WWII MOVIES: THE BEST?

WWII movies, one of the most popular sustained genres of film, is the subject of a recent online article I happen to come across. Naturally, everybody’s opinion is different, but if the subject is “20 of the Best,” there’s bound to be conflict. Actually, I agree with a lot of the choices in the article, but of course, there are exceptions. 
   As the author of Lee Marvin Point Blank, I was heartened to see two of the actors best WWII films on the list. However, I of course think they should be ranked a little higher.
   The fact that the British author of the piece included some British films is to be expected, as well some underrated WWII movies worthy of rediscovery. But if he’s going to do that, he should have included the criminally underrated Attack!

The tag lines aside, the powerful artwork spoke volumes for the film WWII ATTACK!, one of the most criminally underrated WWII movies ever made.



(1956), which, like The Dirty Dozen (1967), was harrowingly directed by Robert Aldrich. By the way, the mention of the film Overlord (1975) also has a Dirty Dozen connection in that it was directed by Stuart Cooper who played Roscoe Lever. 
   Back to the list, itself. One problem I see in the choices is if you going to make the point about the prolific writing of Alistair MacLean why choose Where Eagles Dare over the much better Guns of Navarone (1961)? Weird!  
   Also, since WWII had so many varied aspects to it, why not break up the list by sub-genres? After all, if you put the legendary Casablanca on the list in terms of the effect the war had on civilians, there should be a place for The Diary of Anne Frank (1959), The Best Years of Our Lives (1948), The Tin Drum (1979), Hope & Glory (1987), The Men (1950, Since You Went Away, (1944), So Proudly We Hail (1943) and several others. In doing so, it would include another Lee Marvin classic: Bad Day at Black Rock (1955). Just saying.

Henchmen Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin watch as Spencer Tracy gets off the train and prepare to confront him in John Sturges’ Bad Day at a Black Rock (1955).


   As far as sub-genres are concerned, there should be one for biopics and if so, it is absolutely appalling not to include the likes of Patton (1970). George C. Scott’s performance (turned down by Lee Marvin) is one of the greatest in movie history! 
  It can also be determined by branches of the service, which would include the likes of the navy in Mister Roberts (1955), They Were Expendable (1945), or the Marines via The Sands of Iwo Jima (1949)…well, you get the idea. 
   Basically stated, if you’re going to write a list of “The Best…” anything, be prepared to be corrected, debated and possibly duck some brickbats as the cinema of WWII is a pretty big subject to ever narrow down to just 20. In the mean time, watch a Lee Marvin movie and then find out how they were made in Lee Marvin Point Blank.

– Dwayne Epstein



 

 

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: AN OP-ED

The ongoing controversy surrounding the candidacy, election, and then presidency of Donald Trump has raised the question a while back (in my mind at least), what would Lee Marvin had thought of him? Before I go any further with that thought, allow me to give an important disclaimer: I never met Lee Marvin personally, therefore I am no expert on his politics, nor am I any kind of political expert, per se. In the words of Will Rogers, all I know is what I read in the papers.
However, while researching and writing Lee Marvin Point Blank, I think I can come to some logical conclusions. Granted, there were not any candidates like Donald Trump when Lee Marvin was alive, but there is a way of confirming Marvin’s political viewpoint which is stated in detail in the book.
All that said, President Donald Trump is well on his way to become arguably the single worst commander-in-chief this country has ever seen. There are a plethora of examples given in the daily news cycle since he’s been in office. Most recently, and most devastating is the effect his administration has had on the COVID-19 pandemic. He knew about it as far back as January/February of this year and did nothing to stem its tide. Now,over six months into this nightmare, he continues to do nothing as tens of thousands of citizens continue to get sick and die and the economy implodes.
On top of that, it’s recently been reported that Russian president Vladimir Putin has offered bounties to Afghan soldiers who kill American soldiers in that ongoing war. Trump claims he was not aware of such intelligence info during any briefings. However, since it’s been reported, the Trump Administration has done nothing to condemn the Russian government, nor retaliated in any way. His Democratic rival, former vie-president Joe Biden has called Trump’s reaction, whether he was aware of it then or since, “A dereliction of duty.” He was being diplomatic. It’s quite simply treason in the face of a foreign enemy.

What do any of these horrific revelations concerning President Donald Trump have to do with Lee Marvin? I think the answer can be found in the 1956 Robert Aldrich directed film, Attack! in which Marvin costarred. The underrated WWII drama was quite controversial in its day, as I had blogged previously. The star of the film was Jack Palance, in a rare sympathetic role.

(L-R) Lee Marvin as Col. Clyde Bartlett and Eddie Albert as Capt. Erskine Cooney in Robert Aldrich’s ATTACK!

However, I think it can be seen that the characters portrayed by both Marvin and Eddie Albert may be the two sides of Donald Trump, candidate and president. Marvin is Colonel Bartlett, a platoon leader with political aspirations after the war. His cunning and wily ways are shown to be similiar to that of candidate Trump as his ultimate goal is purely selfish. He enlists the aid of his friend, Captain Erskine Cooney to help plan an attack as the Battle of Bulge looms. Bartlett’s history with Cooney goes back to their childhood, when Bartlett clerked for Cooney’s politically powerful father, hence Bartlett’s postwar aspirations.
Then there is Cooney, as brilliantly and frighteningly portrayed by Eddie Albert. He is without question a bully and a coward masquerading as an officer, consequently putting his men’s lives in danger. I won’t spoil it for anyone who has not seen the film but to my mind, Cooney’s actions rival the recent ones of President Donald Trump. See the film and draw your own conclusions.
What brought it to mind for me was the publication of the book by Trump’s niece, Mary Trump. I have not read it yet but the many revelations being reported about it concerning Trump’s father treatment of his son and that of Captain Cooney’s revelation about his own father are quite remarkable.

The cover of Mary Trump’s new book about her uncle: TOO MUCH AND NEVR ENOUGH.

The book’s cover is Trump’s military school photo. The last time I saw that image was in the New York Daily News and it had served a different a purpose. But the very image is what brought to mind Trump in the first place….

Cover of New York’s Daily News when Trump was still a candidate.

The comparison for me is undeniable. Cunning political manipulator like Col. Bartlett and candidate Trump — or cowardly military leader endangering the lives of American soldiers, like Capt. Cooney and President Trump? A little of both or more one than the other? I have my own opinion and I’m pretty sure in light of recent revelations, Lee Marvin would agree with me.
– Dwayne Epstein.

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‘FEUD’S ROBERT ALDRICH, JOAN CRAWFORD & LEE MARVIN

From the NY Times, March 12, 2016: After a tough day shooting “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?,” director Robert Aldrich complains to his wife (Molly Price) that his two stars — Bette Davis and Joan Crawford — have ganged up on him, undermining his power on the set. He seethes that Jack Palance and Lee Marvin would never have resorted to such maneuvers. His wife replies flatly: “They don’t have to. They’re men.”

The original cast of “Feud” (L-R): Bette Davis, Jack Warner, Joan Crawford and Robert Aldrich.

That line is one of the points of this week’s episode of “Feud: Bette and Joan.” The show so far is at its best when it examines the different ways in which power operates, and the different ways in which power is perceived. As Aldrich’s wife observes, when men fight for something (or fight with one another), it’s perceived as business as usual. When women fight, they’re perceived as being difficult, petty, or “catty.”

I’ve been fascinated with this original cable series and the Lee Marvin reference in the second episode got me to thinking. In Lee Marvin Point Blank readers are fully aware of the connection between Lee Marvin and Robert Aldrich. He directed Lee in 3 different decades and the films Attack! (1956), The Dirty Dozen (1967) and Emperor of the North (1973) are fully explored. However, there’s one anecdote from Attack! costar Eddie Albert that shows a side of Robert Aldrich not yet mentioned on the series that so far has portrayed him as rather dominated and put-upon. From my interview with the late, great Eddie Albert:

Director Robert Aldrich’s ATTACK! co-stars Lee Marvin and the ‘late’ William Smithers.

“I remember one thing about him. We were just starting Attack! We had rehearsed for a week. I think it was a Monday and we were all there. But the kid from New York, I’ve forgotten his name…he was a leading part. He played the main solider. …William Smithers! Anyway, he was about 15-20 minutes late and Aldrich didn’t say anything. Tuesday came and he was 20 minutes late again. Aldrich said, ‘I want to have a conference.’ He said, ‘Now, this is very difficult. We have problems. We have all got to work together…’ He went on very beautifully and then stopped, pointed to the actor and yelled, ‘Now you cocksuckers that come in late, I am going to kick the shit right out of you!’ I never heard him explode like that. The kid was never late again. ‘I’ll run your ass right out of this town…!’

To my knowledge, Marvin never encountered Jack Warner but he did almost work with Bette Davis on a film called Bunny O’ Hare (1971that was made instead with his frequent costar, Ernest Borgnine.
However, he did have a memorable run-in with Joan Crawford. According to Lee’s first wife, Betty Marvin, who had worked for Crawford as her nanny (the Mommie Dearest stories are true, by the way), the run-in took place at the premiere of Lee’s film, Raintree County (1957). In Betty’s own words:

“At the the premiere Lee and I were lined up. Big joke in those days. So there we were, and who’s behind us? Joan Crawford. She, in her wonderfull style, looks right through me… Because Lee was like the next big star on the horizon and on, and on..The next day, comes this script. I thought, “Oh isn’t this interesting.” She wants him to co-star in her next film and would he please read the script and set up an appointment at MCA. I said to myself, ‘Here we go.’ She calls. Talks right through me. ‘Is Lee there? Why don’t you come over. We’ll go over the script in my office and read it together.’ He said, ‘Okay.’ He left about one o’clock. You know, I was a young wife. It made me very uncomfortable.

Newlyweds Betty and Lee Marvin around the time Lee was offered a ‘role’ opposite Betty’s former employer, Joan Crawford.

What’s going on here? The whole afternoon, it was difficult for me. When he came back, he was laughing. I said, ‘How did he go? Are you going to co-star with Joan Crawford?’ He said, ‘Oh, hardly.’ I asked if he read the script. He was a very slow reader, as I told you. He had went into a room with the script and she was waiting. After about two hours, she said, ‘Well?’ He said, ‘Listen, it takes a long time to get through this crap.’ Once again, you know? He was like, ‘Give me a break.’ Oh she was livid! That was Lee’s lovely way. And I’m not saying out of respect for me. He didn’t like her crappy script because she was doing a lot of garbage.”

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