NICK NOLTE, A LOGICAL FOLLOW-UP TO LEE MARVIN

Nick Nolte, a personal favorite actor since I saw Who’ll Stop the Rain back in 1978, was my idea of a perfect follow-up to Lee Marvin Point Blank. Why Nolte? Several reasons, actually. First of all, my publisher had put into the Lee Marvin contract that he would get first look on whatever project I proposed as a follow-up. Market considerations being what they are, many of my favorite subjects were automatically excluded due to the glut of titles already written about them (Steve McQueen, James Cagney, Burt Lancaster, etc. ). With that in mind, I zeroed in on Nolte, as there have been very little published on the multi-Academy Award nominee.

The first and only book written about Nick Nolte came out in 1999.

For the longest time the only title was a book called Caught in The Act, written by Nolte’s friend, Mel Weiser. Not exactly a biography as it focused on Nolte’s technique while making the Merchant/Ivory production, Jefferson In Paris (1995) and included a few background anecdotes from earlier in his career. That meant a full, definitive biography had yet to exist.
My publisher liked the idea for that reason and then proceeded to ask me what my admiration was all about. Well, I told him I’d been a fan since Who’ll Stop the Rain. Truth is, when Nolte first made a splash with Rich Man, Poor Man and then The Deep, I was anything BUT a fan. The prime-time soap opera left me cold, and seeing The Deep in a drive-in with a bunch of buddies drooling over Jackie Bissett was fun but Nolte looked and acted like a Robert Redford wannabe.
Then came Ray Hicks and Who’ll Stop the Rain. It remains to this day one of my favorite films and Nolte gives a truly haunting performance. Following that he gave a string of knockout performances ithroughout the 1980s in everything from North Dallas Forty (1979), Heart Beat (1980), and Cannery Row (1982), to 48 Hours (1982), Under Fire (1983), Down & Out in Beverly Hills (1986), Weeds (1987) and New York Stories (1989). How can anyone NOT be a fan? Even when the film was so-so, Nolte was always worth watching. Interesting man, too.

Nolte (and director Paul Mazursky) answering my question following a screening of Down & Out In Beverly Hills at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica.

I met him briefly at a screening in 2015 and after his initial shyness, he proved to be an hilarious and spot-on storyteller. I very much looked forward to writing about the aforementioned films, as well as Prince of Tides (1991), Cape Fear (1991), Affliction (1997) and more. Cursory research proved he was quite a rebellious character in life, as well. If he could be summed up in one word it was done by a friend of mine who saw Nolte behind the wheel at a red light in Hollywood. He said one word: Ferocious.
Okay, his market value established, the dearth of biographies know and the life and fascinating talent worthy of exploring in place it looked to be the perfect follow-up to Lee Marvin Point Blank. An actor, by the way, who had he lived, would have been stunning as Nolte’s father in Affliction. Just saying…
Just as the publisher and I were about to seal the deal, this showed up on Amazon….

Nick Nolte’s recently published memoir.

Sigh.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad Nolte did it, even if it took almost two more years to see the light of day. I’ve been reading it and loving it, as well. Unfortunately, it proved to be the death knell on my proposed biography.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. What’s a poor biographer to do? I went back to the drawing board and came up with what I thought to be a decent alternative. No, not Charles Bronson, as that’s a story for another blog. What I came up with I thought was rather ingenious. What was it, you ask? Stay tuned…..

-Dwayne Epstein

 

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ROBERT SHAW & THE ILL-FATED AVALANCHE EXPRESS

Robert Shaw would have been 91 years-old last Thursday, August 9th. Sadly, he never lived beyond the age 51, dying shortly after completing principal photography on Avalanche Express, his sole costarring credit with Lee Marvin.

Old style advertising artwork for AVALANCHE EXPRESS, which was infinitely better than the film.

The old-fashioned Cold War spy thriller left Robert Ludlum and John LeCarre nothing to worry about.  Shaw played a Russian master spy defecting to the west with KGB chief Maximillan Schell hot on his trail. Shaw’s defection is arranged through the auspices of American spy master Lee Marvin who plans to use Shaw as bait to ferret out some old KGB adversaries. Mike Connors, Linda Evans, Horst Bucholtz and even Joe Namath join in on the title train’s cliche’d yarn.

AVALANCHE EXPRESS production stills from the film’s pressbook.

Readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank are well aware of the film’s bedeviled production. For example, veteran director Mark Robson died suddenly, June 20, 1978 as principal photography was near completion, followed two months later by Shaw’s untimely passing from a massive heart attack near his home in Ireland. Producers were left in a quandary about what to do about it as some footage was actually still needed, or in some cases, reshot. Enter maverick filmmaker Monte Hellman, who took over the production in ways only Lee Marvin Point Blank readers know about thanks to an exclusive interview he gave me.

The great Al Hirschfeld’s drawing of the AVALANCHE EXPRESS costars. Can you spot all 3 Ninas?

It proved to be the great Robert Shaw’s last screen appearance as the actor was coming more and more into his own following the success of Jaws (In the role Marvin turned down) and The Sting.
It isn’t widely known but he had actually wanted to be remembered more for his writing than his acting. His play, The Man in the Glass Booth earned him a Tony Award and an Oscar nomination for the performance of his Avalanche Express costar, Maximilian Schell. The loss of Shaw’s talent can never be fully measured.
As for Lee Marvin, he had not made a film in 3 years but came out of semi-retirment just to work with Shaw. He was not disappointed as the two men got along wonderfully, making Shaw’s passing even more tragic for Marvin. He was in Ireland shooting scenes for The Big Red One when he got the news. He said at the time: “In leaving Ireland I am leaving a piece of my heart with Robert Shaw and his family.”
-Dwayne Epstein

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ROBERT ALDRICH: A 100TH ANNIVERSARY TRIBUTE

Robert Aldrich was born one hundred years ago today and we classic movie fans are all the richer for it! Lee Marvin Point Bank readers are familiar with Marvin’s and Aldrich’s working relationship as they made a great film together in almost every decade of Marvin’s career: Attack!, 1956; The Dirty Dozen,1967; Emperor of the North, 1973. In fact, it was almost more than that as Marvin wanted Aldrich to direct Death Hunt (1983), which would have completed the last decade of Marvin’s career.

(L-R) Director Robert Aldrich and costars Lee Marvin & Ernest Borgnine at the initial script conference for THE DIRTY DOZEN.

Probably the most remembered of both of their careers was indeed The Dirty Dozen.
The success of that film catapulted both the actor and the director to rarified heights of fame and success.

Aldrich demonstrates to Lee Marvin how to kick John Cassavetes in THE DIRTY DOZEN.

Marvin got a million dollar paycheck from then on and was a top ten box office sensation for the next decade. Aldrich continued to direct & produce films that may have defied description, but maintained his high level of quality. His signature style, which included a love of characters bordering on the grotesque (Whatever to Baby Jane?, The Grissom Gang, The Choir Boys) and a distinct brilliance at mounting suspense through editing and character anticipation, put him in league with some of the greatest directors of all time.

Case in point: The powerful climax to one of my favorites of his, Flight of the Phoenix, compares perfectly to the scene in which Lee Marvin goads Clint Walker into a knife fight in The Dirty Dozen. Watch the way Aldrich mounts the suspense in Phoenix by building to quicker cuts, showing the stranded characters’ apprehension in hopes of the resurrected airplane’s ability to start up just one more time. Rosaries are prayed on, sweat builds on the nearly dehydrated men, some of whom begin to jump up and down as the audience’s anticipation reaches a pitch. In Dozen, he does the same with mounting edits, sidelong characters laughing and goading the giant Walker to stab Marvin, as M.P. Richard Jaeckel is shown reaching for his sidearm. Both scenes are signatories of Aldrich’s unique style of cinema and it’s a style that is sorely missed in this day of computerized technology.
Aldrich himself may have had the best last word about such things. When Marvin visited Aldrich in the hospital as he lay dying of cancer, Marvin asked him, “Can I get you anything?” The wizened director commented, “Yeah, a better script.”

Robert Aldrich: August 9th, 1918 – December 5th, 1983.

I think that’s something we could all use now.
-Dwayne Epstein

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