Kirk Douglas: Spartacus Meets Serling
You can tell I’m a Serling fan. The first thing I thought of when I heard that Kirk Douglas had died wasn’t “Spartacus”, “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” or “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”, as excellent as those films are. It was “Seven Days in May”.
The 1964 political thriller, about an attempted military takeover of the United States, isn’t as well-known as those other titles. But it has something they don’t: a script by Rod Serling.
I’ve been meaning to write a review of “Seven Days in May” for a while now. “Saddle the Wind” is the only feature film of Serling’s that I’ve blogged about so far, so I’ll have to put “Seven Days in May” on my short list and do it soon.
In the meantime, though, I wanted to highlight a completely different film of Douglas’s — one that has a personal connection for me, as well as ties to The Twilight Zone. It’s called “The Big Sky”.
It’s not a very well-known film, which to me is strange. I mean, sure — at first glance, it seems like another one of the many westerns they were cranking out in the 1950s. But “The Big Sky” stands out for a couple of reasons.
One is that it was directed by Howard Hawks. His films include the 1932 “Scarface”, “The Big Sleep”, “The Thing From Another World”, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”, “Rio Bravo” … the list goes on. So “The Big Sky” looks great. It’s a top-notch production.
I’ll let Rotten Tomatoes handle the synopsis: “Kirk Douglas and Dewey Martin play a pair of Kentucky frontiersmen who embark upon the first keelboat trip up the Missouri River way back in 1830. Joining Douglas and Martin are Martin’s grizzled old uncle Arthur Hunnicutt and garrulous Frenchman Steven Geray.”
So it’s not your average shoot-em-up in an Arizona town. It’s got some great scenery and a terrific cast, as well as a nice sense of humor. The scene where they have to amputate Douglas’s finger, believe it or not, is pretty amusing.
Some TZ fans may have already spotted those Twilight Zone ties I mentioned. Dewey Martin starred in Season 1’s “I Shot an Arrow into the Air”, playing the cut-throat astronaut Corey. That’s right, the one who discovers they haven’t flown quite as far off-course as everyone assumed.
And Arthur Hunnicut? He played the genial “Old Man” in Season 3’s “The Hunt”. Yep, the one who wound up with his dog at the not-so-pearly gates and was given a terrible choice: enter alone or don’t enter at all.
I’ve always liked “The Big Sky” — partly because I enjoy vintage films from Hollywood’s golden age, of course, but also because it was one of my father’s favorite films. He had it on a VHS tape, and every now and then, we’d pop it in on a weekend afternoon.
Oddly enough, though, despite its pedigree, the movie hasn’t moved beyond the VHS stage. It’s never been put out on DVD, at least not in a U.S.-friendly region. It IS, however, available digitally on Amazon Prime Video ($1.99 to rent, $6.99 to buy). It’s been colorized for some reason. I’d prefer it in its original black and white. But I’m just glad to have it at all, frankly, so I won’t complain.
So if you’re planning a Kirk Douglas tribute marathon — or you just want to watch a great old movie — set your sights on “The Big Sky”.
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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!