After putting in 103 years, the actor Kirk Douglas died yesterday.
Activists of my generation will always remember that scene in Spartacus.
But my favorite Kirk Douglas movie was Lonely Are the Brave.
We watched it again last night.
Shot in black and white and made in 1962, it is a simple story of a cowboy trying to survive in the modern era. His friend Paul has been jailed for helping Mexican migrants cross the border, like those today who leave bottled water for those evading Trump’s border police.
Douglas’ Jack Burns breaks into jail to help Paul break out. But Paul, afraid of getting caught and adding years to his prison sentence when he has a wife and kid at home, refuses to join him.
So Jack breaks out on his own, leading to a the rest of the film which has Walter Matthau as the sheriff tracking Jack down.
The screenplay for Lonely Are the Brave was written by Leftist and Blacklisted writer, Dalton Trumbo, and is about borders.
It is prescient in the character of Paul helping migrants cross the border.
“Have you ever noticed how many fences there’re getting to be? And the signs they got on them: no hunting, no hiking, no admission, no trespassing, private property, closed area, start moving, go away, get lost, drop dead! Do you know what I mean?” says Jack at one point.
Lonely Are the Brave was Trumbo’s second credited film that broke the anti-communist Blacklist following Spartacus.
Both were produced by Kirk Douglas and Edward Lewis and were intentional in busting the Hollywood Blacklist, which kept hundreds of talented artists – communists and liberals – from working – or working for less money under pseudonyms.
Douglas wasn’t a Red. But he saw the anti-communist Red Scare as the anti-democratic movement that it was.
I got to meet Dalton Trumbo as a student activist in the Sixties.
I was part of a radical film collective called L.A. Newsreel, located in a funky office in Venice, California.
There were active chapters of Newsreel all over the country. Our chapter never actually made a movie, but I traveled around to dozens of campuses and community groups showing the Black Panther movie.
One day we went up to Trumbo’s house in Beverly Hills to show him the Panther movie and to ask for financial support.
He was totally supportive.
Later I called Trumbo and asked if he would speak at an anti-war teach-in that our SDS chapter was organizing at Los Angeles City College. He quickly agreed.
Douglas’ producing partner, Ed Lewis, died just last year.
Lewis, a Leftist himself, was a friend of my Dad and together they worked among the Hollywood crowd in the campaign to free Angela Davis.
You can rent Lonely Are the Brave on Amazon.