The Archivist #116: Farewell to a Legend [SEVEN DAYS IN MAY & TWO WEEKS IN ANOTHER TOWN]

Saying goodbye to Kirk Douglas

The Archivist — Welcome to the Archive. As home video formats have evolved over the years, a multitude of films have found themselves in danger of being forgotten forever due to their niche appeal. Thankfully, Warner Bros. established the Archive Collection, a Manufacture-On-Demand DVD operation devoted to thousands of idiosyncratic and ephemeral works of cinema. The Archive has expanded to include a streaming service, revivals of out-of-print DVDs, and factory-pressed Blu-rays. Join us as we explore this treasure trove of cinematic discovery!

A lot has happened in the world since we said goodbye to screen legend Kirk Douglas back in February. The world he left has changed so much in just that short space of time. But no matter how different and scary society gets, legends such as Douglas, never change. One of the last true remnants of Hollywood’s most glamorous and romanticized eras, Douglas was both a movie star and an industry rebel. The actor spearheaded his own production company, honing and shepherding projects he believed in during a pre-Clooney and Pitt time. Meanwhile, Douglas’ championing of former Hollywood players made invisible by the infamous blacklist won him plenty of criticism and even threats to his career. Still, the actor forged ahead anyways by hiring and giving credit to writers such as Dalton Trumbo, (among other artists) and helped to put an end to one of the film world’s gravest chapters.

In going over his vast body of work, it’s astounding to see the number of bona fide classics attributed to Douglas. Spartacus, Ace in the Hole, Paths of Glory and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, among others, are all staples of their respective genres and eras made all the more memorable thanks to the energy and ferocity the actor brought to each of them. The list of filmmakers Douglas was able to work with is likewise just as impressive as the films he starred in and included the likes of Elia Kazan, Stanley Kubrick, Billy Wilder, Howard Hawks, George Kukor, John Sturges and Brian DePalma as collaborators.

As we here at The Archivist say a final goodbye to Douglas, we do with two explosive titles helmed by a pair of top names in cinema: 1964’s Seven Days in May, directed by John Frankenheimer, and 1962’s Two Weeks in Another Town, directed by Vincente Minnelli. With both movies, audiences find themselves treated to that unique blend of fire and energy which made Kirk Douglas a real star and one of the greatest forces ever to make it onto the screen.

Seven Days in May (1964)

Frankenheimer directed Douglas as Col. Martin Casey in this political thriller that was considered highly shocking for the day. When the dutiful Casey learns of a plot to overthrow President Lyman (Fredric March) led by his commanding officer Gen. Scott (Burt Lancaster), he has his doubts about whether or not it’s true. However further investigation leads him down a trail involving a Washington socialite (Ava Gardner), a boozing Senator (Edmund O’Brien) and a conspiracy involving Gen. Scott. As Casey’s discoveries prove his worst fears, he faces a crisis almost unheard of in the history of American politics.

Rod Serling adapted the bestselling novel (a favorite of President Kennedy) on which this film is based for what remains his greatest screen triumph. Although tame by today’s standards, Seven Days in May was considered revolutionary in its time. The idea of a military coup actually taking place was brought to the screen with such stark illustration in this gripping film. Everyone is at the top here, from Lancaster’s determined General, to Gardner’s cynical former mistress. Seven Days in May contains a good number of the kind of exciting twists, turns and tension needed to make a film like this work. A late-in-the game scene with O’Brien in a terminal is classic Serling at his suspenseful best. However it’s Douglas as the conflicted military man who decides to break rank for the sake of his country which gives the film it’s ultimate soul and offers a deeply human touch to an altogether compelling film.

Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)

In this melodrama set in the world of moviemaking, a once-prominent actor named Jack Andrus (Kirk Douglas) has recently been released from an asylum following a highly-publicized nervous breakdown three years earlier. At the request of his friend and former director Maurice Kruger (Edward G. Robinson), Jack journeys over to Rome where his mentor is directing his latest film. When illness forces the filmmaker to bed however, he suggests Jack take over directing duties despite the fact that the one-time superstar might not be ready to step back into the world which drove him insane in the first place.

It’s clear that Douglas and director Minnelli were hoping to recapture the glory of their previous collaboration, The Bad in the Beautiful, which famously saw the actor portray another powerful figure in a story set within the depths of tinsel town. While Two Weeks in Another Town doesn’t have a prayer of matching the success of that film, it manages an explosiveness all its own thanks mainly to Douglas as a man daring to face the ghosts of the past by venturing back into the glamorous world of moviemaking. The turn wasn’t considered a particular career high point for the actor (in fact, many dismissed the film in large part because of their fondness for the aforementioned one), he nonetheless manages one of his most intricately drawn turns that’s rich in vulnerability. Minnelli takes full advantage of the exotic setting and splashy sets as he paints a frank, upfront portrait of the film world. The supporting cast is just as dynamic with Cyd Charisse and Daliah Lavi both proving enticing female love interests and Robinson once again proving his worth as a solid character actor. A must for any film buff who loves tales set against the tarnished beauty of Hollywood.

Seven Days in May and Two Weeks in Another Town are both available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Warner Archive.

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