January 2021 is FINALLY upon us and not a moment too soon, as far as I’m concerned. With this new month and year (hell, new decade even!), comes a new schedule of films from the good folks at TCM. Below are the films that either star Lee Marvin or has a particular link to Marvin’s life, career or legacy. So, with January 2021 upon us, let the classic films begin!
All times are Pacific Standard Time
The Sea Wolf (1941), Wednesday, January 6 (1:15 am): It’s hard to imagine that Lee Marvin might have had anything in common with the legendary John Garfield but the two men shared an appreciation of the writing of Jack London. Garfield begged Jack Warner to put him in a London biopic but instead he got to costar in this classic sea story. London was at one point the most popular writer in the English language and his 1904 novel The Sea Wolf became his most often filmed stepchild. Filmed no less than nine times since 1913, this version with Garfield, Edward G. Robinson, Alexander Knox and Ida Lupino is the best known and for my money the best of all. I could easily see Marvin playing the villianous captain Wolf Larsen as well as Robinson played it, of whom Marvin was also a huge fan. Unfortunately, the closest Marvin ever got to playing a London character was A#1 in the London inspired Emperor of the North.
By the way, frequent Marvin costar Charles Bronson took a shot at playing the title character in a cable TV movie version for Turner’s TBS station with less than stellar results.
The Big Heat (1953), Saturday, January 9 (9 am):
You want early Marvin sadistic mayhem? It doesn’t get any better than this. As gangster Vince Stone he terrorizes men but especially women like the screen had never seen before. Fritz Lang’s neo-noir classic stars Glenn Ford as a tough cop putting the heat on for the murder of his wife, Jocelyn Brando, you-know-who’s real-life sister. Ford’s encounters with the city’s underbelly makes up the bulk of the film but the real stars are Gloria Grahame as Stone’s pouty-mouth moll and Marvin as Stone. Stories galore of its making in Lee Marvin Point Blank with the best being NY Times critic Vincent Canby dubbing Marvin “The Merchant of Menace.” Canby had no idea the best was yet to come.
The Searchers (1956) Saturday, January 16 (5pm):
It’s been said that the cinematic mythology of the American western was pretty much created by John Ford and the best of his westerns always starred John Wayne. Of their many films together, The Searchers remains their greatest for countless reasons and not the least of which is the fact that ol’ Duke Wayne was never more vicious in a movie than he was here. A shame he didn’t play more men of questionable morals as the racist Ethan Edwards but at least he did once…well, twice if you count his wonderful Captain Bligh on the cattle trail in Howard Hawks’ Red River (also airing this month on Saturday, January 23, 12:30pm) . What does all this have to do with Lee Marvin? Quite simply, Marvin loved the cinematic output of both men and luckily got to work with them both later in their careers. Watch The Searchers and discover why he admired them so much if you haven’t done so already..
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), Sunday, January 17 (12:30 pm):
There isn’t much more to be said about this classic film starring the brutish young Marlon Brando, delicate Vivien Leigh, along with Oscar-winning Kim Hunter and Karl Malden. However, most people may not be aware that a young Lee Marvin played in the stage version in Summer stock. If you think he portrayed the savage Stanley Kowalski, think again. Actually, he played Mitch, Stanley’s oafish co-worker who’s smitten with Stanley’s sister-in-law, Blanche, until he sees the light, as it were. So, when watching the classic film written by Tennessee Williams and directed by Elia Kazan, pay attention to Karl Malden and picture a young Lee Marvin in the role.
Drum Beat (1954), Thursday, January 28 (5:30 am):
Other than Marvin himself, the only other actor who spent a longer apprenticeship on the way to superstardom was frequent costar Charles Bronson. His scene-stealing performance as renegade Modoc warrior Captain Jack in the Alan Ladd western Drum Beat may have given hope that success might be right around the corner. Hope springs eternal. He had changed his name from Buchinski to Bronson with this film and got the best reviews of his career up to that time:
“The renegade redskin is forcefully played by Charles Bronson,” Variety.
“Charles Bronson is probably the most muscular Indian ever to brandish a rifle before the camera,” NY Times.
Alan Ladd…is dwarfed by that of Charles Bronson…proud, ruthless, magnificent,” Films and Filming.
Unfortunately, not many folks saw this fact-based color horse opera. He does outshine the nominal star, Alan Ladd, but it would be almost 20 years for audiences to appreciate Bronson’s screen image in 1973’s Death Wish. Watch him in Drum Beat to see what the likes of Lee Marvin and a handful of others had seen long ago.
The Killers (1964), Saturday January 30 (9:30pm) & Sunday, January 31 (7:00 am):
Ernest Hemingway’s five-page short story was first filmed in 1946 with a star-making debut of Burt Lancaster as the doomed Swede, an ex-boxer awaiting the title characters. The story goes that screenwriter Richard Brooks met Hemingway in a bar and asked him what he thought the reason would be the killers were coming for Swede. A drunken Hemingway apparently slurred, “Damned if I know. Probably had something to do with big money or maybe a special woman…or maybe both.” Thus, a film noir classic was born.
Almost 20 years later, Lew Wasserman of MCA had the idea of reworking it on the cheap as the first TV-movie, that is until JFK was murdered on the streets of Dallas. There is of course infinitely more to tell about the remade little thriller and I was lucky enough to get great stories about it for Lee Marvin Point Blank from such principal players as Angie Dickinson, Clu Gulager, Norman Fell and Bob Phillips. If you’ve read my book you’ll know what to look for when watching the film.
So there you have it, a summary of Lee Marvin films and interests on TCM for January 2021. Enjoy and above all, have a great new year and good riddance to 2020!
– Dwayne Epstein