Five essential films of Kirk Douglas who died aged 103

Kirk Douglas

Movie legend Kirk Douglas, one of the last surviving stars of Hollywood’s so-called Golden Age and the head of the famed acting dynasty, has died at the age of 103.

Kirk Douglas received three Academy Award nominations, an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. As an author, he wrote 10 novels and memoirs. He is ranked No. 17 on the American Film Institute’s list of the greatest male screen legends of classic Hollywood cinema.

Douglas was surrounded by loved ones including actor son Michael, who announced the death on his Instagram page.

“Kirk’s life was well lived, and he leaves a legacy in film that will endure for generations to come, and a history as a renowned philanthropist who worked to aid the public and bring peace to the planet.

“Let me end with the words I told him on his last birthday and which will always remain true. Dad – I love you so much and I am so proud to be your son.”

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It is with tremendous sadness that my brothers and I announce that Kirk Douglas left us today at the age of 103. To the world he was a legend, an actor from the golden age of movies who lived well into his golden years, a humanitarian whose commitment to justice and the causes he believed in set a standard for all of us to aspire to. But to me and my brothers Joel and Peter he was simply Dad, to Catherine, a wonderful father-in-law, to his grandchildren and great grandchild their loving grandfather, and to his wife Anne, a wonderful husband. Kirk's life was well lived, and he leaves a legacy in film that will endure for generations to come, and a history as a renowned philanthropist who worked to aid the public and bring peace to the planet. Let me end with the words I told him on his last birthday and which will always remain true. Dad- I love you so much and I am so proud to be your son. #KirkDouglas

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Born Issur Danielovitch to first-generation Jewish immigrants, Kirk Douglas lived a genuine rags-to-riches story – going from abject poverty to Oscar nominations in a decade.

Kirk Douglas readily admitted that he’d “made a career playing sons of bitches”. In truth, he was remarkably flexible – with a face to match. Depending on lighting and mood, the planes of his face could suggest a stalwart hero with marble-like strength – or a villain of sculpted cruelty, wrote Christina Newland on BFI.

Douglas was a major box office attraction in the 1950s and 1960s.

As an actor, producer, director and author, Douglas was a powerhouse. Under the then relatively-unknown movie director Stanley Kubrick, he delivered the performances that would define his career in Paths of Glory (1957) and Spartacus (1960).

For Spartacus, Douglas raised the US$12 million production cost, making it one of the most expensive films made at the time.

In 1969, Douglas told film critic Roger Ebert that Paths of Glory was the summit of his acting career.

“There’s a picture that will always be good, years from now. I don’t have to wait 50 years to know that; I know it now.”

Paths of Glory, 1957

Kirk Douglas, Paths of Glory

“Set during a near impossible offensive by the French military during the First World War, Stanley Kubrick’s anti-war film Paths of Glory dedicates itself to the purgatorial idiocy and shocking arrogance of military middle-management. The officers here are self-satisfied, wealthy men belonging to a crumbling imperial age. They’re the sort who believe that common soldiers are dispensable and that any slight unwillingness to die like a dog is an act of treasonous cowardice. The only man to seemingly see through this charade is Colonel Dax, played with decency and simmering passion by Kirk Douglas. Dax fights to protect his men from a court martial, but the fundamental absurdity of the war machine is overwhelming,” wrote Christina Newland on BFI.

Spartacus, 1960

Kirk Douglas, Spartacus

“Douglas was always great in movies that required suffering, and he often played roles that involved extreme mortification or even mutilation (no other Van Gogh hacked off his own ear with such conviction). Here he is at his best under the lash or up on the cross, almost relishing his own agony and burning with righteous fury. The irony is that even as a free man, Spartacus is a slave. He serves Crassus’ interests by riling the people of Rome to the point where they are forced to call on his military genius, transforming him into a virtual dictator to save them from an enemy who only wants to go home,” wrote Kim Newman in Empire.

Lonely are the Brave, 1962

“Its hero, flawlessly portrayed by Kirk Douglas, is John W. Burns, a cowboy anarchist who carries no ID, respects no authority, and pays attention only to his friends and his horse. Breaking into jail to see a friend, he attracts the attention of dogged cops, a vindictive sheriff, a one-armed Okinawa veteran, and a hot-shot military helicopter pilot, all of whom instinctively want to take him down,” wrote Alex Cox in Film Comment.

Lust for Life, 1956

“While the actor’s dedication saw him learn to paint under the supervision of a French artist, what really sells the performance (of Vincent Van Gogh) is Douglas’ sensitivity and commitment to the extremes of the artist’s emotions. It is a fiery, passionate piece of acting,” wrote Ian Freer in Empire.

Ace in the Hole, 1951

Kirk Douglas, Ace in the Hole

“Kirk Douglas (born in 1916) was and still is a ferocious competitor. Little wonder one of his first screen roles was as a boxer in “Champion” (1949). When I interviewed him for Esquire in 1969, the role of a champion was his central theme: “It doesn’t matter if you’re a nice guy or you’re a bastard. What matters is, you won’t bend!” His focus and energy as Chuck Tatum is almost scary. There is nothing dated about Douglas’ performance. It’s as right-now as a sharpened knife. Tatum drives relentlessly toward his goal of money and fame, and if there’s a moment when we think he might take pity on Minosa, that’s just Wilder, yanking our chains. The way Tatum’s thinking evolves about the trapped man is a study in subtlety of direction, writing and acting. In a lesser movie, Tatum would share our sympathy for the pathetic man. Here, he’s on a parabola in that direction but wants it to intersect with the moment of his own greatest fame,” wrote Roger Ebert.

The Bad and the Beautiful, 1956

Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, The Bad and the Beautiful

“Melodrama at its most confident, The Bad and the Beautiful is an ode to moviemaking that offers unblinking insight into the ugly egos that have shaped Hollywood history, writes Rotten Tomatoes.

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