Lust for Life
Theatrical release poster
Directed byVincente Minnelli
Screenplay byNorman Corwin
Based onLust for Life
1934 novel
by Irving Stone
Produced byJohn Houseman
StarringKirk Douglas
Anthony Quinn
James Donald
CinematographyRussell Harlan
F. A. Young
Edited byAdrienne Fazan
Music byMiklós Rózsa
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
September 17, 1956
Running time
122 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2,695,000 (rentals)[1][2]

Lust for Life is a 1956 American biographical film about the life of the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh, based on the 1934 novel of the same title by Irving Stone which was adapted for the screen by Norman Corwin.

It was directed by Vincente Minnelli and produced by John Houseman. The film stars Kirk Douglas as Van Gogh, James Donald as his brother Theo, with Pamela Brown, Everett Sloane, and Anthony Quinn. Douglas won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama and the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor for his performance, while Quinn won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.[3]


Vincent has trained to be a minister, like his father, but the church authorities find him unsuitable. He pleads with them to be allowed some position and they place him in a very poor mining community. Here he becomes deeply absorbed in the miners' plight and begins sketching their daily life.

The religious leaders do not like his approach, and they frown on his social activism and care for the poor. He returns home to his father's house. Here a woman he obsessively loves (his cousin) rejects Van Gogh because of his inability to support himself financially. The infatuated Vincent follows her to her family home, where he holds his hand over a candle flame to prove his devotion, only to learn that she has said she is disgusted by him and doesn't want to see him again.

He takes to drawing. His cousin Anton Mauve gives him paint and art materials and encourages him to paint. His brother, Theo van Gogh, provides financial and moral support. Vincent takes up with a prostitute who eventually also leaves because he is too poor. His passion then turns fully to painting, which he pursues while agonizing that he is unable to paint precisely what he sees.

After his father's death, he goes to Paris with Theo, where he discovers impressionists. Theo cannot bear living with him and Vincent leaves for sunny Arles, France. Paul Gauguin (whom he met in Paris) joins him there, and for a while life is good. However, Vincent is too obsessive even for Gauguin's tastes and they argue, prompting the latter's departure, after which Vincent cuts off his own ear. Vincent begins experiencing seizures and voluntarily commits himself to a mental institution, where he is allowed to paint. He signs himself out, and with Theo's help returns to a rural area to resume painting. While painting cornfields, he is frustrated by the crows and, despairing at never being able to put what he sees on canvas, pulls out a revolver to shoot himself. He dies in bed a few days later.[3]



Kirk Douglas as Vincent van Gogh in Lust for Life

The film was based on the 1934 novel by Irving Stone and adapted by Norman Corwin. Vincente Minnelli directed the film, while John Houseman produced it. They worked with Douglas on the 1952 melodrama The Bad and the Beautiful, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. In 1954, Douglas secured the filming rights to Van Gogh's biography and intended to star and produce it through his own film production company, Bryna Productions, with Jean Negulesco directing and financial distribution backing from United Artists.[4][5]

Principal photography started in August and ended in December 1955 and it was shot on location in France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Two hundred enlarged colour photos were used representing Vincent’s completed canvases; these were in addition to copies that were executed by an American art teacher, Robert Parker. To prepare for his role as the troubled painter, Douglas practiced painting crows so that he could reasonably imitate van Gogh at work.[6] According to his wife Anne, Douglas would return home from work still in character. When asked if he would do such a thing again, Douglas responded that he would not.


Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait, mid-1887, Paris
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (F77v)

Critical reaction

The New York Times critic Bosley Crowther praised the film's conception, acting and color scheme, noting the design team "consciously made the flow of color and the interplay of compositions and hues the most forceful devices for conveying a motion picture comprehension of van Gogh."[7] Whitney Williams of Variety said, "This is a slow-moving picture whose only action is in the dialog itself. Basically a faithful portrait of Van Gogh, Lust for Life is nonetheless unexciting. It misses out in conveying the color and entertainment of the original Irving Stone novel."[8]

Harrison's Reports wrote that the film had been given "an excellent production" and that "Kirk Douglas does outstanding work as Van Gogh, and Anthony Quinn is very good as Paul Gauguin, his friend."[9] John McCarten of The New Yorker wrote, "Even if the movie doesn't delve as deeply as it might into the mental processes that made van Gogh behave the way he did, it nevertheless, in the person of Kirk Douglas, confronts us with a character well worth our absorbed attention. Mr. Douglas, who, wearing red whiskers, bears a striking resemblance to van Gogh's self-portraits, succeeds most skillfully in arousing a conviction that he is, in truth, a painter beside himself to capture light and hold it forever on canvas."[10]

Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post called the film "a remarkable achievement, combining a rich adventure in the art of color with a perceptive study of a creative personality. In this biography of Vincent Van Gogh, Kirk Douglas adds to his advantage of striking resemblance a performance of powerful sensitivity."[11] Edwin Schallert of the Los Angeles Times called the film a "remarkable and poignant study," and forecast that the artist's 'stellar portrayal' by Kirk Douglas "will be recognized for Academy honors."[12] The Monthly Film Bulletin printed a somewhat negative review, writing: "Although one feels that those responsible were determined to 'do right' by Van Gogh, this biographical tribute never rises above the level of the popular novel on which it is based ... Despite a remarkable physical resemblance, Kirk Douglas' performance remains essentially an American study in neuroticism; also, the presentation of the aesthetic controversy between Van Gogh (humane and intuitive) and Gauguin (intellectual and brusquely cynical) is both oversimplified and somewhat misleading."[13]

Box office

The world premiere was held at the Caley Picture House as part of the Edinburgh Film Festival on 19 August 1956. It subsequently opened on 17 September 17 at the Plaza Theatre on East 58th Street in New York City as a benefit for the Metropolitan Museum of Art's student program.[14] It played there for a record 37 weeks, grossing $450,000.[15]

Despite its accolades, the movie was a financial failure. According to MGM records, the film earned rentals of $1,595,000 in the US and Canada and $1,100,000 elsewhere, resulting in a loss of $2,072,000.[1]


Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
Academy Awards Best Actor Kirk Douglas Nominated [16]
Best Supporting Actor Anthony Quinn Won
Best Screenplay – Adapted Norman Corwin Nominated
Best Art Direction – Color Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Hans Peters, and E. Preston Ames;
Set Decoration: Edwin B. Willis and F. Keogh Gleason
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture – Drama Nominated [17]
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama Kirk Douglas Won
Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Anthony Quinn Nominated
Best Director – Motion Picture Vincente Minnelli Nominated
National Board of Review Awards Top Ten Films 4th Place [18]
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Actor Kirk Douglas Won [19]

Companion short film

MGM produced a short film, Van Gogh: Darkness Into Light, narrated by Dore Schary and showing the European locations used for the filming, to promote Lust for Life. In the film, a 75-year-old woman from Auvers-sur-Oise (not Jeanne Calment, who lived in Arles several hundred kilometers to the south), who claims to have known Van Gogh when she was a young girl, meets star Kirk Douglas, and comments on how much he looks like the painter. This short promotional film is shown on Turner Classic Movies occasionally. At the start and ending of the film, the creators thank a number of galleries, collectors and historians who allowed the works of Van Gogh to be photographed for the film.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Mannix, Eddie (1962). The E.J. Mannix ledger. Margaret Herrick Library. OCLC 801258228.[page needed]
  2. ^ "Top Grosses of 1957". Variety. January 8, 1958. p. 30 – via Internet Archive.
  3. ^ a b "Lust for Life (1956) - Vincente Minnelli | Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related". AllMovie. Retrieved January 9, 2018.
  4. ^ "Pine-Thomas In 3-Film Deal". Independent Film Journal. February 5, 1955. p. 8 – via Internet Archive.
  5. ^ "Kirk Douglas Packages Own". Variety. January 12, 1955. p. 15 – via Internet Archive.
  6. ^ Walker, John A. (July 1990). "Vincent van Gogh films: Of Cypresses and Sunflowers". The Monthly Film Bulletin. Vol. 57, no. 678. pp. 184–185. Archived from the original on August 23, 2010. Retrieved October 12, 2010 – via artdesigncafé.
  7. ^ Crowther, Bosley (September 18, 1956). "Screen: Color-Full Life of van Gogh". The New York Times. p. 39.
  8. ^ Williams, Whitney (September 5, 1956). "Film Reviews: Lust for Life". Variety. p. 6 – via Internet Archive.
  9. ^ "'Lust for Life' with Kirk Douglas". Harrison's Reports. September 8, 1956. p. 144 – via Internet Archive.
  10. ^ McCarten, John (September 29, 1956). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. p. 86.
  11. ^ Coe, Richard L. (September 21, 1956). "'Lust for Life' Real Triumph". The Washington Post. p. 79.
  12. ^ Schallert, Edwin (September 22, 1956). "'Lust for Life' Reveals Saga of Tortured Artist". Los Angeles Times. p. 8.
  13. ^ "Lust for Life". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 24 (278): 29. March 1957.
  14. ^ "Museum Lends van Gogh to Premiere of Film on Artist". The New York Times. September 15, 1956. p. 23.
  15. ^ "'Lust's' $450,000 Plaza, N.Y. Gross". Variety. June 19, 1957. p. 4. Retrieved April 19, 2019 – via Internet Archive.
  16. ^ "The 29th Academy Awards (1956) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved February 17, 2013.
  17. ^ "Winners & Nominees 1957". Golden Globes. Retrieved April 1, 2021.
  18. ^ "1956 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  19. ^ "1956 New York Film Critics Circle Awards". New York Film Critics Circle. Retrieved July 5, 2021.