In 1951, Kirk Douglas took on the role of a newspaper reporter searching for a big scoop in Billy Wilder’s controversial film, “Ace in the Hole.” The film’s story, which delves into corruption, mob psychology, and the free press, was deemed ruthless and cynical by some reviewers, causing US audiences to stay away.
Douglas speculated that the film might have hit too close to home; however, the film won the Best Foreign Film award at the Venice Film Festival, and in recent years, it has gained more recognition, making it onto several Top 500 Films lists. As the star, Douglas’ intense and captivating performance was instrumental in helping drive the story.
The Young Man With a Horn
In the 1950 film "Young Man with a Horn," Douglas starred alongside legendary actress Lauren Bacall. The movie tells the story of a young musician's rise to fame and the struggle to maintain his integrity in the cutthroat music industry. The film, directed by Michael Curtiz, was adapted from Dorothy Baker's 1938 novel inspired by the life of jazz cornetist Bix Beiderbecke.
The film was a hit with audiences and critics, garnering six Academy Award nominations, including one for Douglas. The early success established Douglas's reputation as a talented actor and set him on a path to becoming one of Hollywood's most respected and enduring stars.
A Star Rises
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Kirk Douglas dominated the box office and shared the screen with some of the most talented actresses of his time. He ventured into the Western genre, portraying a frontier peace officer in his first Western, “Along the Great Divide” (1951). The actor quickly developed a knack for riding horses and playing gunslingers, appearing in many Westerns soon after.
Among them, "Lonely Are the Brave" (1962), in which he played a cowboy striving to live by his own code, remained his personal favorite. The film, written by Dalton Trumbo and highly regarded by critics, performed poorly at the box office due to poor marketing and distribution. Still, Douglas remained undeterred through setbacks, continuing to choose roles that pushed him to the limit.
He Takes His Roles Seriously
In 1951, Douglas graced the silver screen in the critically acclaimed movie, “Detective Story,” which earned four Academy Award nominations, including a nod to Lee Grant for her debut performance. According to Grant, Douglas was nothing short of "dazzling" on and off camera, and she said he had an arresting presence.
To immerse himself in the role, Douglas spent several days with the New York Police Department and observed real-life interrogations. His dedication did not go unnoticed. Reviewers were all praises, with one commending his "forceful and aggressive" depiction of the detective. Kirk was applauded worldwide for his performance and for showcasing his versatility in acting.
As the Bad Guy You Love to Hate
In the 1952 film "The Bad and the Beautiful," Kirk Douglas delivered a powerful, Oscar-nominated performance as Jonathan Shields, a ruthless and hard-nosed film producer who stops at nothing to achieve his ambitions. Shields is relentlessly determined to make great movies, using anyone and everyone around him to achieve his ultimate goal.
Despite the odds, he turns his surname into a trademark - creating stars out of people whom the film industry casts aside. Douglas imbued the character with a manic intensity and a pathological desire to succeed. The actor seamlessly portrayed Shield's charming and ruthless sides, making him both a captivating and complex figure.