Without the presence of Kirk Douglas, Diamonds would have ended up as a television movie of the week: an innocuous tale of cross-generational reconciliation that preaches the merits of family ties. But Douglas turns Diamonds into something more by infusing the film with his still-formidable strength. It doesn’t hurt that the role of former boxer Harry Agensky seems tailor-made for him.
Known as the "Polish Prince," Agensky was once the welterweight world champion and still carries himself like a man ready for a fight. But Harry has recently had a stroke, and for the first time in his life, he needs to be cared for. That obligation falls to his two grown sons, but Lance (Dan Aykroyd) harbors deep resentments toward the tiny man who still looms large in his imagination.
Lance didn’t inherit his father’s athletic abilities and found his niche as a sportswriter. This career choice hasn’t served to bring the men any closer. There’s an immense awkwardness there, but their bridge is Lance’s teenage son, Michael (Corbin Allred), who adores Harry. Michael seems to possess some of his grandfather’s drive, but is still reeling from his parents’ acrimonious divorce.
Screenwriter Allan Aaron Katz and director John Asher quickly establish the family dynamics, then send the three generations of Agenskys on a quixotic road trip. Harry tells Michael about a stash of diamonds that a Reno, Nevada, mobster hid decades before. Needless to say, Lance doesn’t put much faith in their actual existence, but sees heading to Reno as a way to spend time with his son and father. It’s no surprise that their journey ends up being as much about the detours as their expressed goal.
One extended side trip involves a visit to a bordello where Sin-Dee (Lauren Bacall) serves as the regal madam. This sequence manages to be embarrassingly clichéd (even cringe-inducing at times), yet effectively serves as a turning point for the characters.
Even though it contains a few plot twists, Diamonds is absolutely irony-free. An appropriately happy ending awaits all involved. But what little punch the film has comes from 83-year-old Kirk Douglas, whose speech is still affected by his 1996 stroke. Douglas incorporated many of his own experiences into the role, giving it a much needed veracity. He also brings something more: that unmistakable quality of old-school Hollywood star power.
When Diamonds features flashbacks to Harry’s boxing heyday, it utilizes footage of a young, tenacious Douglas in The Champion, the 1949 film which made him a marquee name. Kirk Douglas may be older now, but he still looks like he could punch your lights out without giving it a second thought.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at email@example.com.