PILLARS OF THE SKY W/ JEFF CHANDLER & LEE ‘WARD BOND’ MARVIN

Universal Pictures’ 1956 release, Pillars of the Sky, starred Jeff Chandler (Ira Grossel) and Dorothy Malone (Dorothy Maloney) but way down the cast list, fifth biilled, as a matter of fact, was Lee Marvin. Of course, it’s mentioned in Lee Marvin Point Blank as I was lucky enough to interview one of its stars, Martin Milner. As a side note, he told me a great anecdote that wasn’t in the book but did make a great blog entry.

One of two ad campaigns for PILLARS OF THE SKY.

As for Marvin in the film, I was able to include one of my favorite stories about him in the book that took place during the film’s production concerning veteran actor, Ward Bond. It’s a wonderfully telling tale that p.r. veteran Peter Levinson passed on to me. Gotta read the book to find that out as it’s a hoot!
As for Marvin’s contribution to the over produced film, it consisted of several early scenes playing what he did best, a swaggering, veteran calvary officer clearly based on Ward Bond himself, as he affected a poorly rendered Irish brogue, for reasons known only to Marvin. My guess is , he did it out of boredom and wanted to have some fun with the part. He was never very accomplished when it came to attempting accents, however: A Mexican bandit on an episode of “Wagon Train,”  an Armenian grape grower on the short-lived “Great Adventure” series, and a slight southern twang in Attack!, are the handful that come to mind.
The film itself is typical of its time. A forthright attempt to show good white folks trying to help native Americans, hampered by the bigotry of other white folks, all the while barely attempting to show the native Americans point of view, who go on a rampage that endanger good and bad white folks alike. Oh, and sexual innuendo is thrown in for good measure in the form of Dorothy Malone and Jeff Chandler’s ongoing love-hate relationship on the open plains. When or if it ever shows up n TCM or any other movie channel, check it out…but keep your expectations low to enjoy it more.

Alternate ad for the film in typical ballyhoo style that hints at the film’s original title: THE TOMAHAWK AND THE CROSS.

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I DIED A THOUSAND TIMES W/ JACK PALANCE & SHELLEY WINTERS

In Lee Marvin Point Blank I cover all of the actors films and most of his TV & stage work, but depending on the amount of time on screen, much of his earlier work is given less space, such as 1955’s I Died a Thousand Times, toplining Jack Palance. In an almost scene-for-scene remake of Humphrey Bogart’s classic, High Sierra, Palance is overshadowed but the outstanding cast and breathtaking color photography. The cast consisted of such pros as Shelley Winters, Lon Chaney, Jr., Earl Holliman, Howard St. John, Nick Adams, and a whacked out partying teenager played by Dennis Hopper.
Lee Marvin’s contribution to I Died a Thousand Times is minimal at best. However, since his face was becoming fairly well known, he did receive prominence in some of the advertising….

An Ad in which Lee Marvin is slightly on display (top right corner) for I Died a Thousand Times.

He and Holliman play Palance’s henchmen for an upcoming heist with Marvin being brutal to his girlfriend, Shelley Winters, and then cowering in fear when challenged b Palance. It may have been this film for which Marvin famously said, “People see me in a movie and they know two things: I’m not gonna get the girl and I’ll get a cheap funeral by the final reel.” Some times it was one or the other but on this occasion, it was both.
The film’s female lead, Shelley Winters, would work again with Marvin (although they had no scenes together) in the actor’s last film, Delta Force. About I Died a Thousand Times, the usually acerbic actress was surprisingly kind in remembering Lee Marvin in her memoir:
“My agent Herb Brenner quickly volunteered reasons why I should do it. He told me ‘This one is a big color picture in CinemaScope. Jack Palance will star with you and Lee Marvin, who is a very good character, will be featured.’ Lee Marvin was a fine character actor then, and he was always full of fun, and very intelligent, drunk or sober. Though sometimes loaded while we were working, he was always in control of the scene. Every night, over martinis, after shooting twelve hours, we would meet in the bar and discuss nothing for hours.”

More prominently featured in this ad, Marvin is shown doing what he did often: cowering in fear.

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LEE MARVIN IN ‘THE RACK’….OH, AND PAUL NEWMAN, TOO!

One of the main purposes of this blog is to supplement Lee Marvin Point Blank, as well as shed light on some of the actor’s lesser known work, and a perfect example of that is the 1956 Paul Newman vehicle, The Rack. Based on a teleplay by Rod Serling with an expanded screenplay by Stewart Stern, the film was based on the high number of U.S. soldiers that collaborated with the enemy during the Korean War. At the time of the film’s release that number was more than three thousand.
To shed light on the problem, Serling and then Stern fashioned this tale of how one solider (Paul Newman) broke under pressure as a P.O.W. and the effect it has on his martinet father (Walter Pidgeon), widowed sister-in-law (Anne Francis), and his court-martial that takes up the bulk of the film. The lawyers battling the case are prosecutor Wendell Corey and defense attorney Edmond O’Brien.

Original ad campaign for THE RACK (1956).

See any mention above of Lee Marvin in that summation? Well, there’s a reason for that…..

Herald sent to theaters to help promote THE RACK focused on one promotional aspect of the film.

Marvin’s contribution to the film is important enough to rate the billing he received but not enough to be included in the advertising. Why is that? Mainly due to the fact that he has only two short scenes in the film, but they are two of the best the film has to offer. He plays a fellow P.O.W. who early on sets the tone of the films’s seriousness when he commits an act of symbolic assault on Newman….

As Capt. John R. Miller, Lee Marvin perpetrates an ambush on fellow P.O.W. Paul Newman that sets the tone of the film.

Later, during the extensive court-martial sequence, Marvin’s character gives testimony that proves that not every soldier who endured torture at the hands of their captors broke under pressure…..

An ad highlighting Marvin’s testimony scene during the court-martial.

Despite his limited screen time, Marvin added that necessary realism to the proceedings the overwrought melodrama desperately needed. Newman and company were up to their task but it’s Marvin’s character, based on a real P.O.W. screenwriter Stewart Stern read about, that gives the film it’s all-important ‘other-side-of the coin’ point of view. Stern had learned of some of the incredibly inhumane  torture this particular soldier had gone through, but it was far too intense for studios and audiences of the 1950s.  For example, as he told Roger Ebert in a late life interview: “The Marvin character was partly based on that prisoner I’d read about. The Chinese had done everything they could in terms of physical torture. They tossed Army helmets full of urine in his face, they put cigarettes out on his skin…and when this didn’t work they peeled the skin from his penis and tossed him into solitary confinement in a tiny shed with corrugated iron across the top. And he still wouldn’t talk. There was a nail-hole in the corrugated iron, and every day at the same time, a tiny ray of sunlight would shine through the nail-hole, and he would hold his penis up into that tiny ray of sunlight so it would heal faster. The Chinese never broke him, and that was one of the reasons they turned to psychological abuse as a means of torture.”
Naturally the above horrors could not be depicted in 1956 so another way of emotionally affecting the viewers were used and Marvin was more than up to the task. The scene still packs a wallop but will not be described here as it must be seen intact for its full emotional effect. Besides, I loathe spoilers!
Did Marvin know of what Stern had researched? Probably not. Did he see his own version of war’s horror inflicted on humanity? Absolutely, which is why his performance, although brief, is ALWAYS worth watching.

 

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