Case Number 09142: Small Claims Court

A FATHER... A SON... ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

HBO // 2006 // 95 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // April 27th, 2006

The Charge

"Imagine what it is to have a stroke. It's very interesting, because speech, you take it for granted. You think of something, you say it. I think of something, I have to articulate each word, so my thought is here, but my speech is going very slowly. So that's frustrating and exhausting." -- Kirk Douglas

"But great for oral sex." -- Michael Douglas

The Case

Sure, everyone thinks that the life of two-time Oscar winner Michael Douglas (Wall Street, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) is purely milk and honey. But there was pain. What do you do when your Dad has been in such films like In Harm's Way and is widely regarded as one of the most popular actors in film history? But that wasn't always the case. Kirk was apparently a tough, distant father, and in Lee Grant's (Defending Your Life) documentary A Father...A Son...Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, she attempts to examine the relationship between Kirk and his sons; as well as the relationships Michael has had over the years. Featuring interviews with friends like former MPAA head Jack Valenti, Paramount Chairman Sherry Lansing and Rolling Stone boss Jann Wenner, the film is loaded with clips from both actors' filmographies, along with interviews from actors/actresses that they've worked with.

The film starts out easily enough, covering Kirk's origins of his family. While there aren't a lot of recollections from Kirk about his father, his father was apparently very distant as well. The only boy in a seven-child family, the distance he got from his father helped inspire him to seek a bit of professional individuality, starting his own production company when he was 29 and releasing films like The Vikings and Paths of Glory. He talks about his marriages, first to Diana, then to his current wife Anne. He mentions that he loves women, and probably did more than his fair share of philandering (good Lord, there's a picture or painting of a topless woman in the kitchen during the scenes where he and Michael talk). He also talks (briefly) about what it was like to raise Michael, Joel, Peter and Eric, then moves onto his fondness for Burt Lancaster (Gunfight at the OK Corral) and the friendship they had. In fact, the film is so focused on Kirk, that Michael goes virtually unnoticed for the first third of the film. Michael's early acting urges are discussed, and probably to this day (in the film, at least until the release of Fatal Attraction) Douglas gets the "I love your dad" comment more often than he would care to hear, but handles each one with a solid level of dignity and tact, even now that he's carved a solid niche for his work. There is still some level of unease or bristling to this day on One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. To sum up, Kirk bought the rights to the book and performed as McMurphy in the stage version, before handing it to Michael, who cast Jack Nicholson in the role. Kirk apparently still seems to think that Michael could have done more (as producer) to lobby to get his father cast for the McMurphy role, and Michael still feels (or looks anyway) hurt by this. It's a raw situation that may never get closure.

Michael's rise to acting stardom in the '80s is talked about, and there was an interesting bit of trivia revealed by Lansing that said Brian De Palma (The Untouchables) was attached to directed Fatal Attraction, but pulled out, citing Douglas' likeability in the role. Michael does go on to creatively justify the sex scenes in his films from the Fatal Attraction to Disclosure periods, but I still think it was just a need to boff the female stars. His "sex addiction" is discussed, and he states that that is why he aggressively (read: legally) sues tabloid publications now, which is interesting. The film turns to Kirk's problems, as his stroke and near-fatal helicopter crash and the reasons why Kirk has undergone a spiritual rebirth, which includes his second bah mitzvah and the renewal of his wedding vows with his second wife Anne. Michael's courtship with Catherine Zeta-Jones (The Legend of Zorro) is covered, along with the interesting revelation that Michael asked to father her children before taking her hand in marriage (ewwwww), and his more active role of taking care of the younger children now. It's interesting to see that in the October and November of their lives, that Michael and Kirk (respectively) have seemed to finally grow into roles as fathers. When Kirk asks Michael near the end if he's been a good father, Michael gives it a deliberate amount of thought and says that "ultimately" he's been a good dad. Perhaps it's not the happy ending some would look for, but it seems to be as good as it will get.

The end of the film seems to be more of a public relations or promotional piece which doubles as a conversation on where Michael, Catherine and everyone else is today, so that part was a little bit unnecessary, but overall, I found this to be quite an interesting look at one of Hollywood's first families, and well worth viewing when HBO airs it 46 times over the next two weeks. There are actually some extras to complement this disc, including interview footage with Grant and longtime friend of Michael's Danny DeVito (Batman Returns), as they talk about how they first met the older and younger Douglas members. Grant appears to be a little more grateful her friendship with Kirk, in large part because of the work that Kirk did for Trumbo during the blacklisted period, and she's got a few cute memories of him. She also discusses why she thought the film would work, and recalls discussions that she had with Michael about them. DeVito's recollections of his four decades-long friendship with Michael are a bit more jovial, as he's clearly censoring himself, and to get the two of them in a room for an extended period would definitely be a treat. There are other smaller clips, including a brief tribute to Eric, along with some home video footage in various eras of the Douglas household, including Kirk and Anne's wedding vow renewal in 2004, celebrating 50 years of marriage.

The bottom line is that if you're interested in the Douglases, be it Kirk or Michael, this is definitely one you want to be seeing. Even as just a peripheral fan of Kirk and Michael, I was kept interested by the film, and have a deeper appreciation of both men, both as actors and as family members, and recommend this to anyone that's similarly interested.

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Scales of Justice
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile
Studio: HBO
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Interviews with Filmmaker Lee Grant and Friend Danny DeVito
* A Tribute to Eric Douglas
* Douglas Family Home Movies
* Kirk in Hollywood
* Kirk and Anne Douglas' Renewed Wedding Vows
* HBO Premiere Party

Accomplices
* Official Site
http://www.hbo.com/docs/programs/fatherson/