Lust for Life (1956) starring Kirk Douglas, Anthony Quinn, James Donald, Pamela Brown, Everett Sloane, Niall MacGinnis, Noel Purcell, Henry Daniell directed by Vincente Minnelli, George Cukor Movie Review

Lust for Life (1956)   4/54/54/54/54/5

Kirk Douglas in Lust for Life (1956)

A Troubled Genius

Following in his father's footsteps Vincent Van Gogh (Kirk Douglas) not only finds himself rejected when he applies for a ministerial position but finds himself sent to a remote coal mining location where his obsessive tendencies takes things too far. That sense of rejection follows him when after returning home he has to deal with the rejections of a woman who he becomes obsessed with and ends up seeing a prostitute. All of this eventually leads him to take up painting supported by his brother Theo (James Donald) whilst having an on off friendship with artist Paul Gauguin (Anthony Quinn). But feeling his ability as an artist is not up to his visions he suffers from depression and obsession leading to a stay in a mental hospital before signing himself out and then... well that is history.

As a child my movie experiences were dominated by whatever was being shown on TV and as such certain movies such as "Star Wars", "Superman", "The Sound of Music" and "The Great Escape" dominated them thanks to their frequent broadcasts. But in between those movies there were a few movies I came across which had an impact and switched me on to both certain actors and older movies. One of those movies was "Lust for Life" and the electrifying performance of Kirk Douglas made me a fan whilst certain scenes from "Lust for Life" never left me. Now after over 30 years and finally having watched Douglas in "Lust for Life" again the movie was even better than I remembered.

James Donald in Lust for Life (1956)

It is as a movie fan that I watch and review "Lust for Life" as I admittedly have little interest in Van Gogh as a person or his artwork and as such I would imagine that there are elements to "Lust for Life" which probably appeal more to those whose interest is in the artist. But even so it is impossible not to be impressed by this biopic which mainly focuses on the final decade of Van Gogh's life and takes us from trying to be a minister to being an artist tortured by his own thoughts of over his perceived lack of ability and insecurity on what he produces. The detail of the production from the early scenes of the mining village where we first witness Van Gogh's obsessive side through to his struggles as an artist it has close to an epic quality and a real artistry to the way each scene is constructed.

But whilst I could go on and on about the look of "Lust for Life" and the significant use of colour during the different sections of the story it is Kirk Douglas who makes the movie. Forget the remarkable resemblance and just concentrate on his performance and he brings to the screen the obsessive and tortured aspects of the artist who if it wasn't for the interjection of others would probably have killed himself even sooner. In the light of so many geniuses who struggle in silence with their demons only to shock the world with their deaths there is something heartbreaking about watching Douglas's portrayal.

Kirk Douglas is not the only one who makes "Lust for Life" such a fantastic movie as James Donald is solid as Van Gogh's brother Theo and then there is Anthony Quinn who won an Oscar for his performance as Gauguin. Like Douglas Quinn commits to the role and it makes the on off friendship he had with Van Gogh come to life in front of your eyes.

What this all boils down to is that "Lust for Life" is not just an awesome looking production from the past when the detail of the sets were painstakingly crafted but also an awesome movie because of the complete commitment of its cast to their characters with Kirk Douglas leaving nothing behind in his characterisation of Van Gogh as a troubled, obsessive genius.