DECEMBER ON TCM

December on TCM is upon us and with it, comes a rather paltry amount of entries for Lee Marvin fans. In fact, from what I can tell, they’re not airing a single one of his films this December. However, there are a couple of little gems being aired during the month that might be of interest in terms of Lee Marvin’s life and legacy. All times are PST….

The Snow of Kilimanjaro (1952) Thursday, December, 3rd at 12:45am

Susan Hayward comforts gangrene-stricken Gregory Peck in the overblown SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO.


Readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank know the importance of this Hemingway tale to the Marvin oeuvre, despite this bastardized version Hollywood did to this poignant short story. Starring Gregory Peck, Susan Hayward and Ava Gardner, this lush looking Twentieth-Century Fox production bears almost no resemblance to what the author wrote, which is why he hated so many of the films made of his stories. Of course, in fairness, Lee Marvin’s The Killers, based on Hemingway’s short story suffered the same fate which might be rather Karmic in its own way.

On Dangerous Ground (1952) Thursday, December 3rd, 3:00am

Marvin costar Robert Ryan as psycho cop Jim Wilson near opening of ON DANGEROUS GROUND.


Frequent Marvin costar Robert Ryan could be pretty villianous when he had to be and I personally don’t think he was ever more frighteningly so than in this taut little thriller directed by cult filmmaker Nick Ray and costarring Ida Lupino and Ward Bond. It’s on in the wee small hours but if interested in watching any part of it, by all means watch the scene early on when Ryan threatens an informer and then follows through on his threat (“Why do you make me do it?!”) He’s never been scarier. As for Ryan’s thoughts on Lee Marvin. I was privileged to get some insight into that from his daughter, Lisa Ryan.

The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) Tuesday, December 15th, 9:45am

Gloria Grahame appreciating her Oscar for THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL.



Lee Marvin’s The Big Heat costar Gloria Grahame won her only Oscar for Best Supporting actress in this wildly overrated expose’ of a Hollywood cad that everybody hates and loves at the same time. Kirk Douglas plays the cad with Barry Sullivan, pouty-mouthed Lana Turner and Dick Powell as satellites to Douglas’s burning sun. Grahame plays Powell’s smalltown pouty-lipped wife who craves the attention of hollywood glamor. Director Vicente Minelli won many plaudits for this behind-the-scenes expose’ but I found it to be just okay. Watch and see for yourself if you think Grahame was more deserving of an Oscar for this or for her role as Debbie, Lee Marvin’s scar-faced moll in The Big Heat. My opinion is obvious.

Susan Slept Here (1954) Saturday, December 19th, 11am & Christmas morning, 9:15am.

(L-R) Glenda Farrell, Alvy Moore and Debbie Reynolds.


Speaking of Dick Powell, he stars in this bit of froth that has almost no connection to Lee Marvin at all….almost. Powell’s last screen appearance has him playing a middle-aged writer who gets the surprise of his life on Christmas Eve in the person of juvenile delinquent Debbie Reynolds. The Marvin connection? One of the film’s supporting players is Alvy Moore, better known as Mr. Kimble, “Green Acres” befuddled county agent. Moore was also a decorated WWII Marine and very good friend of the young Marvin who told this author that the buzz on him for this film actually got him more roles and talk of an Oscar nomination. Watch and see if the buzz was worthy as he said which had his buddy Marvin more than a little envious.  
Well, there you have it, A rather dismal holiday feast for Lee Marvin fans but some interesting nuggets, none the less. Hopefully, January and 2021 will bring some better viewing choices. Anything has got to be better than 2020.
– Dwayne Epstein

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AVALON: A THANKSGIVING DAY TALE

Avalon (1990), filmmaker Barry Levinson’s loving tribute to his family roots was the nucleus of his “Baltimore Films.” The others include Diner (1982), Tin Men (1987) and Liberty Heights (1999). However, although Diner is a personal favorite, Avalon, for my money is really the best of the series. Long before I began work on Lee Marvin: Point Blank, I saw Avalon in the theater with my parents, a rare occurrence and boy, am I glad I did as I learned a fascinating anecdote about my family history.
Flashback several decades when the majority of my family still lived in New York, mostly Brooklyn to be exact. My father was a truck driver and had two older brothers, Hank and Dave. My uncle Dave was involved with the ILGWU (International Ladies Garment Workers Union) and would jokingly tell people he was a CPA, Cleaning, Pressing and Alterations. My uncle Hank started his own successful jewelry company and left Brooklyn for the the ‘burbs of Oceanside, Long Island. I mention this as one Thanksgiving my uncle Dave and his family took longer to get to my uncle Hank’s house who had decided not to wait, and had us all eating before his older brother Dave arrived. When Dave did arrive, he was livid: YOU CUT A TURKEY WITHOUT A BROTHER?!?” he apparently shouted in anger.
Okay, now flash forward to a darkened movie theater in 1990 as I sit watching the film with my parents. If you’ve seen Avalon, then you know where this is going. Lou Jacobi arrives late to his brother’s house for Thanksgiving as his brother had moved to the ‘burbs. When Jacobi shouts, “YOU CUT A TURKEY WITHOUT A BROTHER!?” My mother howled with laughter and, being the queen of tact, elbowed my father while shouting so everyone in the theatre could hear, “Oy! is that your brother Dave!”
A happier connection to the film was the fact that when I move back to California from New Jersey, Jewish Federation News editor Harriette Ellis allowed me to review the film when it was released, turning a freelance gig into a permanent position as her editorial assistant. The review is below and as a cautionary tale, remember: Never cut a turkey without a brother! Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers.

My review of Barry Levinson’s AVALON.

 

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WAGON TRAIN: THE CHRISTOPHER HALE STORY

Wagon Train, the long-running western series (1957-1965) had many a famous guest star during its run and that includes Lee Marvin who appeared in two episodes: “The Jose Morales Story,” as a Mexican bandito (!) and “The Christopher Hale Story,” the subject of this blog entry. A regular reader of this blog recently informed me that that retro cable network, ME-TV, will be airing that 1961 episode on Monday, November 30th at 4pm Pacific Standard Time. If you’re lucky enough to get that network and have the time to do so, by all means watch or DVR it, as it’s one of Lee’s best efforts, especially the ending! 

Lee Marvin as sadistic wagon master, Jud Benedict.

Fans of the show know that this particular episode is also a pivotal one for another reason. The show’s original wagon-masters were Robert Horton and Ward Bond so when Bond died suddenly, a replacement was immediately needed. Hence this Wagon Train episode guest starring Lee Marvin and Bond replacement, John McIntire, but he has to get thru a conflict with Lee Marvin first.
 There are several interesting aspects to this Wagon Train episode for Lee Marvin fans. Marvin replaced Bond when he died before production on Liberty Valance began and here…well, you’ll see for yourself. Also, Marvin was good friends with the show’s other main cast member, Robert Horton, who enjoyed having Marvin on the show, as he told this author a while back. 

Jud Benedict (Lee Marvin) & John McIntire (Christopher Hale) confront each other on WAGON TRAIN.


 There’s yet one more reason the episode is a worthy watch and I’ve long been wanting to mention it. I interviewed veteran actor L.Q. Jones back in 1995 and it remains one of my favorites. He spoke quite colorfully of the times in which TV westerns were in their heyday, and the likes of himself, Jack Elam, Strother Martin, Slim Pickens and others worked constantly on the likes of Gunsmoke, The Virginian and yes, Wagon Train. Also according to Jones, their card-playing skills between scenes often earned them more money than their acting skills. Ahh, gone are the days. So, with that in mind, here’s a little anecdote about that particular episode of Wagon Train that I was not able to work into Lee Marvin Point Blank (but many other great ones did!), as told but the great L.Q. Jones….

L.Q. Jones: Did you ever play Pitch?
Dwayne: No I haven’t.
L: Pitch is cowboy bridge. It’s a brutal game. It seems so simple as to be ridiculous yet, it’ll tear you a new hole if you don’t know what your doing. You can play a hand in Pitch and maybe, you can deal it, play it in a minute, minute-and-a-half if your playing with people who understand the game of Pitch. If your playing..I’ve seen one guy leave as they throw their cards, “Aw shit!” That’s the end of that. You know what the outcome is going to be. You can’t screw it up. So we played Pitch a lot. … We’d play a lot of Hearts. You know what Hearts is?
D: My father used to play Hearts. That and Pinochle.
L: It’s great. I never good warm to Pinochle but Hearts is great fun because you play the people. God, we were playing and we had Lee and..do you know who Red Morgan is?
D: The name is familiar.
L: One of the most beautiful stuntmen of all time. He’s just one of the world’s great people. Loved to play Hearts. So he, Red, Lee, I’m not sure who the other one was..
D: Was it another stuntman?
L: Wait a minute! It probably was Frankie McGrath who was the other player and myself.
D: Frankie?
L: He was the cook on Wagon Train
D: I couldn’t tell you. “Wagon Train” was a little before my time.
L: I’ve really forgotten. He was a great stuntman and that’s the thing he ended up doing. He was playing. He was also one of John Ford’s favorites. You never saw a picture that Ford directed that Frankie wasn’t in, as a stuntman. Totally crazy but that’s why the old man loved him. ….Anyway, we had Lee Marvin, Red, Frankie and myself. Brutal Hearts players. Of course the thing in Hearts is to either make all of them, or none of them. All the hearts plus the Queen of Spades. It’s an unwritten rule that if I stop someone from getting all of them, you give me a heart but you don’t give me the Queen of Spades. Because the Queen of Spades is thirteen, where a heart is just one. It would cost you let’s say $65 if you’ve got the black queen. The Queen of Hearts, it would cost you five dollars if you got a heart. So you just, you don’t reward a guy for saving your fanny by giving him the queen. So, we’re playing along and it’s all quiet, really no noise. Lee stopped somebody, I figure probably Frankie, from going for it. I watched Red and Red’s eyes, you could just see the sparkle. He dropped the queen on Lee. Lee went off like a cheap skyrocket. (Mimes Marvin) “You son-of-a-bitch! I’ll kill you, goddamit!” Now he’s getting so…the company’s trying to shoot..

Veteran actor L.Q. Jones as he appeared as Lee Marvin’s henchman on WAGON TRAIN.


D: Oh geez, so he screwed up the shot? 
L: Right, and the A.D. screaming, “Shut up!” (mimes Marvin again) “That cocksucker gave me..” It went on for about ten or fifteen minutes and Red is rolling, we’re playing on the ground, rolling on the fucking ground. We’re trying to keep control because Lee is so mad.
Oh he was really ticked and rightly so. Finally, the director came over and said, “Lee, you’re gonna have to just shut up! We gotta get this shot and your killing us.” (mimes Marvin again) “Goddamit!” I finally said, “Okay Lee, let’s go down and get a cup of coffee.” Anything to shut him up. He mumbled and..he tried to get Red which is the wrong thing because Red is one of smoothest working. He’s probably dead by now. He was smoothest Heart players that ever existed. Then it hatched a feud that I don’t think Lee ever won out on.
D: But he kept trying, by god.
L: Oh yes. He never..I’m sure he asked for Red on a lot of his shows so he could play him, again (I laugh),

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