Tag Archives: Kirk Douglas

Seven Days in May (1964, John Frankenheimer)

Screenwriter Rod Serling really likes to employ monologues in Seven Days in May. John Frankenheimer likes to direct them too. And the actors like to give them. Because they’re good monologues. The monologues give all then actors fantastic material. Everyone except George Macready, who isn’t the right kind of scenery chewer for Seven Days. Maybe Ava Gardner, who gets the thankless role of being the only female character of note in the film; doubly thankless, given her part is of a fallen woman and her monologue is the weakest in the film, writing-wise. She’s at least good and effective, just shoe-horned in. Macready has a choice part and oozes too much through it.

There are a lot of actors in Seven Days, there are a lot of monologues. The only one not to get any monologues (well, within reason, given the size of the part) Kirk Douglas. For the first half of the film, he’s sort of bouncing between monologues as he has a conspiracy thriller discovery arc as well as a “why the heck are there so many facists in the Armed Forces” arc. Douglas works for Burt Lancaster, who’s the top dog general at the Pentagon. Lancaster gets some great monologues. Fredric March is the President of the United States, who’s just signed a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviets. Lancaster thinks March is a weak sister. Douglas thinks the military should stay out of politics and, somewhat naively, believes it does. But he also doesn’t think fascists are okay, so when it seems like there’s something suspicious going on with an upcoming nuclear threat drill–Douglas goes to the White House and tells March there’s a conspiracy for a military coup of the United States.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? And it’s a success. Seven Days is great entertainment. It just ought to be a lot better.

When the film starts, it’s Frankenheimer showing off. There’s a fight scene. Protestors for and against nuclear peace. Shocker, all the people against are white males. They throw the first punch. Riot in front of the White House. Frankenheimer shoots it stark, documentary style. There’s some issues with the scale of it, but it’s still an effective sequence. It’s also the only time Frankenheimer does anything approaching vérité. So while it’s distinctive, it’s a rouse. Seven Days isn’t going to be vérité. Though there are occasional later hints, which never pan out.

But then it almost immediately becomes Douglas’s movie. For the first half of the picture, until he tries to seduce Gardner for information to take down Lancaster, Douglas is the protagonist. The movie’s about the conspiracy, sure, but it’s about how he’s reacting to his role working against his commanding officer. After the Gardner seduction, the movie reduces Douglas to a supporting role. It’s got no real lead, just March, Lancaster, Edmond O’Brien, and sort of Martin Balsam. Balsam’s the only other person in the main cast not to get a monologue. He and Douglas are doers. Everyone else is a talker, especially O’Brien, who’s a drunken Southern senator who chows down on every line, sweating profusely and spectacularly. It’s a thin role at times–O’Brien gets to talk the movie version of politics, which hurts everyone who has to expound on it eventually; not even Lancaster and March can make the third act work.

See, Seven Days is able to get away with its American exceptionalism but not warmongers movie politics because Serling and Frankenheimer never double down on them. The thriller aspect is bigger. There’s even a military sand-crawler chase sequence. For a while in the second act, right after the film drops Douglas down, it seems like it might get action-packed. Then it doesn’t. It goes through a series of false endings and hinges the whole thing on the movie politics and how well Serling can write monologues about them.

And he chokes a little. There are too many monologues in the third act and they’re all too long. Lancaster gets away with one too long monologue. Poor March gets two.

Acting-wise, almost everyone’s fantastic. Not Macready. Andrew Duggan’s got a great small part. Lancaster’s great, March is great, Douglas is great. The problem is Serling’s switch from specific protagonist–Douglas–to a general one witnessing the events, which ends up being March most often. Serling fumbles that switch in perspective, but he and Frankenheimer keep the narrative distance about the same. So it’s not successful, but far from a failure.

Gardner’s good. The part’s crap. Even in the context of the story, the part’s crap–she’s Lancaster’s former now drunk mistress, who Douglas exploits for information. She’s got like three scenes, interacting with no one but Douglas. Again, shoe-horned in. Still, she makes the part work. It’s just she and Douglas really get boned by the script in the second half.

O’Brien’s kind of amazing. He’s a little broad, but he and Balsam as globe-trotting spies is one of Seven Days’s nicer second act touches. Balsam’s good too, he’s just got a far less showy part.

The film’s got great production values–big scale from Frankenheimer–amazing editing from Ferris Webster, good photography from Ellsworth Fredericks, solid Jerry Goldsmith score. It’s great entertainment.

It’s just a little thin.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by John Frankenheimer; screenplay by Rod Serling, based on the novel by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II; director of photography, Ellsworth Fredericks; edited by Ferris Webster; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Cary Odell; produced by Edward Lewis; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Kirk Douglas (Col. Martin ‘Jiggs’ Casey), Fredric March (President Jordan Lyman), Burt Lancaster (Gen. James Mattoon Scott), Edmond O’Brien (Sen. Raymond Clark), Ava Gardner (Eleanor Holbrook), Martin Balsam (Paul Girard), Whit Bissell (Sen. Frederick Prentice), George Macready (Christopher Todd), Hugh Marlowe (Harold McPherson), Richard Anderson (Col. Murdock), Bart Burns (Secret Service White House Chief Art Corwin), and Andrew Duggan (Col. William ‘Mutt’ Henderson).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE AVA GARDNER BLOGATHON HOSTED BY MADDY OF MADDY LOVES HER CLASSIC FILMS.


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Champion (1949, Mark Robson)

Champion is a boxing picture. It ends with a big fight, as boxing pictures are wont to do. However, as the fight starts and the film cuts between all the people Kirk Douglas’s Champion has wrong, the film isn’t asking the viewer to root for the protagonist. Douglas is a bad guy. The entire third act is about how Douglas is a bad guy. He’s an even worse guy than the film’s been establishing for almost the entire runtime.

Except it’s a boxing picture. And, at some point during that big, final fight, without the film even doing anything to make Douglas sympathetic, he gets to be the hero again. He gets to be the champion. It’s one of the film’s most successful moments, thanks to director Robson, photographer Franz Planer, editor Harry W. Gerstad, and Douglas.

Unfortunately, it can’t save the film, which meanders through most of the third act after a disappointing second. Robson and screenwriter Carl Foreman are able to keep up some energy as Douglas fights his way to the top–after romancing, marrying, and abandoning Ruth Roman–but eventually it runs out of steam. There’s a hint at a love triangle between Douglas, Marilyn Maxwell, and Lola Albright. Instead, there are some decent scenes to avoid having to pursue that storyline. Almost everything in the second half of the film seems like a contrivance to position the film. Nothing Douglas does has any weight or even consequence.

Some of the problem are the players in the second half. Arthur Kennedy is his brother. Kennedy, walking with a cane, is the weaker one. He spends some time as Douglas’s conscience, but as the film goes on, gets less and less to do. Foreman’s script is interested in tearing away Douglas’s conscience–maybe even Douglas’s humanity; it just does so with some thin characters. Maxwell’s just a groupie, even though she shows business acumen. Albright’s the wife of Douglas’s manager (Luis Van Rooten in a thankless cuckold role); she starts with some depth, but then loses it due to Douglas’s animal magnetism.

And Douglas is fantastic, even when it’s obvious his ego’s in the way. He gets a monologue at the end, which Robson doesn’t know how to integrate into the rest of the film, though he and Planer do a fine enough job shooting it. Great editing again from Gerstad, who also gets to do a couple fantastic montage sequences. But Douglas is a despicable (and worse), utterly compelling protagonist. During the final fight, as it becomes clear he’s going to get the sympathy, warranted or not, requested or not, I actually resented the film a little. It’s so effectively made, it knowingly overrides the script’s intention.

Then Douglas has his well-acted but utterly misplaced monologue and all the problems of the third act catch up during the lull and it goes out on a forced note.

Fine support from Kennedy, Roman, and Albright. Maxwell just doesn’t get enough to do. Paul Stewart is great as Douglas’s trainer; Robson even lets him move the present action along three years with a voiceover in the montage sequence. It’s great stuff.

Dimitri Tiomkin’s music gets to be a little much at time, but it’s always accompanying technical success so it gets a pass for the most part. Maybe if the theme weren’t so cloying.

Champion’s superbly acted, superbly made. It’s just not superbly written. Something–Douglas’s ego, Foreman’s plotting–got in the way.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Mark Robson; screenplay by Carl Foreman, based on a story by Ring Lardner; director of photography, Franz Planer; edited by Harry W. Gerstad; music by Dimitri Tiomkin; production designer, Rudolph Sternad; produced by Stanley Kramer; released by United Artists.

Starring Kirk Douglas (Midge Kelly), Arthur Kennedy (Connie Kelly), Paul Stewart (Tommy Haley), Ruth Roman (Emma Bryce), Marilyn Maxwell (Grace Diamond), Lola Albright (Palmer Harris), Luis Van Rooten (Jerry Harris), Harry Shannon (Lew Bryce), John Daheim (Johnny Dunne) and Esther Howard (Mrs. Kelly).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE KIRK DOUGLAS 100TH BIRTHDAY BLOGATHON HOSTED BY KAREN OF SHADOWS & SATIN.


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Detective Story (1951, William Wyler)

Detective Story, the film, is William Wyler’s “production” of Sidney Kingsley’s play of the same title. Philip Yordan and Robert Wyler adapted the play. Wyler directed and produced the film. It is a stage adaptation and proud of it. The phrasing above is directly adapted from how the film opens and credits Wyler and Kingsley in the opening titles. One card: Wyler, Kingsley, Detective Story. Only it comes after the headlining cast title card: Kirk Douglas, Eleanor Parker, William Bendix. Detective Story is an extremely controlled viewing experience from the start.

Most of the film takes place inside the detective’s office of a police station. There are a handful of locations around the station, but Wyler sticks with the detective’s office. He and cinematographers Lee Garmes and John F. Seitz give the room some impossibly high ceilings–Detective Story’s audience isn’t looking up at it, Wyler wants the audience to be able to examine the film, to examine its pieces.

The best scenes in the film involve Eleanor Parker. She’s Kirk Douglas’s wife. He’s a puritanical cop, she’s got a secret. Wyler opens the film with Bert Freed and Lee Grant–they provide a frame–she’s a shoplifter who’s got to go to night court. Freed’s got to wait with her. Wyler makes the audience wait for Douglas. Then he makes them wait a little longer for Parker. He’s already established the harsh realities of Detective Story; when Parker arrives, she’s a ray of light.

Detective Story is very disillusioned, very noir, only Wyler doesn’t shoot it noir. He’s not making noir, he’s staging a play. Detective Story’s two biggest problems are Robert Swink’s editing, which can’t keep up with the actors, and Yordan and Wyler’s generic cop talk. It might work on stage, with the audience looking up, but not when they’re examining everything. Wyler invites the audience to examine the reality of Detective Story and he even appears to rush through the bad cop talk to far better sequences as though embarrassed.

There are a lot of characters, there’s a lot going on. Wyler has to get through it; he’s rarely subtle about the pace. There’s one lovely transition sequence from day to night but otherwise, Wyler’s just trying to get from one great scene for an actor to the next. It’s a play, after all.

Parker gets the best stuff. She gets spun around and has to right herself. She has to dominate her scenes, which is incredibly difficult considering the whole movie is about Kirk Douglas’s whirlwind. Sometimes he’s still, but he’s still a whirlwind. He has to be the hero the audience hates themselves for ever loving. Only it’s not a last minute revelation, it’s late second act plot development. Wyler and Douglas (and Parker) then have to take it all even further. Detective Story, as innocuous as it sounds, means to stomp out all the hopes and dreams it can.

Great performances all over. Freed, Grant, Michael Strong, Gerald Mohr, Joseph Wiseman–especially Joseph Wiseman, whose maniac career criminal ends up being Douglas’s alter ego–George Macready, Cathy O’Donnell. Wyler makes sure every performance is good, but not every actor can get enough of a part. It’s all Douglas and Parker’s show, after all. Even Bendix, who’s Douglas’s far more humane partner and gets a subplot all his own, eventually has to move further aside.

Detective Story isn’t a perfect film, but it’s a most perfect staging of a play on film. Wyler’s pacing is precise, his direction of the actors is flawless, his narrative distance is fantastic, ably assisted by his cinematographers and art directors and set decorator. Sure, Swink’s editing is occasionally messy but it’s all for the best of the actors. And they’re what’s essential. Parker, Douglas, Bendix, Horace McMahon (forgot about him earlier). They do startling work and Wyler knows it and wants to best showcase it. Detective Story’s an achievement for everyone involved.

Except Swink, of course.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by William Wyler; screenplay by Philip Yordan and Robert Wyler, based on the play by Sidney Kingsley; directors of photography, Lee Garmes and John F. Seitz; edited by Robert Swink; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Kirk Douglas (Det. James McLeod), Eleanor Parker (Mary McLeod), William Bendix (Det. Lou Brody), Cathy O’Donnell (Susan Carmichael), George Macready (Karl Schneider), Horace McMahon (Lt. Monaghan), Gladys George (Miss Hatch), Joseph Wiseman (Charley Gennini), Lee Grant (Shoplifter), Gerald Mohr (Tami Giacoppetti), Frank Faylen (Det. Gallagher), Craig Hill (Arthur Kindred), Michael Strong (Lewis Abbott), Luis Van Rooten (Joe Feinson), Bert Freed (Det. Dakis), Warner Anderson (Endicott Sims), Grandon Rhodes (Det. O’Brien), William ‘Bill’ Phillips (Det. Pat Callahan) and Russell Evans (Patrolman Barnes).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | ELEANOR PARKER, PART 2: TECHNICOLOR.

Out of the Past (1947, Jacques Tourneur)

Out of the Past always has at least two things going on at once. Not just the double crossings, which is so prevalent lead Robert Mitchum even taunts the bad guys with it, but how the film itself works.

Daniel Mainwaring’s script–which gives Mitchum this lengthy narration over a flashback sequence–gives the impression of telling the viewer everything while it really leaves the most important elements out. The whole plot has the bad guys coming out of Mitchum’s past (hence the title), but the way he deals with them has all these elements from between that past and the present. It means Mainwaring and Past can surprise the viewer, but it also gives Mitchum this rich character. As much exposition (not to mention the flashback) as he gets about his past, the complications all come from the unexplained things.

And Tourneur’s direction matches this narrative style. He, cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca and editor Samuel E. Beetley have foreground and background action. A scene will focus intensely one character, but in contrast to the scripted character emphasis. The visual disconnect pulls the viewer, causing a palpable, beautifully lighted edginess.

And Mitchum and his nemesis slash alter ego Kirk Douglas also have that edginess; they’re uncomfortable with one another but reluctantly. It’s wonderful.

All the acting is great–especially Paul Valentine and Rhonda Fleming–and, of course, femme fatale Jane Greer and good girl Virginia Huston.

The narrative tricks–while always beautifully executed–aren’t necessary. Past would be better without them.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Tourneur; screenplay by Daniel Mainwaring, based on his novel; director of photography, Nicholas Musuraca; edited by Samuel E. Beetley; music by Roy Webb; produced by Warren Duff; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Robert Mitchum (Jeff Bailey), Jane Greer (Kathie Moffatt), Kirk Douglas (Whit Stefanos), Rhonda Fleming (Meta Carson), Steve Brodie (Steve Fisher), Virginia Huston (Ann Miller), Paul Valentine (Joe Stefanos), Wallace Scott (Petey), Richard Webb (Jim), John Kellogg (Lou Baylord), Ken Niles (Leonard Eels) and Dickie Moore (The Kid).


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THIS POST IS PART OF THE 1947 BLOGATHON HOSTED BY KAREN OF SHADOWS & SATIN AND KRISTINA OF SPEAKEASY.


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