Tag Archives: Kirk Douglas

Paths of Glory (1957)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Paths of Glory</strong> (1957)

(On Cable TV, July 2018) There are movies that are going to be seen no matter their subject matter, simply by dint of being part of someone’s filmography. You can watch Paths of Glory because it’s one of Kirk Douglas’ better roles as an officer stuck between loyalty to his men and duty to his superiors. Or because it’s one of Stanley Kubrick’s most humanistic movies, with great battle sequences and a powerful ending. Or you can watch it because it’s a terrific film, at once indignant about war and decent in its depiction of characters forced in impossible circumstances. Some sequences already showcase Kubrick’s film mastery: The lengthy uninterrupted shot through WW1 fortifications is a thing of beauty, and the editing of the film is top-notch even by contemporary standards. It has endured today not simply because of its pedigree or its exceptional performance, but perhaps because its perspective on war—as an incredible waste that makes monsters out of everyone including the most principled—stands sharply at odds from other war movies of the era. Blending it with a legal drama (even a pseudo-legal drama) adds more opportunities to explore its theme than a strictly combat-focused film would have. Comparisons with other war movies of the era are instructive. Well worth watching today, Paths of Glory is the film where the Kubrick magic starts happening and it still stands as one of the director’s strongest features.

Seven Days in May (1964)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Seven Days in May</strong> (1964)

(On Cable TV, May 2018) In between Seven Days in May, Dr. Strangelove and Fail-Safe, 1964 was a big, big year for black-and-white techno-thrillers in Hollywood. Dr. Strangelove distinguished itself through black comedy and Fail-Safe made few compromises in showing a nightmare scenario, leaving Seven Days in May as the more average film, although this is a relative term when discussing a film in which the United States government discovers an impending military coup and tries to defuse it before it’s too late. The black-and-white cinematography highlights the non-nonsense atmosphere that the film is going for, trying to make the unthinkable at least plausible. There is something admirable to the way the film builds not to an explosive guns-and-explosion confrontation, but to a quiet climax in which the would-be traitors are sent scurrying, and the country avoids a dramatic confrontation that would have had terrible consequences. The film works hard at instilling a basic credibility to its plotting, even with some then-near-future technological touches such as video screens. The tension is there, and being able to rely on capable actors such as Kirk Douglas, Fredric March (at the close of a long career), Ava Gardner or Burt Lancaster. Director John Frankenheimer made his reputation on thriller much like Seven Days in May, and is still effective today. Compared to its two other 1964 techno-thrillers, the film has aged very well—it may be hard to imagine nuclear war today, but overthrowing a president is still within the realm of possibility…

Spartacus (1960)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Spartacus</strong> (1960)

(On TV, April 2018) The fifties were big on sword-and-sandal epics, and Spartacus is in many ways just another link in the chain that goes from, at least, Quo Vadis (1951) to Cleopatra (1963). That it happens to be a Stanley Kubrick film (directing a script by the equally legendary Dalton Trumbo) is almost immaterial—Kubrick famously disliked the end result, and reacted to his experience making the film by staying as far away from Hollywood as possible for the rest of his career. Still, there’s a lot to like here, starting with Kirk Douglas’s spectacular performance as Spartacus, or Laurence Oliver sparring with him as Crassus, or notables such as Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov (back in sandals!) Tony Curtis or Jean Simmons in other roles. Trumbo’s script is quite good (the “I’m Spartacus ! ”scene lives on) and the execution does live up to Kubrick’s exacting standards. As historical epics go, Spartacus is one of the better ones, and it warrants watching as more than a historical reference.