Tag Archives: Kirk Douglas

Top 15 Heist Movies of the 60’s

 

The 1960’s seemed to break out with a whole bunch of fantastic Heist Films. Several of them from this decade have been remade into some great films in their own right. It’s always fun to watch a bunch of crooks fail or succeed at these heists and so I guess that’s why they keep making these kinds of films.  I’m very thankful that they do. Here’s my favorite top 15 heist films of the 1960’s:

15.  Kaleidoscope (1966)Kaleidoscope

Warren Beatty breaks into the Kaleidoscope company’s manufacturing plant to mark all of their cards set to be delivered to a whole bunch of casinos. This puts card-cheating on a whole new level. The film was released 1 year before Bonnie and Clyde (1967), which made him an International star. Technically, that film could be considered a “heist” film as well, but to me it doesn’t have the traditional sneak factor. If you go in and rob a place with a gun, it is a heist, but the good heist type films all have a con going on or intricate plot of people sneaking around. I also love it when my heist films have a bit of romance going on. This one is a bit of a romantic comedy and I definitely think it benefits from it. Jack Smight directed this. He directed a lot of tight thrillers in his time.

14.  Fitzwilly (1967)fitzwilly-movie-1968

Faithful butler, Dick Van Dyke, leads an elaborate criminal enterprise to keep their beloved Miss Vicki from realizing that she is flat broke! It’s the first half of the storyline that appears later in Disney’s Candleshoe (1977)(only that one has a treasure hunt to boot!). This one has a little romance as well when Barbara Feldon is hired to help Miss Vicki write a dictionary. She slowly learns what Dick Van Dyke and crew is up to and threatens to break the whole thing apart until she falls in love with him. Delbert Mann directed this and a lot of great romantic comedies besides this one.

13.  Seven Thieves (1960)seven thieves

Henry Hathaway directed this great cast of Edward G. Robinson, Rod Steiger, Joan Collins, Sebastian Cabot and Eli Wallach about a planned heist on a Monte Carlo Casino. A truly classic film director, he would direct some of the finest films over a 30 year period. The most frequent actor that appears on this list, just happens to be Edward G. Robinson. This just happens to be the first of three. He is viewed as the ultimate mastermind behind these heists, so I wonder if that ever hurt his feelings that people saw him as the best crime plotter.

12.  Grand Slam (1967)grand slam

Edward G. Robinson leads the heist on his second entry as well and recruits a group of men this time to break into a diamond company to steal 10 million dollars in diamonds!  Directed by Italian director Giuliano Montaldo and starring Janet Leigh as the only woman in a cast full of guys…oh, wait, I see a pattern here. This is the decade where heist films got their formula and it’s a formula that is used even today when you look at the heist films of the last 10 years.

11.  Topkapi (1964)topkapi

Now the grand-daddy of all heists is said to have been a very low budget french film named…Rififi (1955), directed by Jules Dassin. That movie put him on the map and gave us the decade that followed, full of heist films. He also films another heist with this entry, Topkapi, about a conman, who gets mixed up with a group of thieves who plan to rob an Istanbul museum to retrieve a jeweled dagger. Cited by Mission: Impossible (1966) TV series creator Bruce Geller as the inspiration for his own series. It’s also one of director Christopher Nolan’s favorite movies, who would go on to direct an ultimate heist movie of his own, Inception (2010). It’s also interesting to note, Jules Dassin originally planned to cast Peter Sellers as Arthur Simpson, but Sellers later dropped out, to be replaced by Peter Ustinov, whom Sellers had, in turn, replaced in The Pink Panther(1963) as Inspector Clouseau.

10.  Ocean’s Eleven (1960)Oceans11

I actually liked the remake, Ocean’s Eleven (2001) with George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Julia Roberts a little bit more than this original, but it’s good too. Directed by Lewis Milestone and starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Angie Dickinson, it’s about Danny Ocean, who gathers a group of his World War II compatriots to pull off the ultimate Las Vegas heist. Together the eleven friends plan to rob five Las Vegas casinos in one night.

9.  Thomas Crown Affair (1968)thomascrown

Another one where I liked the Thomas Crown Affair (1999) remake better than the original. Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo and that fantastic elaborate heist sequence at the end is just awesome. I still like the original which is about a debonair, adventuresome bank executive who believes he has pulled off the perfect multi-million dollar heist, only to match wits with a sexy insurance investigator who will do anything to get her man. Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway act in this Norman Jewison film. An added bonus is that Faye Dunaway appears in both films. One of the coolest aspects of the film is its split screen opening sequence. While some claim that this is an example of style over content, the real reason the split screen was adopted was because editor Hal Ashby was tasked with reducing the running time of the opening.

8.  Italian Job (1969)italian job lobby card

Now this one I liked the original better than the Italian Job (2003), but I liked that one a lot too. It had a better cast with Donald Sutherland, Mark Wahlberg, Edward Norton, Charlize Theron, and Jason Statham. The original had Michael Caine, Noel Coward and Benny Hill! This is a Comic caper movie about a plan to steal a gold shipment from the streets of Turin by creating a traffic jam. Directed by Peter Collinson.  According to Michael Caine, the film did not perform well at the US box-office due to a misleading advertising campaign. The US poster featured a scantily clad woman with a map on her back kneeling in front of a Mafioso holding a machine gun. While promoting the film in the US, Caine saw the poster and became so upset that he immediately flew home to England. In a 2003 UK movie survey, Charlie Croker’s (Michael Caine) line, “You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!” was voted the most memorable line in any film.

7.  Goldfinger (1964)Goldfinger

Yes, I would consider this a heist movie as spies all sneak around and break into places all the time and also the main bad guy, Goldfinger himself is scheming to break into Fort Knox…the ultimate heist. Directed by James Bond favorite, Guy Hamilton and starring Sean Connery, it’s a great entry for the series. Steven Spielberg cites this as his personal favorite of all the Bond movies and even owns an Aston Martin DB5 due to the impact Goldfinger had on him.  Due to the popularity and success of this movie and its spy car the Aston Martin DB5, the vehicle gained the nickname, “The Most Famous Car in the World”. Sales of the Aston Martin DB5 increased by fifty per cent after the release of the movie. The Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) featured the Lotus Esprit and sales would also increase for that car after the movie premiered.

6.  Never a Dull Moment (1968)never a dull moment

Edward G. Robinson leads another heist! This time in this fantastic comedy starring one of my favorite actors…Dick Van Dyke. It’s directed by Dick’s next door neighbor on The Dick Van Dyke Show, Jerry Paris! My brother and I LOVE this movie. When practicing for a role, actor Jack is mistaken for the killer Ace. He doesn’t realize this until it’s too late and is carried off to gangster boss Leo Smooth, who wants Ace to do a job for him. Fearing for his life, Jack plays his role, but always searching for a way out of the well-guarded house. This one has a lot of great character actors along for the ride like Henry Silva, Jack Elam and Slim Pickens.

5.  Gambit (1966)gambit

This one also had a recent remake done, but let’s just keep to the good stuff, why don’t we. Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine and Herbert Lom…shine in this one. Directed by Ronald Neame, this one is about an English cat burglar, who needs a Eurasian dancer’s help to pull off the perfect heist, but even the most foolproof schemes have a way of backfiring. The first draft of the screenplay was written by Bryan Forbes in 1960, when the story was designed as a vehicle for Cary Grant. He eventually dropped out of the project, which subsequently underwent many changes. It was eventually decided to make the girl the central character and Shirley Maclaine was signed for the lead. After seeing The Ipcress File, she suggested Michael Caine as her leading man, which led to still more rewriting to accommodate his working-class cockney persona.

4.  Sam Whiskey (1969)sam whiskey

Burt Reynolds, Ossie Davis, Clint Walker and Angie Dickinson are a lot of fun in this film. It’s a comedy directed by Arnold Lavin and is about Sam Whiskey, a civil war gambler, who is offered a job from the attractive widow Laura. She wants him to salvage gold bars, which Laura’s dead husband stole recently, from a sunken ship and secretly bring them back to the mint before they are missed. But how shall he manage to get several hundred pounds of gold into the mint without anyone noticing? Now, I should mention that Angie Dickinson flashes some naughty bits in the beginning of this movie, but if you can bypass that, it’s a very clean and entertaining film.

3.  The War Wagon (1967)the-war-wagon

John Wayne and Kirk Douglas in a movie together…I’m soooo there. The story of a man who was shot, robbed and imprisoned who returns to steal a large gold shipment from the man who wronged him. The gold is transported in an armored stage coach, the War Wagon. Who wouldn’t want to see this? Directed by Burt Kennedy, who would go on to direct James Garner in Support Your Local Sheriff and Support Your Local Gunfighter, which I also love!

John Wayne, who had lost his entire left lung and several ribs in major surgery for cancer in 1964, had great difficulty breathing on an airplane while flying to the location for the start of filming and had to use an oxygen mask throughout the journey. Kirk Douglas recalled that he hadn’t realized just how fragile Wayne was until this moment. Kirk Douglas and John Wayne had previously starred together in In Harm’s Way (1965) and Cast a Giant Shadow (1966). This film was their third and final teaming. John Wayne was not very fond of the finished film, although he said he felt that Kirk Douglas was very funny as Lomax.

2.  How to Steal a Million (1966)how-to-steal-a-million-movie-poster-1966

Peter O’Toole and Audrey Hepburn with a little Eli Wallach on the side please. Waa-laa…How to Steal a Million, directed by William Wyler is a romantic comedy about a woman who must steal a statue from a Paris museum to help conceal her father’s art forgeries, and the man who helps her. They are both delightful together but the real genius here is Wyler. Wyler has directed some of the biggest films with Ben Hur, The Best Years of Our Lives, Funny Girl, Roman Holiday, The Children’s Hour and The Desperate Hours.  He’s top notch.

1.   Pink Panther (1963)pink panther lobby card

Blake Edwards does it right with this first Pink Panther movie and set the tone for a slew of great films to come. Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau is just perfect in every way. Originally intended as a vehicle for David Niven as the cat burglar The Phantom, Peter Sellers quickly started to improv his way through all his scenes and stole the movie right out from under him. The biggest heist of them all, as Peter Sellers would go on to reprise his role 5 more times after this.  The character of Sir Charles Lytton does return to the Pink Panther movies in the third film The Return of the Pink Panther (1975). Peter Sellers again portrays the bumbling Clouseau but Christopher Plummer plays the role of Sir Charles in that film. The precious Pink Panther jewel is once again the focus as in the beginning of the film it is stolen. This time from a museum.

I write about the Pink Panther series in another blog post, click here to find out more about it…

 

Best Movie Stunts of the Year List 1950-1959

 

Here is the list for the Best Movie Stunts for the Decade 1950-1959 as listed in the book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!

1950:  The Flame and the Arrow

the flame and the arrow

Burt Lancaster met Nick Cravat when they worked in the circus as acrobats, early in their careers.  This movie highlights some great acrobatics from the two of them, along with some great fighting sequences.

1951:  The Thing From Another Worldthing full body burn

I loved this movie and the remake that followed with Kurt Russell, but this one has a very cool fire burn done Tom Steele that just has to be seen to be believed.

1952:  Ivanhoeivanhoe03

Paddy Ryan was in a group of some of the finest stuntmen to ever come out of England.  In this film he does a real gasping fall from a castle, which was held as the highest fall from a castle for many years.

1953:  Code Twocode two

Motorcycles were really starting to come into their own.  This movie was one of the first one to introduce motorcycle stunts and chase scenes, with many movies following after.

1954:  The Seven SamuraiSeven_Samurai_Fight

This film was probably the most mentioned movie to ever influence a slew of filmmakers, before Star Wars.  It’s an incredible film with a great story, great characters and especially great action.  Most of the actors were hired because they could really fight.  Let’s imagine this as the very first Expendables, where some real action masters were at work here.

1955:  To Hell and Backto hell and back tank

The real life story, played by the real person himself, Audie Murphy, the highest decorated soldier of World War II.  Quite a war film!

1956:  Trapezetrapeze1956

So I mentioned Burt Lancaster was in the circus, right?  Well, here is the movie where he really shows his chops!  You just thought he was a great actor, but he was a really accomplished acrobat, that could have had an amazing career as a stuntman!

1957:  The Curse of Frankensteincurseoffrankenstein1

Hammer Films, out of Great Britain were making some of the most interesting genre films ever made with some of the finest actors like Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing and with fantastic stuntmen like Jock Easton.  Some really great stuff!

1958:  The VikingsVikings oars

So I fell in love with Vikings movies when I saw this one (another great one is the 13th Warrior!).  With that in mind, Kirk Douglas blows my mind when I see him, “running the oars” with such ease as he does in this film!

1959:  Ben HurBen Joe Canutt Jump

A stunt that goes wrong is not an “accident” when no one gets hurt…I just consider it an improvised stunt.  In this one the results were so cool they added it to the film.

Check out our new Book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 8.23.28 PM

Stunt Team For Spartacus

 

To say that Spartacus has a very loyal and dedicated following is an understatement.  Looking back, Spartacus has it’s own sub-genre, the Swords and Sandals Spectacle.  It’s spawned multiple look-a-likes and many made-for-television sequels and TV shows.  I’ve always been a fan of a good gladiator story and this is the best.  It gets the nod for Best Movie Stunt over the Alamo for 1960 because of influence and it’s simply harder to perform stunts in what constitutes as a skimpy Speedo.spartacus-original-lobby-card-4-kirk-douglas-tony-curtis-68-3775-p

The stuntmen who worked on this film is a venerable who’s-who of the elite, top stuntmen of the time, including Yakima Canutt and his two sons, Tap and Joe, Richard Farnsworth, Harvey Parry, Tom Steele, Buddy Van Horn, Dale Van Sickel, Polly Burson, Carey Loftkin, Loren Janes, Cliff Lyons, and so, so many more.  The film is really a tribute to all the men and women who worked on it and should be required viewing for anyone wanting a career in the stunt industry.spartacus_fight

The interesting story behind the making of the film is that it wouldn’t have been made if it wasn’t for Ben Hur the year before.  Kirk Douglas was so upset that he lost the role of Ben Hur to Charlton Heston that he set out to prove to William Wyler that he made the wrong decision.  It’s by the sheer will of Douglas alone that this film got made.  He searched for it, bought the rights to it, financed it and hired everyone to work on it.  The first director he hired, he even fired a week into production.  He replaced that director with Stanley Kubrick, but even Kubrick admitted years later that the film is really Douglas’s and not his.  Kubrick did not have say in script and many of the elements that Douglas put in place.spartacus_550w

Kubrick denounced the film later as his worst, but in the end it won four Academy Awards and was nominated for two others.  It’s kind of hard to argue with that kind of a record.  By most people I know, it is regarded as the best gladiator movie of all time and the father of the genre.  Spartacus was directed by Stanley Kubrick for Bryna Productions.Spartacus -douglas

Things to look up (go to IMDB ):

  • Kirk Douglas
  • Spartacus
  • STanley Kubrick
  • Bryna Productions

History of film companies as defined by Wikipedia: Bryna Productions was a film production company established by Kirk Douglas, inspired by the success of Burt Lancaster in moving into production.

Check out our new Book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 8.23.28 PM

Yakima Canutt and Canyon Hawks

 

There’s a scene in this one where Yak drives an open wagon driven by two horses straight down a precipitous hill that just blows the mind! The scene is shot with a group of men on horses watching from the top, obviously afraid of riding their own single horses down the hill – let alone a wagon with two horses attached – and Yak sitting in the seat in the middle at the front! Also, just watching Yak handle his six-shooters is like watching a Wild West Show.canyon hawkes storyboard

When rodeo riders invaded Hollywood, they brought a battery of rodeo techniques that Canutt would expand and improve, including horse falls and wagon wrecks, along with the harnesses and cable rigs to make the stunts foolproof and safe. Among the new safety devices was the ‘L’ stirrup, which allowed a man to fall off a horse without getting hung in the stirrup. Canutt also developed cabling and equipment to cause spectacular wagon crashes, while releasing the team, all on the same spot every time. Safety methods such as these saved film-makers time and money and prevented accidents and injury to performers.Canyon Hawks stunt

It was these early movies where Yakima met John Wayne. Canutt taught Wayne how to fall off a horse. Canutt and Wayne pioneered stunt and screen fighting techniques still in use. The two worked together to create a technique that made on-screen fight scenes more realistic. Wayne and Canutt found if they stood at a certain angle in front of the camera, they could throw a punch at an actor’s face and make it look as if actual contact had been made. Much of Wayne’s on-screen persona was from Canutt. The characterizations associated with Wayne – the drawling, hesitant speech and the hip-rolling walk – were pure Canutt. Said Wayne, “I spent weeks studying the way Yakima Canutt walked and talked. He was a real cowhand.”

Canyon Hawks (1930) was directed by Alan James (as Alvin J. Neitz) and J.P. McGowan for National Players.canyon Yakima Rodeo

Things to look up (click on item to go to IMDB):

Glossary of film terms as defined by Wikipedia:

  1. Gunspinning – This refers to the old west tradition and Hollywood legend of a cowboy gunslinger twirling his pistol around his trigger finger. Gunspinning is a western art such as trick roping, and is sometimes referred as gunplay, gun artistry, and gun twirling. Gunspinning is seen in many classic TV and film Westerns, such as Shane and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The majority of gunspinning is seen as a precursor to putting the gun back in its holster. It may be used as a fancy ending to a trick shot, or just to impress or intimidate an opponent.  Watch Kirk Douglas in Man Without a Star if you want to see someone really good at it.  Douglas said later in one of his autobiography’s, “In my favorite scene, I twirled a gun; flipped it into the air, from side to side, behind my back, and fired it. This was basically juggling, with some additions. We filmed it in one take, no cuts, so you could see that there was no magic, no special effects, to it.”

Check out our new Book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 8.23.28 PM

Kirk Douglas and The Vikings

 

In Kirk Douglas’s autobiography, The Ragman’s Son, I read where Douglas did a lot of his own riding and gun twirling in several of his westerns and so I rented those films and was amazed at his skill and agility.  Then I got to the chapter on the making of The Vikings (1958), and I found a stunt in that movie that deserves the award for 1958.vikings

The director Richard Fleischer and Kirk Douglas wanted the movie to be as authentic as possible and so they did quite a bit of research to do this. Through his research about the Vikings, Fleischer had found a Viking game that probably had not be done in thousand years, ‘Run the Oars’. He hired a couple of stunt men to perform this hazardous act. The rowers were to hold their oars straight out from the boat. Kirk Douglas’ character Einar is to climb out on an oar and then walk or jump from one oar to another, without falling into the ice cold water.

When Douglas saw the stunt men exercising this, he immediately insisted to do it himself to the horror of Fleischer. Without practicing, Kirk told them to roll the cameras and then proceeded to run back and forth several times on the oars. Douglas performed it impeccably. “You needed to get a rhythm going, keep the momentum from oar to oar. If you slowed down, you had time to lose your balance,” Douglas wrote in his autobiography.Vikings oars

At one point when he did fall in the icy water he calmly swam over to the camera boat and asked if they had gotten enough good shots. He then swam back to the Viking longboat. Only in an interview given shortly after the release of the film did Kirk Douglas admit that the water in the fjord was just above freezing and the air temperature was only slightly warmer.   He never complained.

The movie is excellent and if you haven’t seen it, there are plenty of other great stunts and action scenes.  The Vikings was directed by Richard Fleischer for United Artists.vikings cast

Things to look up (click on item to go to IMDB page):

Glossary of film terms as defined by the Wikipedia:  Historical Drama or Epic – They are expensive and lavish to produce, because they require elaborate and panoramic settings, on-location filming, authentic period costumes, inflated action on a massive scale and large casts of characters. Biographical films are often less lavish versions than this genre. They are often called costume dramas, since they emphasize the world of a period setting: historical pageantry, costuming and wardrobes, locale, spectacle, decor and a sweeping visual style. They often transport viewers to other worlds or eras: ancient times, biblical times, the Middle Ages, the Victorian era, or turn-of-the-century America.

Check out our new Book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 8.23.28 PM

Burt Lancaster, Nick Cravat and The Flame and the Arrow

 

Burt Lancaster was a professional acrobat before he took up acting, so it’s no surprise that he was able to swashbuckle with the best of them in The Flame and the Arrow. Warner Brothers even sent him on a publicity tour during which he perched on poles and re-created his feats from the film. The Oscar-winner displayed his athletic prowess in later films as well, like Trapeze and The Train.the flame and the arrow

Nick Cravat, who plays Piccolo, was an acrobat who was teamed with Burt Lancaster in the circus (performing as “Lang & Cravat”) before Lancaster became a star. He appears in many of Lancaster’s movies. In this one, and in The Crimson Pirate, he plays a mute. The reason was that his thick Brooklyn accent, which he could not lose, would have been wildly out of place in such period pieces.

Burt Lancaster was a tough street kid who took an early interest in gymnastics. He joined the circus as an acrobat and worked there until he was injured. It was in the Army during WW II that he was introduced to the USO and acting. After he started acting, one of his demands to the studios was that he have a high bar set up on sets and locations so he could perform acrobatics and stay in shape. Until undergoing emergency quadruple heart bypass surgery in 1983, he maintained the fantastic physical health he attained as an acrobat in his youth. He impressed many who knew him with his apparently enormous strength.theflame

Interesting to note, on set, Burt was known as a grump, he would have been the perfect Grumpy Old Man. He admitted that an odd thing always happened to him on a movie set. He would complain about everything, sometimes very loudly. By the end of the shoot however, the crews loved him and hated to see him go, despite his complaints. He never understood why that happened. His son Bill Lancaster’s screenplay for The Bad News Bears (1976) was based on his experience being coached by his father. Bill had been disabled by polio as a child, and according to friend Joel Douglas – the son of Kirk Douglas – the Tatum O’Neal character in the film, the odd kid out, was Bill. The coach played by Walter Matthau was based on Burt, who was known for his grumpiness.

The Flame and the Arrow was directed by Jacques Tourneur for Warner Bros.The-Flame-The-Arrow11

Things to look up (click on item to go to IMDB page ):

Glossary of stunt terms as defined by the Wikipedia – Acrobatics is the performance of extraordinary feats of balance, agility, and motor coordination. It can be found in many of the performing arts as well as in many sports. Acrobatics is most often associated with activities that make extensive use of gymnastic elements, such as acro dance, circus, and gymnastics, but many other athletic activities — such as ballet and diving — may also employ acrobatics. Although acrobatics is most commonly associated with human body performance, it may also apply to other types of performance, such as aerobatics.

Check out our new Book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!

Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 8.23.28 PM