Douglas’ role as Walter O’Neil was a breakout. Opposite industry pro Barbara Stanwyck, Douglas shone as the hard-drinking, passionate childhood sweetheart of Stanwyck’s Martha Ivers. There’s nothing but chills and thrills in this film and, thanks to Douglas, a lot of exciting drama.
One of Douglas’ first noir film roles brought out the characteristics he would become known for bringing to his characters throughout his career: slick, smooth-talking, shady, and duplicitous. He may not be the star of Out of the Past, but every time he’s on screen, it’s a Herculean feat not to watch in awe.
Playing impoverished dreamer Jim O’Connor in a film version of one of Tennessee Williams’ most beloved plays, Douglas stands out in his performance. Although he had only been in the film business for a handful of years by the time The Glass Menagerie went into production, it was clear from this point on that Douglas was destined for stardom.
Nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for his performance as Jonathan Shields, Douglas as an absolute cad of a Hollywood power player is the definition of iconic. The Bad and the Beautiful is part melodrama, part cautionary tale, and Douglas has never been so utterly likable through his unlikability onscreen. Watching him woo Lana Turner and display an extreme level of scoundrel-like behavior makes for a pulpy watch. It’s perfection.
This is the only time Douglas ever worked on a Disney film, and boy oh boy, is it a heck of a performance. As cocksure harpooner Ned Land, Douglas put his natural swagger to good use in this Technicolor, steampunk-type adventure.
Douglas practically is Vincent van Gogh in Lust for Life, it’s that uncanny a resemblance. The actor portrayed the famous painter in a biopic of the latter’s life, with many of the locations Van Gogh visited, lived in and worked in used as set pieces for the film. This, along with the vibrant re-creations of Van Gogh’s work, bolstered Douglas’ manic, exciting characterization of the artist.
Douglas played a lot of Western heroes during his career on-screen, but never a gunslinger as infamous as Doc Holliday. Even though the story of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday’s legendary showdown against Tombstone lawmen has been retold in film for every new generation, Douglas’ version is perhaps the most exciting and the most definitive.
Colonel Dax is another career-making role for Douglas. As Dax, Douglas was able to show off his honed acting chops in a staunchly anti-war, cerebral film about an officer refusing to lead his men into a suicide mission. This was Douglas’ first time working with director Stanley Kubrick and is considered one of the greatest anti-war films ever made. There’s no doubt that Douglas’ performance has a role in elevating Paths of Glory to such an iconic level.
Spartacus is considered the pinnacle role in Douglas’ body of work. This is the role he is most regularly associated with, and even those who are new to his work recognize him as Spartacus (pun intended). This was also the second time he worked with director Kubrick.
Douglas made many a Western in his time. Lonely are the Brave re-teamed Douglas with Spartacus screenwriter and famous Black List member Dalton Trumbo and relative newcomers Gena Rowlands and Walter Matthau. Interestingly, Douglas has also mentioned that this was one of his favorite performances.
Douglas teamed with then-rising star and ingenue Faye Dunaway to tell the story of a tortured ad exec re-evaluating his life. It’s one of Douglas’ more emotionally driven, intense, inward-looking roles, but after a hefty career of Westerns and noirs, it’s an interesting late-career turn too.
It was definitely a family affair when Douglas starred alongside his son, Michael, and grandson, Cameron, in one of his latest film roles to date. The film itself flew under the radar back in 2003, but it’s a heartwarming and truly generational effort that is well worth the watch.