FORGOTTEN LEE MARVIN THRILLER: A LIFE IN THE BALANCE

Unlike some biographies, in Lee Marvin Point Blank, I went out of my way to cover all of Marvin’s films, including the rarely seen little thriller, A Life in the Balance. Whether successful or not, all of Marvin’s films are worth viewing, in my opinion, and in Balance it’s one of the rare times you see him play and out-and-out psycho killer. It was one of those quickly made little 1950s thrillers in which Marvin played a knife-wielding murderer who’s crime is witnessed by a little boy. Marvin kidnaps the boy on the run and circumstances have the police blaming the recent killings on the boy’s father, played Ricardo Montalban,. Young Anne Bancroft plays Montalban reluctant love interest as they both race to beat the police to find the boy….and the real killer.
Marvin is great as the killer, who actually elicits some sympathy as he tries to make friends with the much more wiley little boy, played incidentally, by Jose Perez. As an adult, Perez would go on to play the Puerto Rican janitor (i.e God) in the play, “Steambath.” Filmed on location in Mexico, it really should be made more accessible in this digital age.
For Lee Marvin, the project was memorable for another reason. As he explained in a magazine interview ten years later….

One of two ad campaigns for A Life in the Balance (1955), with Ricardo Montalban & Anne Bancroft more prominently featured.

The second ad campaign for A Life in the Balance but with Marvin more prominent than his romantic co-stars.

“We were in a Mexican town once, a bunch of guys. We were drinking tequila. The price was three pesos. A very fair price. But then they raised the price to five pesos. That was twenty-four cents more. Too much. So we went on strike. We walked out and drove down the road to the next town where we found three-peso tequila. We drank there.  Then we went back to the first town. They pegged the price back to three pesos. We started drinking there again. It has to be the first time man ever went a strike for a lower price on his drinks. It has to be the most satisfying strike ever.”

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MY FAVORITE FIGHT SCENES, PART 5 of 5

Well, dear readers, your humble narrator has come to the fifth and final entry in this series I created of my favorite movie fight scenes. I stopped at 1980 as the quality of filmmaking, especially when it comes to fight scenes, fell off dramatically from then on. If you missed any of the previous entries (Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4) click on the linking numbers in blue. As for the remaining choices, I wanted to include some Lee Marvin, of course, but there just wasn’t anything worthy of his films in this time period that was a favorite. Readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank know why. For the rest, read on…

21. THE PARALLAX VIEW-1974

Reporter Warren Beatty (left) orders a glass of milk to entice deputy Earl Hindman (right) into a brawl and of course it works in The Parallax View.

Reporter Warren Beatty (left) orders a glass of milk to entice deputy Earl Hindman (right) into a brawl and of course it works in The Parallax View.

The 1970s was my favorite period of American filmmaking for many reasons, not the least of which was due to the advent of the paranoid political thriller. One of the best was The Parallax View, which is a recognized classic of the genre. There is so much greatness in this taut thriller it’s almost impossible to narrow it down: From star Warren Beatty’s believable turn as a dogged reporter to the standout supporting cast of veterans (Hume Cronyn, Kenneth Mars, Anthony Zerbe, Paula Prentiss, William Daniels, Earl Hindman, Jim Davis, Walter McGinn, Kelly Thordsen); Amazing editing, especially in the ‘test’ sequence; Wonderful touches of dark humor; Director Alan Pakula’s use of silence to ramp up the suspense as he had in Klute and later All The President’s Men; All these elements are so phenomonal that the purposeful barroom brawl almost gets lost in the mix. Almost. What I love about it is that once it commences (hilariously, by the way) and Beatty’s character looks finished, he keeps charging back! No matter what. Talk about never say die. He even crashes through a window to get BACK into the brawl. The film itself is a stunner but for me, that fight scene is another all-time favorite. And whatever you do, DO NOT GIVE AWAY THE FILM’S ENDING!

22. HARD TIMES-1975

HardTimes

A rare smile from Charles Bronson as Chaney (center) as his manager James Coburn as Speed (right) and Strother Martin as his cutman Poe (left) prepare him for his fight in Hard Times.

Of all the films Charles Bronson made in his late life ascent into stardom few were liked by the critics that his fans loved (The Death Wish series), and fewer still were liked by fans that critics praised (From Noon Til Three). Only one it seems was able to please both fans and critics alike, and with good reason. Hard Times gave fans the action they’ve come to expect, while critics rubbed their eyes in astonishment to see Bronson in a film of value and depth. He plays a mysterious stranger in Depression-era America whom professional gambler James Coburn manages into the premiere street fighter of his day. The story was straightforward but the time, place and style of director Walter Hill’s direction proved the perfect marriage for Bronson’s minimalist acting. As the ads for the film wryly stated, “During the Depression, words didn’t buy much.”
A lot of the regular blog readers here may know that Bronson is the subject of my next project — tenatively titles Charles Bronson: American Samurai — and as such, this is one of my favorite film of his, as well. Saw it the theater when it first came out and even though there are a number of well done fight scenes throughout the film (has anybody ever rattlled off so many rapid fire punches as Bronson does in this film?), my favorite fight is Bronson’s first. If you’ve seen it, you know why. If you haven’t be prepared as it’s excellent. In his 50s,  aged and lined, when he takes off his shirt for the first (and subsequent) fight, brother, look out!

23. THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR– 1975

Robert Redford (Joseph Turner) fights assasin postman Hank Garrett (Mailman).

Robert Redford (Joseph Turner) fights assasin postman Hank Garrett (Mailman).

I am in no way, shape or form a fan of the spy film genre. There are exceptions of course (The Spy Who Came in From the Cold), but the overly complicated plots, sometimes needlessly so, are a complete turn-off to your humble narrator. Even this film, Three Days of the Condor, is hardly a favorite for the same reason. However, since the purpose of this blog is about favorite fight scenes, it definitely fits the bill. The opening of the film is now legendary (and justifiably so) but the fight scene later between good guy Robert Redford and “mailman” Hank Garrett,  is one for the books. It moves faster than most fight scenes I’ve ever witnessed and yet the viewer is able to keep up with who’s doing who.
When the first Christian Bale Batman film came out that was one of my biggest complaints and why I didn’t care for it. Not the case here. It moves so dangerously fast it ADDS to the suspense, NOT the confusion. Worth watching just for that tremendous scene. After that, meh, not so much.

13Turning point

Surbanite Shirley MacLaine (left) challenges waning Prima Ballerina Anne Bancroft (right) to a rooftop battle in Herb Ross’s The Turning Point.

24. THE TURNING POINT-1977

No, it’s not because it’s a catfight. It’s for a lot of reasons that the battle between Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft is a favorite fight scene of mine. Chiefly, it’s the one and only time two of my all-time actresses ever worked together, and it should have happened more often. Known mostly as the screen acting debut of both Leslie Browne and Mikhail Baryshnikov, the film is at its best as a wonderful excerise in female relationships rarely seen in movies. MacLaine left the ballet maybe too early and Bancroft stayed maybe too late and between them is MacLaine’s daughter whom they both battle over. When it comes to a head it’s classic movie bitchiness (yes, it starts with Bancroft tossing a drink in MacLaine’s face) and then…we’re off! They scream, chase, slap, curse, pull hair and end uproariously. Doesn’t matter if it’s a cliche or not. Two talents at the top of their game reaching a physical pinnacle is ALWAYS worth watching…and sadly, not seen enough.

NinthConfigKeach

Military psychiatrist Stacy Keach prepares to confront a gang of bizarre bikers, and ultimately, his true self, in William Peter Blatty’s, The Ninth Configuration.

25. THE NINTH CONFIGURATION – 1980


William Peter Blatty, best known for penning The Exorcist, wrote, directed, produced and even co-starred in this strange mediation on good/evil, sane/insane, god/godlessness (and more!) that is in dire need of rediscovery. It also goes by the title Twinkle, Twinkle Killer Kane and has what I consider to be an all-star cast headed up bythe underrated Stacy Keach. There are various cuts floating around but it doesn’t matter. Any version should be seen by one and all. Keach is a military psychatrist in charge of a group of misfit soldiers hidden in a castle in the great northwest to determine if they are really insane or merely malingering. A flimsy plot, I grant you, but the execution will blow you away. Razor-like dialogue, multi-layered subplots, inter-connected realtionships and, as the ads stated at the time, “A film that will keep you on the edge of your mind.” It culiminates with one of the strangest and yet completely siginificant barroom brawls I’ve ever seen. Once again, it must be seen to be beleived and once you do you’ll find yourself answering the question, why am I cheering all this bloodshed? I know I did.

And there you have it! My choices for favorite fight scenes. Just to keep it fair, I added some honorable mentions: Cape Fear (finale, either version), The Godfather (James Caan & Gianni Russo), Raging Bull, Gentlemen Jim, Somebody Up There Likes Me (tire stealing scene), Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, The Cincinnati Kid (the opening), 48 Hours, From Here to Eternity (several scenes), Straight Time (car scene), The Young Lions, My Favorite Year, Tom Horn (opening), Edge of the City (Jack Warden & Sidney Poitier), and Stalag 17.
Any readers have choices of their own? Quibbles? Complaints? Hey, leave a reply as I’m anxious to hear your thoughts.

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150 YEARS AFTER THE REAL RAID AT ST. ALBANS

October 18th 2014 (through the 21st), marks the 150th anniversary of a strange, largely forgotten event of The Civil War that was the basis of one of Lee Marvin’s earliest film roles. The 1954 film The Raid headlined Van Heflin, Anne Bancroft, Richard Boone, Peter Graves and a 4th billed Lee Marvin in the true story of events of St. Albans, Vermont. Advertised with the following posters, the Hollywood filmmakers clearly emphasized action over reality….

One of two ads from the pressbook for THE RAID with Lee Marvin depicted in the bottom left corner.

One of two ads from the pressbook for THE RAID with Lee Marvin depicted in the bottom left corner.

 

A second and much more descriptive ad from THE RAID pressbook.

A second and much more descriptive ad from THE RAID pressbook.

 

 

A point of authenticty emphasized in THE RAID's advertising

A point of authenticty emphasized in THE RAID’s advertising

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

According to St. Albans website, “The story of the attack on St. Albans starts in Kentucky, birthplace of both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. Kentucky did not secede and tried to remain neutral, but thousands chose sides. John Morgan, together with his five brothers, organized Morgan’s Raiders which made lightning strikes against Union depots and supply lines. Many of the raiders were captured, imprisoned at Camp Douglas at Chicago, some escaping into Canada.

These Morgan’s Raiders were given a warm welcome at the Confederate headquarters in Montreal. What could they do now to advance the rebel cause? They decided to attack northern cities, hoping to boost Southern morale, cause panic in the North, draw Yankee troops to the Canadian border, avenge destruction inflicted by Union armies, help defeat Lincoln as he sought re-election a few weeks later, create tension between Great Britain and the Union, and rob banks.
Bennett Young, 21, emerged as the group’s leader, the charismatic son of a wealthy Kentucky milliner who also owned a plantation with dozens of slaves. Young checked out St. Albans before deciding that this would be the first target. When he noted the busy railroad shop and foundry downtown, he knew that their getaway had to be fast.
Young then chose those who would accompany him on the raid. Twenty others infiltrated into St. Albans in groups of two and three, most arriving by train, representing themselves as vacationers, sportsmen, and horse traders. Each had been supplied with a concealed pistol, then registered at one of the three hotels and awaited Tuesday, Oct. 18, to attack. The schedule was changed after they discovered that Tuesday was market day, when people from the area flocked into the city.
That Wednesday, at 3 p.m., Confederates invaded the three banks as others rounded up horses or forced pedestrians onto the city’s green. The local people were stunned. They must be robbers, some assumed. How could rebels be so far north? One bank clerk was compelled to raise his right hand and swear allegiance to the Confederate States of America. In another bank two employees were locked in the vault after the raiders had boasted that they would soon burn the city down. The banks yielded a total of $208,000.
The commotion on Main Street came to the attention of the workmen nearby. As the raiders rode away on stolen horses they tossed “Greek fire” incendiaries at the stores, most of which did not ignite. A posse was soon in pursuit, helped by a trail of bank notes that fell from one of the money bags. The raiders managed to cross back into Canada where most of them, including Young, were rounded up. A lengthy legal battle followed in Montreal until the war ended and the case was dropped. Young went on to become a lawyer, author, railroad executive, and honorary general of the Confederate War Veterans. He was a featured speaker at the Gettysburg Reunion on its 50th anniversary.”

The actual perpetrators of the raid on the city of St. Albans, Vermont.

The actual perpetrators of the raid on the city of St. Albans, Vermont.

 

Pressbook summary of the plot of THE RAID.

Pressbook summary of the plot of THE RAID.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The "Greek Fire" depicted in the film that the pressbook touted for its historical accuracy.

The “Greek Fire” depicted in the film that the pressbook touted for its historical accuracy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As for the real events in the town of St. Albans, they marked it with the following sign at the bottom of this post…..

Commerative marker in the town of St. Albans, Vermont.

Commerative marker in the town of St. Albans, Vermont.

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