I recently watched the 1967 classic true-crime thriller In Cold Blood on TCM and it still packs one hell of a wallop. Writer/Director Richard Brooks was at the peak of his game in his stark tale of the horrific murders of the Clutter family at the hands of ex-con drifters Perry Smith (Robert Blake) and Dick Hickox (Scott Wilson). As readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank know, Marvin himself came pretty damned close to being in the film.
How close? From the IMDb: “Lee Marvin wanted the role of Alvin Dewey but director Richard Brooks gave it to John Forsythe instead. Brooks had worked with Marvin on the extremely successful, The Professionals.  but Marvin had proved to be a handful on the set.”

L-R: Veteran character actor James Flavin, Robert Blake, Gerald S. O’loughlin, John Forsythe (in the role Marvin was to play) & Scott Wilson in Richard Brooks’ true crime thriller, IN COLD BLOOD.

I’m not quite sure where the IMDb got its information from but I had interviewed stuntman Tony Epper, who had worked very closely with Brooks and Marvin on The Professionals. His version of why Marvin was not in the film was quite different. While it’s true Marvin and Brooks did not always get along, both men were well aware of each other’s  personality traits and it was Marvin, not Brooks, who did not want to work with the other. Marvin thought of Brooks as a martinet who may have been a military veteran, but having not seen actual combat, he considered Brooks a phony and a bully. Unfortunate really as it was another golden opportunity that Marvin missed in being a part of portraying the horror of violence on film as never seen before at that time.

Lee Marvin as Detective Frank Ballinger on M Squad, or, as I like to think of it, how he would have appeared in the John Forsythe role for IN COLD BLOOD.

Tony Epper: “I’ll tell you what Lee did. I came over and Lee said ‘Go get some of that good wine at the liquor store.’ It was a different label, that’s all. Other than that, after the third drink, you know. Anyway, I get a phone call. I lived down in the valley in those days. It’s Richard. I remember Tommy Shaw, who was the production manager, in those days. He was a good production manager. Anyway, Brooks wanted to get the script of In Cold Blood to Tommy. He had called Tommy and Tommy couldn’t come. I took it, because his wife had a liver problem. That’s where the money went. Anyway, I went over and that’s when Brooks was still with Jean Simmons. He and I were good friends. Nothing but good friends…Anyway, I go in the house and there’s Richard. He says, ‘I want you to do me a big favor.’ I said ‘Do you want me to kill somebody?’ (laughs) He gives me the script. Lots of seals all over it. I stopped by Lee’s with the script and the bottle he wanted. Anyway, this part was Lee’s idea. He saw the sealed script I was to deliver to Shaw, and since he knew Brooks was so paranoid about anybody reading his script, he came up with this idea. He said, ‘Let’s just break the seal before giving it to Shaw.’ I asked Lee if he wanted to read it first. We never read it, just broke the seal. Brooks, until the day he died, kept asking me if we had ever read the script to In Cold Blood. I think that’s why he changed his mind about offering the role to Lee.”

IN COLD BLOOD writer/director Richard Brooks (behind the camera) and cinematographer Conrad Hall behinds Brooks.



One would think that after four years in publication that media outlets (big or small) would no longer be interested in talking about Lee Marvin Point Blank. However, even at this late date, I still get requests to talk up my book simply via word-of-mouth. Someone reads the book, likes it, and suggests my presence elsewhere. Take for instance North Carolina radio station Magic 95.9 and my new internet friend Bill Benjamin.

North Carolina radio station Magic 95.9’s logo.

He contacted me a while back and we recorded a chat to air the Friday, February 9th. Feel free to listen to it as it streams online on their website, via this link: Magic 95.9 Wpnc. I’d be curious to listen in myself as I haven’t heard it yet, either. Should be interesting…..I hope. If you miss it’s original airing, fear not as they’ll probably be archiving it on their website.…I hope.
Then there’s this recent online interview conducted in tribute to the 50th Anniversary release of Point Blank. Writer Michael Coate contacted me through a mutual friend in the BSOL and submitted a list of questions via e-mail. I must admit, though, some of what I wrote him back was cribbed from my own article written for the Locarno Film Festival back in the 90s. Is it plagiarism when you steal from yourself? I didn’t think so.
Anyway, It was recently posted on his website, Digital Tidbits for your perusal. Nice graphics, by the way.  Or, if you prefer, here’s the piece itself that I cut & pasted below. Enjoy and remember, just because time has passed, doesn’t mean media interest in Marvin has….

“The first art house action film.” —Dwayne Epstein, author of Lee Marvin: Point Blank

The Digital Bits and History, Legacy & Showmanship are pleased to present this retrospective commemorating the 50th anniversary of the release of Point Blank, the neo noir crime classic starring Lee Marvin (Cat Ballou, The Dirty Dozen) and Angie Dickinson (Police Woman, Dressed to Kill).

Directed by John Boorman (Deliverance, Excalibur) and based upon the crime noir novel The Hunter, Point Blank also featured Keenan Wynn (Annie Get Your Gun, Dr. Strangelove) and Carroll O’Connor (All in the Family, In the Heat of the Night) — and striking San Francisco locations. The film recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of its release, and for the occasion The Bits features a Q&A with film historian Dwayne Epstein, who discusses the film’s virtues and influence. [Read on here…]

Dwayne Epstein is the author of Lee Marvin: Point Blank (Schaffner Press, 2013) and member of the BSOL (Bastard Sons of Lee Marvin). He is also the author of a number of young adult biographies covering such public figures as Hillary Clinton, Will Ferrell, Nancy Pelosi, Adam Sandler, Hilary Swank, and Denzel Washington for Lucent Books’ People in the News series and the multiple biography Lawman of the Old West for Lucent’s History Makers series. Epstein also contributed to Bill Krohn’s Hitchcock at Work (2003) and Joe Dante and the Gremlins of Hollywood (1999). He has also written for Filmfax Magazine and Cahiers du Cinema and is currently writing “a logical follow-up to” Lee Marvin: Point Blank.

Michael Coate (The Digital Bits): How do you think Point Blank should be remembered on its 50th anniversary?

Dwayne Epstein: In remembering the importance of any groundbreaking film, it’s necessary to always put it in its proper historical context. In the case of Point Blank, 1967 was a year in which many long-held cultural taboos were shattered in mainstream films thanks to the end of the studio system and old production code. By 1967 both style and subject matter were constantly being challenged on a regular basis throughout the year (Bonnie and Clyde, In the Heat of the Night, The Dirty Dozen) and riding the crest of those taboo-breaking films was Point Blank.

Coate: Can you recall the first time you saw Point Blank and what is your opinion of the film?

Epstein: I first saw the film in its entirety at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) at a special screening with some friends and it featured a Q&A with its costar, Angie Dickinson. I didn’t particularly care for it at first, having seen it cut up on TV the first time. However, like many great films, it has grown on me in time to become one of my personal favorites. There are too many reasons to go into as to why it’s grown on me. Suffice it to say, with all great works, more great things are discovered upon each viewing of this multi-layered classic, making continued viewing a new discovery each time.

Coate: Is Point Blank a significant motion picture in any way?

Epstein: The highly stylized film boasts many technological advancements, as well as some of the most memorable images of its kind. The reverberating sound of Marvin’s heels echoing through the airport during the opening, or the juxtaposing of a brutal fistfight during a hip, soul music riff still pack a significant wallop. Although it is not widely known, Point Blank is also the first film to mic all the actors individually during a scene, thereby incorporating a greater sense of intimacy.

Here’s an anecdotal example of the film’s lasting significance. One of the film’s most iconic images of both violence and sexual power, as recalled by Boorman, was a collaborative effort: “It was Lee’s idea to shoot into the empty bed of the wife who had betrayed him. We were using blanks which give no recoil, so, Lee faked it, his arm whipping back a foot or more with each shot. It suggested the enormous power of the thing more than anything else could. Later, when we were filming on Alcatraz, we got some live ammunition and fired the big Magnum for real. There was no recoil at all. Lee grinned at me. ’Our way sure beats the real thing,’ he said.”

The production was also the first ever shot with extensive sequences on the then recently decommissioned prison of Alcatraz. The difficult task of obtaining permission to shoot on “The Rock” was secured by promising government officials that the film would not glorify crime. Once that was accomplished, the filmmakers took over the decaying prison, shooting long into the night. One shot included a love scene between Marvin and actress Sharon Acker in what had been the cell of Al Capone. At one point, the production almost lost a script girl who slipped on an oil-slick barge into San Francisco Bay’s choppy waters.

Point Blank newspaper ad

Coate: In what way was John Boorman an ideal choice to direct Point Blank, and where do you think the film ranks among his body of work?

Epstein: First and foremost, the entire project was Boorman’s idea. He approached actor Lee Marvin about it when Marvin was filming The Dirty Dozen in England. Once Marvin agreed, the project moved ahead as Boorman envisioned it. The British director has since carved a career out of exploring and juxtaposing man’s relationship and conflict with his primal self, most prominently with his classic 1972 film Deliverance. In my opinion, Deliverance ranks only slightly ahead of Point Blank in the director’s impressive canon of work, both different genres with the very similar themes mentioned herein.

Coate: Can you discuss Lee Marvin’s performance? In what way was he ideal for the role of Walker?

Epstein: At the time of the film’s production, the actor’s marriage was on the rocks while he was in a tumultuous relationship with then girlfriend, Michele Triola. “I saw Point Blank about a year ago and I was absolutely shocked,” he said in 1985. “I had forgotten how rough a film it was. That was a troubled time for me in my personal relationship so I used an awful lot of that while making the picture.” Rarely has art imitated life so creatively.

Coate: Can you discuss Angie Dickinson’s performance? In what way was she ideal for the role of Chris?

Epstein: She fit the part first and foremost based on her look which was in perfect unison with the time. She is also an underrated actress who played the role subtly falling for Lee Marvin’s Walker following her sister’s death. Despite Lee Marvin not having many leading ladies, he worked most with Dickinson and with good reason. Their chemistry was palpable.

It was Dickinson who made a pointed observation when Point Blank was screened at LACMA: “It’s been taken to task for its violence but if you notice, Lee’s character never really kills anyone, except for a car and a bed. He really is a catalyst for violence, not a perpetrator.” Her observations gives credence to those film buffs who argue that Marvin’s character is actually the Angel of Death. As with most great films, the strange concept of the film is open to the audiences’ own imagination.

Coate: Where does Point Blank rank among the noir/crime genre?

Epstein: I would rank it extremely high as its influence is still very much in evidence. It’s interesting that it received tepid reviews when it first came out but it has since gone on to garner cult film status. At the time of its release, most critics dismissed it but some, such as Newsweek, wrote: “It hits like a slug from the .38 Lee Marvin uses as extension of his fist. It is highly moral violence with compelling photography.” Point Blank has since gone on to attain justifiable cult status. The highly stylized camera work, coupled with Marvin’s raw performance has made it, in the words of film historian Leonard Maltin, “A taut thriller ignored in 1967 but now regarded as one of the top films of the mid-sixties.”

Many of the films made since have been directly influenced by it, such as Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs in 1992 and Pulp Fiction two years later. There were also more obvious examples, such as Mel Gibson’s 1999 remake Payback and Jason Statham’s Parker (2013).

Coate: What is the legacy of Point Blank?

Epstein: It was and remains what it was when first released: The first art house action film.

For more information concerning the film’s production and lasting impact, consult my book, Lee Marvin: Point Blank for even greater insight into what made it such a haunting cinematic achievement worthy of its inclusion into the National Registry of Films in 2016.

Coate: Thank you, Dwayne, for sharing your thoughts about Point Blank on the occasion of its 50th anniversary.



While I was working on Lee Marvin Point Blank, I put together a 2-DVD set that can best be described as Lee Marvin Rarities. It helped immeasurably with my research as it showed, among other things, Marvin being interviewed on a variety of subjects in a variety of setting, and he was ALWAYS quotable!
Of course, some of these items are available on YouTube and such but certainly not all making it quite a rare collection of vintage material, indeed! Anyone interested in a copy can message me here privately as I’m the only one allowed to read the messages and respond privately, as well. The DVDs consists of:
Commercials he did during M Squad for Pall Mall cigarettes
The Making of Point Blank
Point Blank Trailer
Bad Day at Black Rock Trailer
The Wild One Trailer
The Comancheros Trailer
Clip of him winning the Oscar for Cat Ballou
Interview backstage after the Oscars
The Dirty Dozen Trailer
The Making of The Dirty Dozen
Interview on the set of The Dirty Dozen (Tonight, Let’s All Make Love in London)
The Making of Monte Walsh
The Making of Emperor of the North
A comedy sketch with John Byner in tribute to John Wayne (1976)
Documentary footage making The Big Red One
Blooper clip from The Bob Hope Show
Appearance on The David Letterman Show
Interview for Spencer Tracy Documentary
Montage of film clips by the BSOL (Bastard Sons of Lee)
The BSOL and YOU promo tape

Check out the blurry screen grabs my poor technological skills were able to produce (the discs are not blurry, of course)…

Video grab: Hustling Pall Mall cigarettes for M Squad’s main sponsor.

Video grab: Rare footage showing Lee Marvin (with giddy fellow Oscar winner Julie Christie) being interviewed BACKSTAGE AT THE OSCARS.

Video grab: Being interviewed about swinging London on the set of The Dirty Dozen for the extremely rare documentary, TONIGHT, LET’S ALL MAKE LONDON.

Video grab: Being interviewed on the set during THE MAKING OF MONTE WALSH.

Video grab: Clowning around on location with costar Jack Palance during THE MAKING OF MONTE WALSH.

Video grab: Rare footage showing Marvin & costar Ernest Borgnine rehearsing their fight scene from THE MAKING OF EMPEROR OF THE NORTH.

Video grab: Documentary footage showing Lee Marvin doing his Sam Fuller impression from THE MAKING OF THE BIG RED ONE.