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Lust for Life

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Kirk Douglas as Vincent van Gogh in Lust for Life
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Lust for Life (1956) starring Kirk Douglas, Anthony Quinn, directed by Vincente Minelli

 In short, Kirk Douglas shines in his performance as Vincent van Gogh. Kirk Douglas gave many great performances in his career, but none better than in  Lust for Life. He portrays the Dutch painter, a brilliant artist that was tragically tormented by depression and mental illness.

Lust for Life does a good job portraying his artistic history. Although as with all Hollywood biographies, take it with a grain of salt. Even so, it’s a riveting film, with a great performances by Kirk Douglas and Anthony Quinn as his friend… And in many ways his artistic opposite — Paul Gaugin.

Kirk Douglas does a fine job of showing van Gogh’s life, warts and all. Ranging from

  • His struggle to find his “voice” in painting.
  • His fight with depression.
  • Incarceration in a mental health hospital.
  • Living with a woman and her bastard son
  • … and his death.

Lust for Life is an excellent movie, and strongly recommended.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Cast of characters

  • Kirk Douglas (20000 Leagues Under the Sea) … Vincent Van Gogh
  • Anthony Quinn (Requiem for a Heavyweight) … Paul Gauguin
  • James Donald (Quartermass and the Pit) … Theo Van Gogh. Vincent’s loving supportive brother. He supports him financially, as well as looking after him.
  • Pamela Brown … Christine. Vincent’s lover, based on the real Vincent’s mistress & model, Sien
  • Everett Sloane (Citizen Kane) … Dr. Gachet. He treated Vincent in his final weeks.
  • Niall MacGinnis (Curse of the Demon) … Roulin
  • Noel Purcell … Anton Mauve. Vincent’s cousin, who first gives him materials and encourages him to paint. An established painter.
  • Henry Daniell (The Great Dictator, The Body Snatcher) … Theodorus Van Gogh. Vincent & Theo’s father.
  • Madge Kennedy … Anna Cornelia Van Gogh
  • Jill Bennett … Willemien
  • Lionel Jeffries (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Call Me Bwana) … Dr. Peyron
  • Laurence Naismith … Dr. Bosman
  • Eric Pohlmann … Colbert
  • Jeanette Sterke … Kay
  • Toni Gerry … Johanna

Editorial review of  Lust for Life courtesy of

Lust for Life is appropriately titled, for mere passion seems inadequate when describing this superb fictionalized biography (based on Irving Stone’s popular novel) of Vincent Van Gogh. In a deservedly Oscar ®- nominated performance, Kirk Douglas is physically and emotionally perfect as the tormented Dutch painter, whose life is chronicled from his ill-fated stint as a preacher to Belgian miners in 1878, to his Impressionist-inspired artistic awakening and psychological descent to suicide in 1890.

Having triumphed with 1952’s The Bad and the Beautiful, Douglas, producer John Houseman, and director Vincente Minnelli brought vigor and vitality to this blessed project, which centers on Van Gogh’s stormy friendship with fellow artist Gaugin (Oscar-winner Anthony Quinn). Minnelli used an outmoded color film process and innovative camera techniques to vividly recreate Van Gogh’s paintings, and he filmed on the actual Dutch and French locations where Van Gogh’s mastery flourished. The artist’s lust for life also fed his madness, and this film deeply understands the fine line in between. –Jeff Shannon

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