Jeff Arnold’s West

The blog of a Western fan, for other Western fans


Thanks, Kirk


And don’t forget he was a derringer user in The Last Sunset
I was sad to hear this morning of the death of Kirk Douglas, at the grand old age of 103. He was the very last of the Western actor giants from the golden age of our beloved genre. Amazing to think he was born in 1916, the year of silent Westerns such as Hell’s Hinges and  The Half-Breed. Kirk’s first Western as lead was in Along the Great Divide in 1951, directed by Raoul Walsh, when I was three (and I’m an old codger now).


Of course most people will remember him for his non-Westerns. He was thrice Oscar-nominated, for the early boxing role Champion, for being Vincent van Gogh in Lust for Life and for The Bad and the Beautiful with Lana Turner, and he was unforgettable as Spartacus. But we honor him for different pictures, eh? His Jim Deakins in Howard Hawks’s filming of the AB Guthrie novel The Big Sky in 1952, for example, or as the Man without a Star for King Vidor in 1955, or as The Indian Fighter for André De Toth the same year. Westernistas will mainly, I think, give him credit for the two oaters Kirk made for John Sturges, as Doc Holliday to Burt Lancaster’s Wyatt Earp in Gunfight at the OK Corral in 1957 and as the tough lawman arresting his friend Anthony Quinn’s son in Last Train from Gun Hill in ’59. He was superb in both. Amazing to think we have only just lost a leading actor from the golden age of the Western, the 1950s.


Myself, I have a Kirk Douglas favorite and it’s none of the above but rather the 1962 contemporary Western Lonely are the Brave, an absolutely magnificent movie in which, in my view, Kirk was never better.


Burt Kennedy, who directed Kirk in The War Wagon with John Wayne (that must have been a handful for a director) said of him, “The people who are good are the ones that can be difficult.” And it is true that he was not always the easiest of colleagues on the set, or the most popular. On The Way West, assistant director Terry Morse said, “Kirk was arrogant and rude to everybody. That’s the kind of guy he was, and nobody really liked Kirk. He wanted everything his way. He was not a pleasant person to be around.”


Furthermore, his Western reco The Villain are almost unwatchably bad. But then which Western star made only great Westerns? No one, not even Coop.


And anyway this isn’t the time to remember the downsides. Instead, let’s get out that already much-used DVD and watch Kirk cough into his handkerchief and march with Wyatt down to the OK Corral. Better yet, put Lonely Are the Brave on.


RIP, Kirk.


Now, dear e-readers, you can have fun matching up the pictures to the Westerns:





10 Responses

  1. Kirk was one of my favourite actors. Although I didn't think he was the most likeable of the top Hollywood stars, he made some great films.
    Of Westerns, my favourites were The Big Sky, Gunfight at OK Corral and Lonely are the Brave. I also have a soft spot for Posse, a film stolen by the great Bruce Dern, wish Kirk had directed more.
    So long Kirk, hope you get a Viking funeral, complete with flaming arrows.

  2. Jeff, thank you for the good Kirk Douglas tribute. Kirk Douglas is one of my favorite actors of all time. My first memory of Kirk Douglas is as Doc Holliday in GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL(filmed 1956, released 1957), which I first saw on the NBC SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES in 1965. LONELY ARE THE BRAVE(filmed 1961, released 1962) is Kirk's personal favorite and mine also. We will not see his like again. Thank you Kirk Douglas.


  3. Kirk was never a favourite of mine. I think he was hard to like on screen and apparently he was difficult to work with. I don't know if it's true or not. But I am sad to hear of his death this morning and grateful for chance to share it. Several of his movies have given me lots of pleasure over the years. The ones that come to mind are Man Without A Star and, funnily enough, The Big Trees. Thanks, Kirk. Much appreciated.


  4. I always loved the early scene in Gunfight at the OK Corral where he stands with his back to Lee Van Cleef and taunts him into drawing his derringer.


  5. Great actor… I don't wanna know how he was in real life… loved him especially in man without a star, last train from gun hill and lonely are the brave… I will honour him this weekend…

  6. The films on which he was difficult are just terrible. Make The Way West a classic example; could be they should have listened to him.

  7. Thanks for the nice tribute. Lonely are the Brave is my favorite Kirk Douglas movie, followed by non-Westerns 20,000 Leagues under the Sea and The Vikings. I'll be watching all three this weekend. RIP.

  8. Yes, thanks for the tribute, Jeff. I think I liked The Big Sky best of his westerns. Otherwise, my favorite was Paths of Glory, followed by Seven Days in May. I'll miss him, like all of the others who were fixtures of my life from child to grownup.

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