• Vincent Minnelli is certainly the perfect choice as director for a film on the life of Vincent van Gogh. Minnelli had a nearly unparalleled eye for color among his peers, and this is shot in glorious CinemaScope on location in France and Belgium.
  • Rare to see- but the opening of the film thanks all the museums for sharing the artwork and allowing them to be used in the film
  • From about 1940-1961 Hungarian composer Miklós Rózsa was one of the best working. His resume includes The Killers, Double Indemnity, The Lost Weekend, Asphalt Jungle– this score here sort of resembles perhaps his most famous- 1959’s Ben-Hur (Rózsa did most of the big budget epics like Knights of the Round Table, El Cid, King of Kings).
  • Kirk Douglas plays van Gogh, James Donald plays his brother Theo and Anthony Quinn (in an Oscar winning role for supporting) plays Paul Gauguin.

location shooting in France and Belgium- Minnelli’s talent for working in color and the wider CinemaScope frame

crisp photography both for interiors …

…and exteriors- especially important in a film about Vincent van Gogh

  • Douglas is ideal casting to play the energetic eccentric- “I must say what I feel”—but he is also tortured, difficult- living in a mining town railing against hypocrisy. Vincent van Gogh is “a man struggling with himself” and “crude and quarrelsome”. Vincent van Gogh tries to “capture the poetry” of the world with drawings. He is interested in nature- painting workers in the fields. Douglas plays him as a tragically lonely iconoclast. This is good work from Douglas.

Douglas cut and dyed his hair for the role

  • Minnelli utilizes van Gogh’s actual artwork as a cutaway montage in different aspect ratio. There might be too much kowtowing to the paintings in the film.
  • The letter writing between Theo and Vincent are read by the actors playing them a big part of the narrative. Later in the story, the letters form the warden at the asylum will be part of the storytelling structure as well.
  • At the 53-minute mark Douglas’ Vincent is on the foreground left and Theo in the background left with lanterns in Theo’s apartment in Paris- an attractive frame arrangement.
  • It is 55-minutes into the film before Quinn arrives on screen. Every line Quinn’s Gauguin is a speech- and Quinn’s chest is puffed out as much as Douglas’ is. Vita Zapata was 1952 and La Strada was 1954 so this is peak Anthony Quinn. He gets lines from Norman Corwin screenplay like “I like them fat, vicious and not too smart” (talking about how he likes his women).
  • A visual highlight is how Minnelli shoots the light on the water- just like van Gogh’s famous painting “The Starry Night”—in another sequence Minnelli would actually spray paint a field yellow (hello Antonioni years before he did this in Red Desert) to match van Gogh’s use of the color

light on the water- just like van Gogh’s famous painting “The Starry Night”

  • At the 92-minute mark there is a gray tunnel with again the lantern in the upper right foreground of the frame—Minnelli then transitions to the painting of the lantern then yet another transition to the lantern in the foreground center before the ear cutting– this is a superb sequence.
  • Recommend- but not in the top 10 of 1956