Last Tuesday, TCM began their month-long weekly celebration of Kirk Douglas. The soon-to-be 95-year-old actor starred in his first film, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, alongside Barbara Stanwyck, back in 1946. So, if you do the math, you’ll realize he first appeared on film an astonishing 65 years ago. In addition to airing his film debut, last week’s marathon also included several of his other films from the mid-to-late 40s. As TCM picks up their Douglas marathon Tuesday night, September 13 at 8/7c, they continue in mostly chronological order, starting with 1950’s Young Man With A Horn.
Based on Dorothy Baker‘s 1938 novel, it’s a fictionalized account of real-life jazz trumpeter Bix Beiderbecke who died of alcoholism in 1931 at the age of 28. Douglas, as Rick Martin, the movie’s fictionalized version of Beiderbecke, lands his first real job playing for big band leader, Jack Chandler (Walter Reed). He makes friends with the band’s girl singer (Doris Day) and piano player (Hoagy Carmichael), but soon loses the gig after improvising on a solo one time too many. Jo (Day) then gets him another gig and introduces him to her friend Amy (Lauren Bacall). The two bicker all the time and Rick begins to drown his troubles in alcohol.
When initially released, the film caused a bit of controversy, not necessarily for it’s realistic portrayal of the evils of drink but because it marked the first big budget Hollywood film that hinted that a lead character, Amy, might be a lesbian. It’s also interesting to note that Carmichael, was friends with the real Biederbecke, adding a bit of legitimacy to the film. For the film’s soundtrack, Douglas‘ trumpet riffs were actually performed by none other than Harry James. The subsequent Columbia album featuring James‘ trumpet and Day‘s vocals became a smash hit.
Next on TCM is Ace In The Hole from 1951 at 10/9c. Douglas stars as a down-on-his-luck reporter who sees a tragic accident as his way of returning to his former glory. Like Young Man With a Horn, Ace In The Hole was also inspired by true events, two in fact. First there was W. Floyd Collins, who, in 1925 became trapped inside a cave in Kentucky. The Louisville Courier Journal sent reporter William Burke Miller to the scene. Once there, Miller turned the tragic event into a media sensation, earning himself a Pulitzer Prize in the process. There’s even mention of Collin‘s in the film when Douglas‘ character is trying to bring media attention to the tragic accident. The second event that the film draws from occurred in 1949 and involved a young girl who fell into a well. The film is also notable for having been the first time Billy Wilder would not only direct, but also produce and co-write one of his movies.
1953’s The Bad and the Beautiful follows at 12midnight/11c. Douglas goes from unscrupulous reporter to unscrupulous movie producer in this one. Directed by Vincente Minnelli, among Douglas‘ co-stars are Elaine Stewart, Sammy White, Walter Pidgeon, Lana Turner, Dick Powell and Barry Sullivan. Keep an ear finely tuned and you’ll hear Louis Calhern in the voice role of alcoholic fictional screen legend, George Lorrison, Turner‘s character’s father.
Even after their primetime hours, TCM continues to honor Douglas with a pair of westerns, both from 1952, and both oddly enough, in whichDouglas plays a cowboy named Jim. Up first is The Big Sky (1952) at 2:15am/1:15c. Directed by Howard Hawks, Douglas plays Jim Deakins, a frontiersman and trader making a trek up the Missouri River to trade with Indians. Along their journey, they encounter less-than friendly Indians, Mother Nature and a beautiful Indian girl named Teal Eye (Elizabeth Threatt), a wild guide appropriately called Poordevil (Hank Worden) and ruthless prairie pirates. Fans of TV’s Dallas will no doubt recognize then-future Jock Ewing aka Jim Davis, in the unlikely role of Streak, a henchman for Louis MacMasters (Paul Frees). Also keep an Iron Eye out for none other than Iron Eyes Cody, the popular American Indian actor appears in the uncredited role of Blackfoot Subchief.
Also from 1952, and also starring Douglas as a character namedJim, albeit this time, Jim Fallon, is the similarly titled The Big Trees at 4:45am/3:45c. Taking place in 1900, Fallon (Douglas) moves from Wisconsin to California to lay claim to timber that has recently become available thanks to a Congressional act that voids older claims. Once there, he meets a group of settlers belonging to a religious sect that values the land. Among the settlers is Elder Bixby (Charles Meredith) and his widowed daughter Eve (Alicia Chadwick) who, of course falls for potentially bad Fallon. Look for a pre-Gillian’s Island‘s Skipper, actor Alan Hale, Jr. playing the ironically named Tiny.
Speaking of Gillian’s Island, Mr. Howell, himself, Jim Backus co-stars in TCM‘s next Douglas film, 1957’sTop Secret Affair, airing at 6:30am/5:30c. This time it’s an unscrupulous Susan Hayward as publishing magnate Dottie Peale, who’s scheming against Major General Melville Goodwin (Douglas), as he vies for a prestigious appointment of Chairman of the Joint Atomic International Commission. Did I mention this one’s a comedy?
While TCM‘s tribute to Kirk Douglas ends with Top Secret Affair, until next Tuesday, stay tuned as they present The Actress from 1953 on Wednesday at 8:15am/7:15c. Directed by George Cukor and starring Spencer Tracy, Jean Simmons and Teresa Wright, I’ll be tuning in to see a pre-Psycho Anthony Perkins and one of my favorite character actresses of all time, Mary Wickes in this tale of a young girl’s (Simmons) pursuit of a career in the limelight.
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