CHARLES BRONSON PASSED ON THIS DAY IN 2003

Charles Bronson. Charles Dennis Buchinski. They are one in the same and he left us this day 15 years ago, but not before leaving one hell of an impression. I’ve blogged about him previously, as seen here and here but I’ve never given him his due as an actor here. What he may have lacked in acting talent he more than made up for in steely, snake-eyed masculine presence. I am a genuine fan of most of his films, the exception being those god-awful Death Wish and Cannon films. But even those are bearable for his tired visage. His 60s European film and starring roles in 70s American films stand out best for me. If you haven’t see them, you’re in for a treat. I discovered a wonderful side to Bronson’s personality while researching the many films he made with Lee Marvin, as stated in Lee Marvin Point Blank. It’s what Marvin himself called Bronson’s “Little gleam, way back behind the eyes.”
Obviously, I am a fan which is why my Lee Marvin publisher, Tim Schaffner of Schaffner Press, agreed to publish my bio of him. Unfortunately, he then told me he wanted to take his company in a different editorial direction and we agreed to cancel the contract. Sigh. Fear not as there will be some exciting news on that end shortly. When I’m ready, I’ll post.
For now, I toast Mr. Bronson/Buchinski and remember him well as Marvin himself did. So long, Charlie Sunshine.

Obituary for Charles Bronson, August 30, 2003.

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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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LEE MARVIN & THE “DOG DAY” OF SUMMER

The dog day of summer is undeniably upon us from coast to coast, with east of the Rockies taking the brunt of it all. We in California finally caught up with the rest of the country with some now record-breaking temperatures.
Yeah, I know, Dog Day should be plural, as in DOG DAYS, but that would disallow the subject of the blog: a segue to one of Lee Marvin’s last and strangest film: the weird French film named Dog Day (1984), or Canicule in France, its country of origin.

Lee Marvin as Jimmy Cobb in DOG DAY, looking classier than anything found in the movie.

It’s axiomatic that every good actor has some bad films in their canon and that no one ever sets out to make a bad film. Both axioms apply to this film. In researching Lee Marvin Point Blank, I was hard pressed to find any information on the film, let alone any one to interview about it. I did make a concerted effort to contact the only other American cast member, Tina Louise, but try as I might, she wouldn’t grant me an interview. Probably just as well as considering the film’s reception.

American co-stars Lee Marvin and Tina Louise in her only scene in France’s DOG DAY.

It was never released to U.S. theaters and went straight to the VHS shelf…in the $1.99 bargain bin, I might add.
What’s it about? Marvin is Jimmy Cobb, an aging American gangster on the run after a botched bank robbery in Paris. He holes up in a French farmhouse in which resides the weirdest group of people this side of the Addams family. Being a European production, the film’s sensibilities, compared to American films are, shall we say..slightly askew?

The European sensibilities of DOG DAY are on full display. When was the las time you saw a child (TIN DRUM’s David Bennent)  smoke a cigarette in an American film?

In all fairness, there are some noteworthy aspects to the film. A heart stopping car chase courtesy of legendary stunt driver Remy Julienne in the film’s opening is probably the best example. Marvin, of course looks the part as an aged American gangster nicknamed “Caponie” by annoying child actor David Bennent…And there’s also….no, that’s really about it. Other French film stars, such as Miou-Miou, Victor Lanoux, and Jean Carmet really don’t add much to this embarrassment. Of course, if you like your Eurotrash more on the trashy side than the Euro, then this might be right up your alley. I think this is best summed up in the anecdote Marvin recounted to the L.A. Times when the film was in production. Talk about an omen! Feel free to check it out below and in the mean time, stay cool. Curl up with the air conditioner and a good book…say, Oh, I don’t know….Lee Marvin Point Blank?
– Dwayne Epstein

Lee Marvin discusses DOG DAY, among other things.

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