REVISIONIST WESTERNS ON TCM

Revisionist Westerns is a worthy theme this June 2022  and with it comes a month long slate of films from the good folks at Turner Classic Movies. Sadly, there are no Lee Marvin films this month but there are still some interesting subjects also worth checking out. This month includes a 100th birthday salute to Star of the Month Judy Garland, a tribute to cinematographer Gordon Willis, a theme of costumes in the movies and best of all, the aforementioned Revisionist Westerns.
   The films being aired as Revisionist Westerns are good choices but I’d like to lodge a personal complaint. In the interest of finding films worthy of rediscovery, why not include Lee Marvin’s underrated but poignantly elegiac Monte Walsh (1970) to the line-up? 

Monte Walsh, 1970

I realize of course you cannot show all the modern day westerns and as I said, they are showing some good ones, but c’mon! Monte Walsh is just begging to be rediscovered! Several critics bemoaned the timing of its release at the time stating that if had been,  released later in the year it would have scored several Oscar nominations, including Best Actor for Lee Marvin. Yeah, he’s that good in it! I wrote about it extensively in Lee Marvin Point Blank as I was fortunate enough to gain insight on its production from exclusive interviews with costars Mitch Ryan and Jack Palance, among others. Ahh well, Maybe next month.
   In the mean time, there are some worthy films to catch within the revisionist theme June 2022. To start with, on Thursday June 9th beginning at 6:45 pm PST are several Sam Peckinpah classics: Ride The High Country (1962), The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970), The Wild Bunch (1969), and Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973). 
   Also in the month are a couple of other westerns with Lee Marvin connections. Bad Company (1972) costars a young Jeff Bridges pre-Iceman Cometh (1973) as a draft dodger turned outlaw during The Civill War in a very worthy film airing June 2nd at 9:15 pm PST.
    Alan Ladd stars in Drum Beat (1954) Monday June 20th but the real draw is Charles Bronson in a scene-stealing performance as a rebellious native American named Captain Jack of the Modocs.
   Last but not least is director Jim Jarmusch’s off beat western Dead Man (1996) starring Johnny Depp on Thursday, June 30th. As a devout Lee Marvin fan, Jarmusch went so far as to name two lawmen in the film Lee and Marvin.  
    And so there you have it, the worthy films on TCM for the month of June. Next time, the programmers should check with me as I can clue them in on some great films worthy of rediscovery…..Yeah, that’ll happen.
– Dwayne Epstein

 

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LEE SOBEL

Lee Sobel is my new literary agent and thanks to him, I get to be a paid writer again! It happened surprisingly fast which amazed both of us but in fairness, it had a rocky start. He had contacted me out of the blue via Facebook with the following message:

“Hi Dwayne – I’m a literary agent who specializes in pop culture memoirs and biographies. I am currently seeking writers for book projects. I’d like to read your Lee Marvin book to get a sense of your writing. If you already have an agent then disregard this message – otherwise please contact me if you are interested – thank you.” 

Since my agent Mike Hamilburg passed away in 2016 I’ve had a lot of false starts trying to get an agent or even solicit projects to publishers on my own. I came close a few times when several university presses showed interest in my proposed Charles Bronson bio but ultimately, the advances offered were too small to live on. Worse, the idea of further researching and writing Bronson’s life and career proved uninspiring, especially those god awful Death Wish movies and other Cannon fodder. 

Enter Lee Sobel. After he wrote me, I checked out his website and did some Googling. When I discovered he was not the charlatan some other agents I’ve approached proved to be, I wrote him back. Still, I was wary, as no agent had ever approached me since it was always the other way around. The conversation went smoothly but when I told him about my Bronson project he immediately shot it down. Actually, a good thing in the long run, but his quick dismissal of the project disappointed me. Okay, fast forward a few weeks later. He contacted me again stating he had sold several books about the making of individual films and asked if I’d be interested in something a long those lines. He suggested Point Blank (1967) and this time I shot him down. I immediately suggested The Dirty Dozen, released the same year but a film of Lee Marvin’s I liked MUCH better.

Now we were on to something. I discovered that unlike Mike Hamilburg, whom I adored as a complete mensch, Lee Sobel was very tech savvy. He explained how to go about writing a proposal in an extremely short period of time. For instance, in place of a sample chapter, I should include the section of Lee Marvin Point Blank about The Dirty Dozen. Ingenious move, Mr. Sobel. Still, it was a daunting task considering it took me nearly 20 years to get the Lee Marvin bio to market and Sobel wanted the proposal in one week! Much to my surprise, as well as my girlfriend Barbara, I pulled it off. I sent it to Lee, he tweaked it slightly and according to him, only hours after sending it to Kensington Publishing, he got this response from editor Gary Goldstein:

“I loved Mr. Epstein’s bio of Lee Marvin, thought he did a superb job. When I was publishing Ernie Borgnine’s autobiography in 2008, we talked a lot about Lee Marvin but especially DD……I remember my dad taking me to see DD when it first came out — in fact, he took me to see it a second time a week later and I went back a third and fourth time with my pals…Anyway, would it be possible for Mr. Epstein to knock out an overview of the book? Not a chapter by chapter breakdown but just a description of the events…Several sets of eyes will be perusing the proposal so I’d like it to be comprehensive as possible, especially for those at Kensington who weren’t even born when the movie came out.”

Another daunting task, right? Well the stars were aligned as I had just made contact with a British journalist named Tom Fordy who wrote a great online article on the making of the film. I gleaned his sources and wrote up something of my own as comprehensive as possible. Gave it to Lee who sent it on to Gary. Then the waiting began. In the mean time, I wasn’t sure if what I wrote was up to snuff (which you can read here).

Once again, the stars aligned, but in a very strange way. What happened was my girlfriend and I had to be out of our apartment for several days as our landlord was tenting the building to get rid of the termites. Not being able to access my phone proved to be a good thing. Lee had called several times wanting to tell me of Kensington’s offer. Because I never responded, the offer kept getting better. Finally while checking my e-mail on my laptop at the the library, I got Lee Sobel’s message via e-mail. The last and final offer was the best I ever received…EVER! I whooped out loud, library rules be damned! 

Lee Sobel, proving his reading taste as improved immensely since we met.



Okay, so now, got the contract, received the advance and other than writing this blog, I am thoroughly entrenched in all things Dirty Dozen. “Killin’ Generals: The Making of The Dirty Dozen, The Most Icon WWII Film Ever Made” will be available Father’s Day, 2023 and I could not be happier about it. Thanks again, Lee…Sobel and Lee Marvin!
– Dwayne Epstein 

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CHARLES BRONSON’S CENTENNIAL

Charles Bronson’s centennial took place earlier this month (November, 3rd, to be exact) and his legion of fans has grown considerably since his passing in 2003. I have always been among the legion and although many of his later films are rather cringe-inducing, he did leave behind an overall impressive body of work. So much so that my Lee Marvin Point Blank publisher, Tim Schaffner, agreed to publish my bio of a proposed Bronson book as a logical follow-up. Without going into too much detail, it obviously didn’t come to pass for a variety of reasons. Some other publishers actually showed interest but ultimately, it was not to be. It may still see the light of the day eventually, but in the meantime, allow me to pay tribute to the pride of Ehrenfeld, Pennsylvania in my own way. Below the proposed cover image is the introduction I wrote for the proposal. Tim didn’t care for the title but I still think it works. So in honor of Charles Bronson’s centennial, I give you the reason and theme in the life and work of the late Charles Bronson.
CHARLES BRONSON: AMERICAN SAMURAI

Proposed cover title and image for the bio I had planned to do on Charles Bronson.


There’s an old joke concerning two bulls at the top of a ridge looking down into a canyon filled with young cows. The much younger bull says to his companion, “I have an idea. Let’s rush down to the canyon so we can each grab one of those pretty young cows and make passionate love to it!” The older bull thinks for a moment and responds, “I have a better idea. Let’s slowly walk down to the canyon and make love to them all.”
   In the transitional decade of the 1960s, the younger bull symbolized America’s popular culture. Pepsi sold its product to “those who think young” and later in the decade a popular warning was “Don’t trust anyone over thirty.” In American films, Hollywood studio heads also took the point of view of the younger bull, trying everything in sight in an effort to please its patrons. Old Hollywood had given way to the New Hollywood as the feudal studio system crumbled and the antiquated production code gave way to a controversial rating system. Traditional genres were revamped with revisionist concepts that were tried on everything from westerns to musicals. Fans of action-oriented genres still enjoyed the stalwart horse operas of the older John Wayne but they also reveled in the militaristic Lee Marvin, the younger good ol’ boy antics of Burt Reynolds, as well as Clint Eastwood, who encompassed a little of each.
   Then Came Bronson. His popularity in the 1970s was unparalleled, even competing with the popularity of the decade’s Blaxploitation films. When the previously mentioned action film stars faded or died off (Eastwood simply went behind the camera) and a new crop of stars emerged, such as Chuck Norris, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, there was still Bronson. Older and more wizened, his appeal remains one of the most unique in film history.
   That appeal proved to be both classic and ironic. Following the screening of one of Bronson’s most popular films, an anonymous 33-year-old California man told a NY Times essayist, “I go to a movie to see Bronson, and not so much for the story. His movies are pretty much the same, but what I like to watch is how he plays his character. He’s kind of tough and rugged, an individualist. He does things his way.” This apt summation applies to any number of classic film stars, from James Cagney to Russell Crowe. What makes Bronson’s appeal ironic was how he was nearly forgotten in his own country, like many a forgotten American Blues artist. When British Invasion artists The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelin sang the praises of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon, that’s when a whole new and young audience of ironically, American listeners discovered their countrymen’s music. Like those Bluesmen, Charles Bronson had hit a glass ceiling of middling success in his own country until he begrudgingly went to Europe to make films. He then became an international superstar via several tailor-made vehicles, revamped his image and came back to the States bigger than ever — albeit in his fifties!
   He was also no longer the Charles Bronson American audiences had been used to seeing on their movie screens and television sets. The chiseled physique was a little more rugged, accompanied by a thinly drooping mustache. The slitted eyes were a little more snake-like, along with the rarely seen but now slowly revealed smile, usually at the point of imminent violence. It was a visage in keeping with what could only be called that of an American Samurai.
   Why Bronson proved to be so popular in such a youth orientated industry is an enigma to be explored in this definitive biography via his personal life and professional career. He may have appeared late in the game to major film stardom, but like the old bull, the filmgoing audience reaped the benefits of his slow amble down hill.

Hope you enjoyed, or the very least appreciated my tribute to the late Charles Buchinsky on this, Charles Bronson’s Centennial.

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