The bewitched, The Reptile … When Kirk Douglas played the bastards on the screen

Just a year ago the immense actor Kirk Douglas left us. Headliner of an impressive number of masterpieces, he has also from time to time embodied rare figures of bastards on the screen.

The bewitched, the reptile... When kirk douglas played the bastards on the screen
Warner Bros.

Huge actor with a fabulous filmography, having filmed with the greatest, appearing among the last giants of the golden age of Hollywood, Kirk Douglas left us just a year ago, at a more than venerable age 103 years old.

If the person has played very often positive characters, even if sometimes ambiguous, he has also much more rarely embodied the figures of bastards on the screen, in any case much less sympathetic. But in any case equally complex and magnificent roles. The anniversary of his death is a good opportunity to reflect on it again.

The Bewitched (1953)

Producer Harry Pebel summons Georgia Lorrison, a great actress, Fred Amiel, a young director, and James Lee Bartlow, a writer, into his office. Pebel is waiting for a phone call from Jonathan Shields. This allowed these three people to reach the rank of star but sometimes behaved badly with them. Today in difficulty, he asks them to help him …

Of course, Billy Wilder had been there before with his Twilight Boulevard, three years ago. Still, this great film by Vincente Minnelli is more than recommended. If only to see an absolutely brilliant Kirk Douglas in one of his very rare roles as a real bastard. That of a tyrannical, selfish, vile and odious, sordid and unscrupulous producer, manipulator. An authentic junk like his father was in the film and which he takes over.

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For Minnelli, it is a cynical and cruel story, surrounded by a certain romanticism. As Jean-Pierre Deloux (deceased in 2009), editor-in-chief of the journal POLAR, wrote in 2000 about the filmmaker: “This story sums up all the love and hatred that people in cinema have for Hollywood, the ambition, the opportunism, the feeling of power. But the film also shows the respect that people in the cinema have for those who spend their talent. without counting. […] Dreams of power, success or glory motivate the protagonists of the film, with “Bigger Than Life” aspirations.

The Chasm of Chimeras (1952)

It is the story of a journalist focused on the bottle who finds a good story and will exploit it until the macabre. This starting point is that of a film unfairly ignored as it is so extremely topical. It is 1951 and Billy Wilder, a journalist by training, paints a cynical portrait of a certain press and how information can be twisted and manipulated for personal gain (here a journalist in need of the scoop). We will not go into more detail, leaving the viewer to discover how far this journalist played by an extraordinary Kirk Douglas will go in the guise of Charles Tatum, hypocrite and peerless manipulator, ready to do anything for a scoop. Unmissable.

The Vikings (1958)

A masterpiece of the adventure film directed by the veteran and very solid craftsman Richard Fleischer, The Vikings does not suffer in any way from the syndrome of the multi-rerun film, even quite recently. Four years after 20,000 leagues under the sea, Kirk Douglas, also producer of the film, is here a fabulous and ruthless Einar, son of Ragnar, disfigured by the falcon trained by his rival played by Tony Curtis, who compete for the favors of Janet Leigh . Sublimated by a fabulous photo signed by Jack Cardiff, one of the best cinematographers, great success deserved in the cinema at the time, The Vikings have rocked entire generations of moviegoers.

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The Reptile (1970)

Paris Pittman, incarcerated in Arizona federal prison for armed robbery, is a manipulator and a great charmer. The $ 500,000 he hid before his arrest, as well as the brilliant plan he devised to escape and recover his loot, contributed much to his popularity with other inmates. The new director of the prison, Woodward Lopeman, also has ideas behind his head: Pittman’s charisma can help him rally inmates to his cause in order to reform the prison institution. Only, their collaboration has limits … each having no other goal than to satisfy his own interests …

Coming from the author of classics such as the refined L’Aventure de Mme Muir or La Comtesse aux pieds nus, Le Reptile is a totally atypical work in the filmography of Joseph L. Mankiewicz, and almost atypical in short. The director of Eve delivers with this film a picaresque, cynical, scatological and anarchist fable. The film is also anchored in a period when major aesthetic upheavals are taking place within the American film industry.

The western genre, hitherto very codified, underwent profound changes, particularly under the influence of the transalpine western of which Sergio Leone remains one of its best representatives, signing in 1969 what is considered the definitive Italian western: He once upon a time in the West. The same year, Sam Peckinpah’s Wild Horde constitutes a first response to the Italian western, while also in a way sounding the death knell for a genre. In 1970, still as an extension of these aesthetic upheavals, Abraham Polonsky’s Willie Boy recounts the Indian drama, while a year after the release of Reptile, Robert Altman signs John McCabe, an anti-western.

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However, unlike his colleagues, Joseph L. Mankiewicz does not wish to give his film a twilight hue, but wishes to highlight a fable about the villainy of human nature, populated by crooks (this is the meaning first of the title in original version; “a crook” being a crook), where all (twisted) blows are allowed to achieve his ends. And in this little game, Kirk Douglas does wonders, not to mention a deliciously amoral ending that we will keep silent so as not to spoil the film for you. Fabulous.

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