice that there are several discs at the two public libraries that I belong to that are almost unwatchable. I know that I lovingly take care of my own DVDs and none are scratched or damaged at all, but it seems that when people borrow DVDs from the library that they just don’t care how they treat them, hence the damage that I often find in library discs.


20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Directed by Richard Fleischer

Produced by Walt Disney

Written by Jules Verne (novel) & Earl Felton (screenplay)

Starring Kirk Douglas
James Mason
Paul Lukas
Peter Lorre

Cinematography Franz Planer

Editing by Elmo Williams

Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures

Release date(s) December 23, 1954

Running time 127 min.

When one thinks about Walt Disney they usually picture Mickey Mouse, Snow White or perhaps Jimminy Cricket. Disney and animation are two words that are synonymous, so it’s understandable that the live action films that he made aren’t as well-known as his cartoons. That’s a shame because many of them are very good. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea from 1954 would have to be one of my favourite Disney live action films.

Though 20,000 Leagues Under the see features a fine cast it is James Mason who dominates the screen as the iconic Captain Nemo. Even alongside stars of the quality of Peter Lorre and Kirk Douglas it is Mason whose performance becomes indelibly etched in the viewer’s mind. This is simply his film and he is always excellent as Captain Nemo, especially when he shows the mental anguish that Nemo goes through when he seeks his vengeance on mankind and those who imprisoned him and tortured his wife and child on the prison island of Rura Penthe. He does not relish having to commit murder until the deed is done, and this shines through with Mason’s performance.

The same cannot be said for Kirk Douglas, who is hamstrung with a truly annoying character. Usually Douglas is a fine, dependable actor, but here he is burdened with some really clichéd seafaring jargon and typically Disney-esque happy-go-lucky attitude that becomes grating after about twenty minutes. It is only when he briefly shows his frustration at being Nemo’s prisoner that he gets to show any substance with his performance. This is not Kirk’s fault, as his Ned Land character was brought in to counter-balance the mood of the film opposite Mason’s tortured soul in Nemo. As this is a Disney film, and their primary target audience has always been families, they needed a goofy, lighthearted family friendly hero.

Another thing I should mention here is the special effects which were considered to be awesome back in 1954. They still hold up well today, especially the underwater photography and shots of the Nautilus streaking through the water. Less successful is the fight with the giant squid, which to 21st century eyes looks a little bit lame. Still if you can overlook that it is quite menacing and the fight is quite well staged.

Overall I think that 20,000 League Under The Sea is a terrific movie suitable for all ages. This is not only Disney’s finest live-action film but one of the best adventure movies of the 1950s, one which still stands up well today over 55 years since it was first released.

* This movie was not released in Australia until 22 December 1955, 364 days after Americans first got the opportunity to see it.