1ST WRITING OF LEE MARVIN & POINT BLANK

True confession time: I was not a fan of Lee Marvin’s Point Blank (1967). The first time I viewed it, I found it slow and pretentious. Of course, like all truly great films, it grew on me with each successive viewing and has since become one of my favorite films in his canon. What helped immensely was the research I did while writing Lee Marvin Point Blank. However, film historian and good friend, Bill Krohn, also aided my appreciation of the film considerably when he asked me to help research a project he was working on…..

The cover of Bill Krohn’s French film book which translates to SERIOUS PLEASURES.

Krohn was commissioned by Switzerland’s Locarno Film Festival to put together a project in which several great film directors pick an underrated film to discuss, why the picked it, and was worthy of rediscovery. It was dubbed Serious Pleasures, a sort of play on words of Film Comment’s series entitled “Guilty Pleasures.” The choices were very impressive as Bill also needed help in researching and writing some background pieces for each film. I wanted to do almost all of them, but had to settle on a choice few, of which Point Blank was one, chosen by Wayne Wang (The Joy Luck Club, Eat a Bowl of Tea, etc.). My pleading with Bill resulted in being able to write about Woody Allen’s choice of Sidney Lumet’s The Hill (1965); Francis Ford Coppola’s choice of Marlon Brando’s One-Eyed Jack(1961); Clint Eastwood’s choice of Raoul Walsh’s White Heat (1949); Oliver Stone’s choice of Robert Wise’s The Sand Pebbles (1966); Kathryn Bigelow’s choice of Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969); Jim McBride’s choice of Otto Preminger’s In Harm’s Way (1965); and Charles Burnett’s choice of Frank Perry’s The Swimmer (1968).
All great choices, by the way, and the joy I felt in researching them was the reason I chose this profession. Unfortunately, the collection never saw publication in this country and I had to be content with knowing my work was enjoyed by film fans throughout Europe…only!

The credit page in French for Bill Krohn’s SERIOUS PLEASURES with yours truly listed as a ‘Documentaliste.’

My research into Point Blank resulted in the following brief background piece. Readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank may recognize some of the documentation but there are a few choice nuggets that may be new. Find out for yourself below. Enjoy!


The highly stylized film boasts many technological advancements, as well as some of the most memorable images of its knd. The reverberating sound of Marvin’s heels echoing through the airport during the opening, or the juxtaposing of a brutal fistfight during a hip, should music riff still pack a 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.

One of the film’s best 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, the first ever shot with extensive sequences on the then recently decommission prison of Alcatraz, was not without incident. 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.
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..’
The female lead, Angie Dickinson, made a pointed observation when it was screened at the Los Angeles County of Museum in 1996: “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.

Title page for SERIOUS PLEASURES Point Blank chapter.

As for Lee Marvin, he saw the film in a different light. At the 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.

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TCM’S “SUMMER UNDER THE STARS” SUBJECT: ANGIE DICKINSON ON LEE MARVIN

Of all the actors Lee Marvin worked with, he worked with one woman more than any other: Angie Dickinson. They first worked together on the TV show “M Squad” and then in The Killers (1964), Point Blank (1967), Death Hunt (1981) and several Bob Hope comedy specials. Their mutual chemistry on screen was palpable but circumstances and timing on each of their projects kept them from doing anything about it offscreen. However, on more than one occassion, it came frustratingly close, as documented in Lee Marvin Point Blank.
Dickinson was one of the few truly important subjects I sought to interview for my book but in spite of her many public appearances, she is an intensely private person. At one point, she and I had both been interviewed for the A & E Biography of Lee and it was then that she finally relented. The show’s producer offered some foreshadowing when I was told Angie really had not said much that the show found useable.
She finally agreed to sit down with me in her southern California home. Polite, courteous and wonderfully acommodating, she nonetheless proved understandably reticent when it came to opening up about her frequent costar. Amazingly, she came up with a great idea. She left the room briefly and returned with the poster from The Killers and said, “Maybe this will jog my memory.” It did the trick. Memories came flooding forth and the day flew by as she remembered all the anecdotes of Lee that eventually went in the book. Most of what she had to say about Lee and her observations and experiences were quite impressive. Some of the few comments that did not make it in the book, follows the pictures from their three films together:

The original ad for THE KILLERS.

The original ad for THE KILLERS.

In POINT BLANK, Angie Dickinson actually drew blood from Lee Marvin, who of course, never said a word about it.

In POINT BLANK, Angie Dickinson actually drew blood from Lee Marvin, who of course, never said a word about it.

Their final film together, Angie Dickinson found Lee Marvin to be much more curmudgeinly during the making of DEATH HUNT.

In their final film together, Angie Dickinson found Lee Marvin to be much more curmudgeonly during the making of DEATH HUNT.

“Lee was the personification of a man.. Ohhh!….He was more than good. You wanted to be good with him. You wanted to be good for him. …Sometimes, as an actor, a certain thing is expected of you, period. But there’s another time, there’s just something more you want to be. He did have a sadness about him. Sad, sad, sad. When people are sad, you want to make them not sad. For me at least, it just made me want to be better. I never analyzed it beyond that. It was just a natural instinct. Of course, the professional side of you, you want to look good in the presence of greatness…. With all of his courage and toughness, he was so shy. That sounds like a dichotomy but it’s not. You can be firm in what you believe in and be shy in how you go about it. He was certainly basically a shy man. He was shy about himself and strong and tough about his principles and therefore his acting.”

 

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THE LION IN WINTER: LEE MARVIN IN A COLDER CLIMATE

With the recent winter blast that has hit most of the country, I thought it a good time to bring up the subject of Lee Marvin’s take on wintery times. Dating back to his great uncle, Ross Marvin, who lost his life during the Peary expedition of the North Pole, the Marvins have had a quite a history with inclimate weather. Lee’s father, Monte, would regale his two sons with tales of their uncle’s noble adventures in the frozen north, but never told them Ross’s true fate. That tale was uncovered in Lee Marvin: Point Blank (pp. 13-14).

Lee Marvin's great uncle, Ross Marvin, pictured above in Arctic gear during the Peary Expedition.

Lee Marvin’s great uncle, Ross Marvin, pictured above in Arctic gear during the Peary Expedition.

Spending his childhood up and down the eastern seaboard, Lee Marvin was no stranger to brutal winters. In fact, after returning from his first Arctic expedition, his uncle Ross told a reporter that New York winters felt colder than the North Pole!
After WWII, Lee Marvin’s uncertainty of his future had him thinking about colder climates for a time. In a letter to his brother after the war Lee wrote, “My feet are getting itching again and I want to be on the move. Where I don’t know but just some place that I haven’t been before, like the Yukon or some other desolate place. I just want to strike out and do something constructive with myself….The main thing that I regret is that there is no longer any frontier to work on which is just my speed. Therefore I must conform to convention which I have a very deep-set distaste for.” (Lee Marvin: Point Blank, pp. 49-50).
Once he dedicated himself to becoming an actor, he discovered one of the perks was being able to do on film what he was unable to do in life. The majority of his films however, rarely took place in the winter until much later in life. Beginning with the disaster-plagued 1979 flm Avalanche Express…..

Lee Marvin, Linda Evans & Mike Connors in 1979's all-star dud, Avalanche Express.

Lee Marvin, Linda Evans & Mike Connors in 1979’s all-star dud, Avalanche Express.

 

Express was filmed throughout Eastern Europe but the beautiful locations nor the impressive special effects did not help the Cold War thriller. Lee had better luck the following year with Sam Fuller’s epic, The Big Red One. Several winter scenes, also shot in Eastern Europe, were trimmed before release but later restored in 2006…..

On location for The Big Red One's winter scenes.

On location for The Big Red One’s winter scenes.

 

Ironically, he once advised his friend Ralph O’Hara, “Avoid the scripts that says ‘As he put on his snow shoes…'” His very next film saw the older actor doing just that in 1981’s Death Hunt. Reteaming with previous costars Charles Bronson and Angie Dickinson, Marvin hoped to work again with director Robert Aldrich but the film was ultimately helmed by Peter Hunt.
Dickinson noted the older Marvin’s unpleasant demeanor during the Alberta, Canada shoot when she pointed out to Marvin the beautiful mountains. He growled, “”Yeah, I saw’em. I’ve been looking at’em for two months!”

Lee Marvin in 1981's Death Hunt, costarring Charles Bronson & Angie Dickinson, filmed in Canada.

Lee Marvin in 1981’s Death Hunt, costarring Charles Bronson & Angie Dickinson, filmed in Canada.

His last foray into chilly environs was 1983’s Gorky Park. Helsinki doubled for Moscow but the cold was still so chilly, Marvin spent the first few days rehearsing from a hospital bed when his ephysema became too much to bear.

As nefarious sable dealer Jack Osborne in 1983's Gorky Park

As nefarious sable dealer Jack Osborne in 1983’s Gorky Park.

Having fulfilled his youthful desire to trek through the Yukon, albeit on scree, Lee Marvin lived out the last decades of his life in the much more warmer climate of Tucson, Arizona. One wonders what he would have had to say about the recent blizzards as his wit and tenacity are both sorely missed.

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