Kirk Douglas

Simpson Sunday: Cartoon Without Pity

Kirk Douglas Spartacus

Season 7, Episode 18: The Day the Violence Died

Kirk Douglas just recently celebrated his 100th birthday and over the course of his life, he’s gotten to star in some of the greatest movies ever made and work with many of the top directors and actors/actresses around. Although he’s primarily remembered for his work in film, Douglas has also made several television appearances over the years, including a guest appearance on The Simpsons in 1996.

In “The Day the Violence Died,” Kirk Douglas was the voice of Chester J. Lampwick, a homeless man Bart meets while watching a parade celebrating the 75th anniversary of Itchy and Scratchy. Lampwick isn’t at all impressed by the parade because he claims he was the real creator of Itchy and Scratchy, but his idea was stolen by Roger Meyers, Sr. several decades earlier. Of course, Bart is skeptical at first, but Chester has a single copy of his original cartoon to back up his claims. Unfortunately, his copy of the cartoon is a nitrate print which catches on fire after he screens it for Bart and Milhouse. Even though all proof of his claim is seemingly destroyed, Bart tries to help Chester get the recognition and money he deserves.

The Simpsons The Day the Violence Died

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Town Without Pity (1961)

Town Without Pity PosterWhen sixteen-year-old Karin Steinhof (Christine Kaufmann) is brutally raped by four drunken American soldiers — Sergeant Chuck Snyder (Frank Sutton), Private Joey Haines (Mal Sondock), Corporal Jim Larkin (Robert Blake), and Corporal Birdwell Scott (Richard Jaeckel) — the residents of her hometown of Neustadt, Germany are horrified.  The Army is outraged, Karin’s father Karl (Hans Nielsen) wants the death penalty and so does the prosecutor.  Steve Garrett (Kirk Douglas) is brought in to serve as defense for the rapists.

Garrett knows perfectly well that his clients are guilty and tries to enter a plea bargain to get their sentence reduced to hard labor.  However, he’s not just thinking of his clients.  Garrett has a great deal of sympathy for Karin and knows that if the case goes to trial, he will be forced to relentlessly cross-examine her and he doesn’t want to have to do that.  But the prosecutor rejects the plea deal and the case goes to trial.  As the trial progresses, Garrett tries to convince Karin’s father to stop her from testifying, but he refuses.  The only way the rapists would get the death penalty is if she testified and that is what he still wants.

The time comes for Garrett to cross-examine Karin and as predicted, the process is too much for Karin.  She collapses on the stand and is unable to go on with the trial.  The rapists are dishonorably discharged from the Army and sentenced to hard labor, but the consequences of the trial are far harder on Karin.  It’s put a lot of strain on her family and her reputation in town has been destroyed.  Garrett tells Karin’s boyfriend Frank (Gerhart Lippert) the best thing he could do is take her and leave town.  Frank tries, but to get the money he needs, he forges a check and the police stop them before they get very far.  Just before he is to leave town, Garrett hears that Karin has committed suicide.  Garrett is devastated and quietly leaves town, seemingly one of the few people in town genuinely affected by the news.

I was very impressed by Town Without Pity.  This is a movie that pulls no punches.  Gritty, brutally honest, and sadly, it’s a story that still rings true over fifty years later.  Kirk Douglas and Christine Kaufmann deliver some excellent performances.  The score is great as is Gene Pitney’s title song, although the title song is used so many times during the movie that you’re sure to have that song stuck in your head for days afterward.  Overall, an excellent film that really deserves more credit than it gets.

What’s on TCM: September 2011

I hope everyone enjoyed Summer Under the Stars this year!  September is looking like it’s going to be a much quieter month, but there is still plenty to look forward to.  Most noteworthy, this month marks the TCM premiere of a couple long-awaited movies, The Constant Nymph and The Story of Temple Drake.  Kirk Douglas is September’s star of the month and there are some truly stellar nights of his movies to look forward to.  Laurel and Hardy fans will be happy to hear that the duo will be making a few appearances this month.  Thursday nights will be dedicated to celebrating fifty years of Merchant Ivory productions, and those nights tend to have too many modern movies for my liking.  But there are also TCM’s annual tributes to the Telluride Film Festival and the Library of Congress Film Archive, both of which have some pretty excellent stuff to look forward to.

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Young Man With a Horn (1950)

Life hasn’t been easy for Rick Martin (Kirk Douglas).  His parents were killed when he was young, leaving his sister to care for him.  He didn’t have any friends, he wasn’t a good student, but one night he finds himself at a church and he discovers that he does have a passion for music.  He starts off by teaching himself how to play the piano and eventually sets his sights on learning the trumpet.  To earn the money to buy his own trumpet, he gets a job in a bowling alley and one night at work, he hears some great jazz music coming from a nearby club.  When Rick heads over to the club, he meets trumpeter Art Hazzard (Juano Hernandez) and Art takes Rick under his wing and becomes like a father to Rick.

Under Art’s tutelage, Rick becomes a phenomenal trumpet player as he grows up.  Eventually he lands a gig playing in a band, but he doesn’t last long there because the band leader doesn’t appreciate Rick’s love of impromptu solos.  But on the plus side, he does get to meet the band’s singer, Jo Jordan (Doris Day), and the two of them start a relationship.  Jo even helps Rick get a new job after he gets kicked out of the band.  All is going well for Rick and Jo until one night when Jo brings her friend Amy (Lauren Bacall) along to the club.  Rick is immediately drawn to how sophisticated and intelligent Amy is.  Even though Amy resists Rick’s advances and is hesitant about getting into a relationship with him, the two of them get married very quickly.

However, their marriage is anything but blissful.  They don’t spend much time together and when they do see each other, they fight.  The rough marriage takes its toll on Rick and he starts drinking more and more.  Even Art Hazzard can’t get him out of his miserable state of mind.  However, things quickly go from bad to worse when Art is killed in a tragic accident and then Rick decides he wants a divorce.  Rick falls into a deeper depression and his drinking gets even more out of control, costing him jobs and killing his love of music.  But luckily for Rick, getting thrown in a hospital turns out to be the best thing to happen to him because Jo arrives and helps him get a new lease on life.

Young Man With a Horn is one of my favorite types of movies — an underrated gem.  I don’t hear this one get talked about very often, but I really enjoyed it.  I loved Kirk Douglas in it, but Lauren Bacall and Doris Day were also great in it.  Hoagy Carmichael played “Smoke” Willoughby, Rick’s best friend, and I thought he made a great sidekick to Kirk Douglas.  But even with big names like Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall, and Doris Day in the cast, I’d say the real star of the movie is the music.  Legendary bandleader Harry James is the one responsible for all of Kirk Douglas’ trumpet playing and even if I hadn’t liked the movie, I would have at least enjoyed listening to the music.

What makes this film worthy of a queer film blogathon is the fact that Lauren Bacall’s character is a lesbian.  Since this was made in 1950 with the production codes in full effect, they had to subtly hint at that fact.  So subtly in fact that in Lauren’s TCM Private Screenings interview, she said she was so naive at the time that she didn’t even realize her character left her husband for another woman.  When Jo tries to warn Rick about getting involved with Amy, she couldn’t come right out and say, “She prefers women.”  Instead, she says that Amy’s a “strange girl,” “mixed up inside,” and that he’s never known a girl “like her” before.  Early in their relationship, Amy tries telling Rick that she’s incapable of falling in love and we see her turn down his physical advances.  When they end their marriage, she tells him she’s tired of him trying to touch her all the time.  She also tells Rick that she agreed to marry him because basically, she thought she shouldn’t knock it until she tried it and that she thought she’d eventually grow to like it.  However, in Amy’s final scene, there’s a knowing look between Amy and her new girlfriend that makes it pretty clear it’s not necessarily marriage she didn’t like, she just didn’t like being married to a man. (To see some of Lauren’s scenes, click here.)

For more films with LGBT chracters, actors, or are about LGBT issues, visit Garbo Laughs to read the other blogathon contributions.

My Top 100, 100-91

A while back, I was talking with Colin from Pick ‘n’ Mix Flix Movie Reviews, and we got to discussing movie lists.  Over at his site, he did a list of his 101 favorite movies and he challenged me to make my own top 100 list.  And since everyone seems to love movie lists, I thought it’d be a fun project.  So, here’s the deal: Every Friday, I’ll be counting down my top 100 favorite movies, ten at a time.  I really didn’t set any rules for myself, so every kind of movie was fair game.  Classic, modern, American, foreign, there’s a little bit of everything in there.  Without further ado, let’s get to the first ten.

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A Letter to Three Wives (1949)

One Saturday morning, Deborah Bishop (Jeanne Crain), Lora Mae Hollingsway (Linda Darnell), and Rita Phipps (Ann Sothern), get together to take a bunch of children on a boat trip and a picnic.  Only problem is, there was supposed to be a fourth woman with them, Addie Ross (played by a never-seen, only heard, Celeste Holm).  Just before Deborah, Lora, and Rita leave on the boat, a messenger delivers a letter from Addie in which she says that she has run off with one of their husbands, but doesn’t say which one.  As the day progresses, each woman thinks back to an incident that could have made their husband want to leave them and how Addie Ross plays into each scenario.

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