Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Kirk Douglas in POSSE

Is this 1975 western starring Kirk Douglas up there with his best work such as SPARTACUS, LUST FOR LIFE, THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL, ACE IN THE HOLE, PATHS OF GLORY and LONELY ARE THE BRAVE?  No.  But it's not bad.  I was up late one night this week and POSSE came on a cable station.  I watched it.  It was my first time seeing POSSE.  On camera, Kirk Douglas starred as the shady Texas lawman, Marshal Howard Nightingale.  He's short on scruples.  If you love Kirk Douglas, POSSE is a movie that will make you love him even more.  Specifically for what the Hollywood legend did behind the camera.  He was a mensch.  (Look it up.)
If Marshal Nightingale can capture and hang an outlaw bank robber, that outlaw's dead body could be the marshal's stepping stone to a seat on the U.S. Senate.  Bruce Dern played the killer gunslinger, Jack Strawhorn.

James Stacy was a handsome and popular actor on a network TV series.  The TV western was called LANCER.  Tragedy struck in 1973.  Stacy was riding his motorcycle when he was hit by a drunk driver.
The accident left him physically disabled.  He lost an arm and a leg.  Two years after the accident, he was cast as a newspaper editor in POSSE.  Kirk Douglas had the supporting role written into the screenplay specifically for the disabled actor.
Kirk Douglas could do that because, not only was he the star of POSSE, he was also the director and the producer.  Kirk Douglas showed Hollywood that a physical disability did not mean an actor should be excluded from employment.  James Stacy was still an actor who could hit his marks and deliver dialogue.  We need big stars to push like that for the hiring of disabled actors in today's Hollywood.

"You're too ambitious, Marshal," says the honest newspaper editor to the marshal who has blood on his hands.  In the opening moments of the story, we witness Marshall Howard Nightingale order the merciless killings of bank robbers as they slept.
This 1975 film marked James Stacy's return to acting after the 1973 accident that made him an amputee.  Stacy even went to get an Emmy nomination for a performance as a disabled Vietnam vet.

As for Kirk Douglas, he was also a generous director with Bruce Dern.  He not only shared the spotlight with the much younger actor, he lets Dern shine in solo scenes.

One more thing:  It was really strong of Kirk Douglas, a major movie star, to cast himself in an unflattering role and be truthful to the character.  That's what gives POSSE its balls.  When one character says, "Honest men stay honest as long as it pays," we see that thanks to Douglas' work as director.
The movie has plenty of action and some excellent stunt work. The screenplay is above average and has entertaining substance.  Dern's character is a terrorist whose execution could benefit a glory-seeking, hypocritical public servant who's hungry for a political career. 

James Stacy had been married to and divorced from actresses Connie Stevens and Kim Darby (star of the original TRUE GRIT).  Reportedly, he retired from acting in 1991.

Stacy died in September of this year at age 79.

Actor, director, producer, humanitarian Kirk Douglas will be 100 next month on December 9th.

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