I MET SPARTACUS!
Yep, I actually met Kirk Douglas. My friend Chip Duckett was getting memorabilia autographed for a giant AIDS ball being held in Vienna he helps brings talent to. He invited me along to Barnes & Noble with him for a Kirk Douglas book signing. ( “Let’s Face It: 90 Years of Living, Loving, and Learning.” ) Chip was going to get some Kirk memorabilia autographed. I wasn’t going to buy the book just go along for the ride. The seriousness of WHO I was actually going to meet struck me when we were taken to the bookstore’s “green room” ~ a storage room of books ~ to actually meet him, thanks to one of Chip’s connections at the store. We were going to meet him before the formal book signing began. Just before the B&N guy knocked on the door, Chip gave me one of his Kirk memorabilia items to have something in my hand. Wha’? The door opened and there was Kirk Douglas sitting at a table. I knew I was going to see him, but I didn’t know I was actually going to MEET him.
He looked old and small. I hung back while Chip introduced himself and chatted with him briefly while he got his memorabilia signed. After Chip was done, he introduced me to Kirk Douglas. Yo, you can be all nonchalant meeting a legend if you want, but I’m telling you straight up…I am a fangirl.
Mr. Douglas started to stand to greet me. The full import of who he was was hitting me dead in the face as he rose up. What the hell happened to that old and small man, because all of a sudden, in those few moments he didn’t seem as old and small as I initially thought. As he was standing up I said “Sir, please sit. You don’t have to stand for me.” And he said “Of course I do. I always stand for ladies.” ( That’s me guys…a lady!! L0L! ) We shook hands and I gave him Chip’s memorabilia, stammered innocuously and then stepped back.
I attended the book~signing ~ ( yeah, I bought the book a little later ) ~ met him again in that book signing factory line sort of way that handlers handle it. He smiled at me with recognition. Don’t worry, I didn’t linger. I kept it moving.
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He was a major star my entire lifetime. When I met him, of course I had seen so many of his films already. When I saw SHADOWS and SATIN was throwing a birthday blogathon for Kirk’s 100th, well, how could I not…
You’re going to see a lot of great films covered in this blogathon. I’m going to look at an early-in-his-career-Kirk Douglas-film, before his teeth were clenched in stone. So far he’d done “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers” “Out of the Past” “Mourning Becomes Electra.” I will cover his fourth film, 1948’s “I WALK ALONE.”
With “I Walk Alone” comes Kirk Douglas’ first of seven screen pairings with fellow newcomer BURT LANCASTER ( this being his fifth movie ). RIght from the beginning, their chemistry was dynamite; I find them to be as evenly matched as any two stars were. ( Well maybe with the exception of Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn ). They’re
more closely associated with each other ( their pairings also include: “The List of Adrian Messenger” [ 1963 ] and “Victory at Entebbe” [ 1976 ] ) than they are with their leading ladies ( though who can argue Burt with Ava and Deborah Kerr or Kirk with Lana and Kim and Jean Simmons ). If they ever were to really get into a fist fight, I don’t know who’d win…but I do know they’d each give as good as they got.
“I Walk Alone” is the story of a man released from prison after fourteen years, expecting to become half owner of a successful night club he invested in ( before going to the slammer ) with his old rum-running buddy.
He is in for a rude awakening.
KIRK DOUGLAS is the old pal, Noll ( nicknamed ‘Dink’ ) and Douglas plays him as far from scared little Walter O’Neill as you or Martha Ivers could get. Noll is mucho suave-aaaay. He can talk his way out of, or smooth over anything. He’ll use the night club’s chanteuse to pump Frankie for info, while continuing to string her along in their romance. He’ll hook up with an ice queen socialite to further his business and social standing. He’s not above blackmailing an old friend. Noll will do or say whatever it takes. He is ambitious. He is a smooth operator.
Quite the opposite personality is BURT LANCASTER as Frankie Madison. He’s been cooped up for fourteen years. ( “FOURTEEN YEARS!!!!” he says tightly…and with reason ). Oh, he doesn’t look any worse for the wear having been in prison. He’s tall, fills a suit nicely…a big strapping fella. ( I think it should be de rigueuer for Burt Lancaster to wear a t-shirt in every movie from 1946 – 1952! But I digress ). Lancaster’s Frankie, is a man of few words…very defensive, sensitive and coiled as tightly as a snake. Where Noll is cool as a cucumber, Frankie is a hothead. He’s a bit awkward socially, being out of practice for so long. Noll’s Socialite Gal Pal, Alexis Richardson. speaks to him:
SOCIALITE: “You know, you’re quite an attractive man.”
FRANKIE: “Keep going.”
SOCIALITE: “How far do you want me to go?”
FRANKIE: “I’m at the plate. You’re doing the pitching.”
“You looked like a man who might have three or four interesting sentences to say. You’ve said them. Goodbye!!”
Well…he was out of practice.
Frankie’s wined and dined by club chanteuse: Kay Lawrence played by LIZABETH SCOTT, whose been sent by Noll to wine and dine Frankie. Noll tells her:
“That’s why men take women to dinner. So they’ll have someone to talk about themselves to.”
Kay goes along with it, but gets mangled in Noll’s machinations because of her love for him. And there’s the usual requisite tension between two women competing for the same man. Alexis wants to marry Noll:
“You’re so utterly no good I should marry you.”
…If you call that love.
Frankie realizes the ruse to pump him for information and unjustly lambasts Kay. He trusts no one except the book~ keeper Dave. He lumps Kay in with all the snakes. She finally sees what a user Noll really is when he tells her he’s marrying the Socialite:
“You love me but you’re marrying her?”
[ Oy, #IFIHADADIME! ]
The jig is up for Noll and Kay when Frankie realizes he’s been played like a cheap fiddle.
“The oldest trick in the world. You want to pump a guy, use a woman. And I grabbed.”
I love Lizabeth’s display of pouty anger when she tells off Douglas’ slimy caddish character since she was not in on his scheme.
NOLL: “You’re in Frankie’s league now.”
KAY: “I couldn’t ask for better company.”
She sides with Frankie ( when she finally gets him to trust her again ). Look, I know this romantic coupling is pretty quick and just a plot contrivance. But I say, in the scheme of 40’s films, relationships happen at the speed of a writer’s Underwood.
I know things like this can make or break one’s enjoyment of a classic film. But I don’t mind the shorthand in these old movies. I know it doesn’t make psychological sense for the script, but it sure gets things moving a lot quicker. I like Lizabeth Scott in this film. Yes, she’s stiff and wooden, down to her walk and her hairstyle. I know the voice they dubbed was wrong for her and her singing stance was all stiff. But a better pal a guy couldn’t have in the 40’s ( depending on the film’s budget ) than Lizabeth Scott. ( Ella Raines is a different vibe…she’s not really The Victim ). So Scott is part of the triumvirate and I’m fine with that. Kay and Frankie are now an “item.” She falls for the right wronged man.
Poor Frankie. It’s like he is stuck in a time warp… when handshakes were as bonding and binding as a contract. A Promise meant something before he went to prison. Well he’s going to make Noll live up to his promise of fourteen years ago, ( “FOURTEEN YEARS!” ) by using some muscle. He’s going to take what’s his. He speaks to his old pal Nick Palestro to help round up the gang. I thought it was a great casting choice to have MARC LAWRENCE play the gangster Nick Palestro. He was such a staple in 30’s movies when he played “The Gangster.” ( When I see Lawrence in “The Man With the Golden Gun” or “Diamonds Are Forever” ~ I smile at the nod ).
It’s with Palestro we see that times, they are a-changing; that the old gang just ain’t what it used to be. Nick is a businessman now who owns a car lot. He’ll assemble some new boys, but things are not the same he tells Frankie. When Frankie and the boys meet Noll, Dave is asked to show Frankie “the books.” This was a sad scene to me on a couple of levels…time passing Frankie by, Noll’s lies, the book~keeper’s betrayal. That cut Frankie to the quick. The shame and humiliation Frankie suffers in front of EVERYone was tough to watch. I felt embarassed for him. He’s like a caged animal. The day of the old-time gangster in spats and Tommy gun is gone. The books are cooked and Frankie’s fight is with an amorphous enemy. He rails against The Corporation. Noll leaves him no dignity. It was sad to watch his powerless rage.
Check out the men who watch him ( especially that wiseass guy ). Think of those soldiers who came back from the war, having difficulty adjusting to Society. Cagney’s film “The Roaring Twenties” comes to mind. Frankie now wants to settle the score…but it seems he’s the only one living in the past. A relic. And now the ultimate indignity…getting a beatdown, by the one and only: Mike Mazurki.
Who is this Dave, the book~keeper? Well it‘s WENDELL COREY. And this is his second movie ~ ( the first being “Desert Fury” ). I was never really a big fan of his; his skeletal features and pale blue eyes kind of pushed me away. But…he did have a great speaking voice…and he really could handle Stanwyck in “The Furies.” Hmmm…let me think about this.
Okay!! I’ve settled it in my mind.
I am now totally coming around to Wendell Corey. ( Welcome to CineMaven’s Van Heflin Club, Mr. Corey. Step right up .) Now, maybe not with lust in my heart, ( I’ve got to see him in a t-shirt ) but with some hard core respect for this fine Actor, I’m coming around. With “I Walk Alone” I do think he was the heart and soul of the movie. My heart goes out to him, Corey’s Dave, the bookkeeper…and he’s really caught in the thick of things between these two old friends. Dave was torn between his heartfelt loyalty to Frankie…and the “hooks” Dink had into him: forgery. Corey plays Dave wonderfully. We see a beaten man, heavy with the weight of guilt and resentment. It is weighing him down. Frankie says,
“You’re two years older than me and I’ve been in jail. You look ten years older than me!!”
When the inevitable happens, ( and you’re a movie buff…so you know what will happen), it springs Frankie into action. It takes him OUTSIDE his Self to think about someone else. And goes to action he does. I think this is a testimony to how Wendell Corey plays Dave. ( Kent Smith would’ve played him differently and we might’ve cheered for his demise…but that’s for another thread ).
I really like “I Walk Alone.” Kirk Douglas is the son of a bitch you love to hate. Burt Lancaster is the hero you want to root for. And Lizabeth Scott ~ the girl you want to love. When the movie finished it felt like a satisfying meal. The film feels to me like the quintessential nineteen forties movie in style and dress and dialogue. It has all the archetypical characters you could want to have; all the characters that were perhaps already old hat by the late forties: The Big Lug, The Girl, The Smooth Operator, The Strong Arm, The Snot-Nosed Up & Comer, The Bored Socialite, The Erudite Servant/Restauranteur. Is this movie officially a film noir…I’ll leave that to wiser movie buffs to define.
I think audiences knew they had a tiger by its tail with this intense young actor. Kirk Douglas would prove his star power time after time in film after film. Click on the blogathon’s banner to read accounts of others’ favorite Kirk Douglas films. Not many people live to be one hundred years old. Douglas is one of them. He’s tough and tenacious. I think he will give Father Time a real run for his money. Kirk Douglas is someone still with us, that is a connection to the golden age of Hollywood we love.
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You know, after I got my autographed book by Kirk Douglas, I couldn’t wait to go up to my parents’ house and show them the book. My father is more the movie buff. Maybe this was his reaction when I brought home from school, an ashtray I made of clay in the fourth grade…but I can’t quite remember my father ever smiling so broadly and with awe before.
“Whaaaaaaat?!! You met Spartacus???”