By Richard Winters
My Rating: 5 out of 10
4-Word Review: Michael Douglas film debut.
Okay all you Michael Douglas fans out there, you know him, you love him, and you’ve seen all his movies, but what was his film debut? I say this because I have known other fans of stars who are a bit vague when asked about early films of their favorite actors. I remember one lady who was in her 20’s, who I knew from work and professed to be a ‘huge’ Jack Nicholson fan, but when I asked her about some of his early films, which I had enjoyed including Five Easy Pieces, and King of the Marvin Gardens, she drew a complete blank. In fact she was not aware of any of the movies he did before The Shining. I had a similar experience with another lady friend I knew from a different job who professed to be a big Goldie Hawn fan and yet had no idea what film she had won the Academy Award for, which was in 1969 for Cactus Flower a movie that she hadn’t even heard of. So I was curious how many Michael Douglas fans are actually aware of some of his early work. In fact this film, which was his first, was released when his future wife Catherine Zeta-Jones was only 11 days old.
It is the story of Carl Dixon (Douglas) who is an idealistic, peaceful young man that joins the army simply to please his conservative father (Arthur Kennedy). The film is a pleasant, even touching look at a someone learning to face the difficult and complex issues of adult life and realizing there are no easy answers. The movie doesn’t try to make any type of statement while carefully examining both sides of the issue. There isn’t any ‘bad guy’ here. The characters are real and multi-dimensional. The conversations and debates that they have are ones that went on in many households across the country at that time.
Douglas looks expectedly younger and initially I didn’t even recognize him. His hair is long, at least initially until his father cuts it, and his eyebrows are bushy and his voice much higher pitched. His performance is excellent and the character his likable and engaging especially with the way he treats everyone with respect and is so generous that he gives his entire suitcase of clothes to a poor family in need.
Kennedy is perfect as the old-school father and my only complaint here is that I wished he had been in more scenes. Theresa Wright, as Carl’s mother, is okay, but she is not given enough screen-time either. She is also caught having an affair, but the film does not delve enough into this, but should have. Louise Latham is terrific giving one of the best performances of her career as a hermit-like woman living alone in a cave alongside the skeletal remains of an Indian baby.
There are some good scenes including Carl’s visit to a senior home where he comes face-to-face with the difficulties of aging as well as when he finds himself ready to strike someone at a party whom he does not agree with and realizing that violent tendencies lurk within anyone even those purporting to be pacifists. Yet the film fails to leave any lasting impression. The ending is weak and the story does not progress enough. The viewer is left feeling almost cheated because we are never shown how these characters evolved. In my opinion the material was insufficient for a feature film.
My Rating: 5 out of 10
Released: October 4, 1969
Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes
Director: David Miller
Studio: National General Pictures