Kirk Douglas – Five Random Connections with Australia

February 23, 2020
Kirk Douglas has finally gone, having hung on for an impressive number of years and left behind an incredibly legacy as a filmmaker and a person... though not all of it pleasant.

He did not have many connections with Australia, but he had some and Stephen Vagg has compiled a list of five of them.

1) The Man from Snowy River (1982)

We’ll get the most obvious out of the way first – Geoff Burrowes was so ambitious producing his first feature that he didn’t just go for a big budget, he imported Douglas to play not one but two roles in his eventually-became-a-classic. Douglas’ career was not what it had been, it’s true – neither had William Holden in The Earthling, say – but he makes a real impact, both as the imposing squatter Harrison and the cutesy peg legged prospector Spur. Their storyline is solid melodrama and Douglas gives the movie a lot of power – by way of proof, see Brian Dennehy in the sequel; Dennehy is an excellent actor but simply doesn’t have Douglas’ power. By all accounts Douglas was a handful, but he did elevate the material – for instance, it’s not until you think about it that you notice Harrison doesn’t do that much. It’s a shame Douglas didn’t make more movies here – he was attached briefly to a version of Quigley Down Under but could not get finance.

2) The War Wagon (1967)

Aussie actor Rod Taylor was a personal friend of John Wayne and they often discussed making a movie together. Taylor was meant to appear in Circus World (1964) but pulled out just before filming, unhappy with his role; they were set to make War Wagon together but then Kirk Douglas swooped in, to Taylor’s annoyance. The Aussie later did make The Train Robbers (1967) with Wayne but his role was far inferior to that played by Douglas in War Wagon. Incidentally, Douglas and Taylor knew each other well socially; Taylor met his second wife through Douglas’ wife Anne.

3) It Runs in the Family (2003)

Aussie Fred Schepisi directed this Douglas-o-rama family drama which features not just Kirk, but also his son Michael and Michael’s son Cameron, and Michael’s mother Diana. Cameron later wrote a memoir of his life (drug addiction and dealing, armed robbery, prison time, basically being a complete cock-head), which includes an account of this film.

4) Queenie (1987)

Douglas plays a producer-director based on Sir Alex Korda in this mini-series of Michael Korda’s novel based on the life of Merle Oberon (whose character is played by Mia Sara). Oberon famously was part Indian but claimed to be born in Tasmania to deflect from that fact – and there are still Tasmanians who continue to claim her. (Oberon actually went out to Tasmania later in her life and had a bit of a flip out due to it all).

5) The Vikings (1958)

As George MacDonald Fraser once wrote, Kirk Douglas was born to play a viking, and this is one of the best viking movies (there’s actually not a lot of them)… due in part to a superb villainous turn by Aussie Frank Thring as an evil English King, who throws Ernest Borgnine to the dogs, cuts off Tony Curtis’ hand and gets shoved into a wolf pit.

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