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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MOVIEFONE: 57 GREATEST WESTERNS

Moviefone, the ubiqiutous movie info and streaming site, decided to rank the 57 greatest westerns of all time and to its credit, three Lee Marvin classics are on the list.

Original poster to SEVEN MEN FROM NOW with 3rd billed Lee Marvin.

Poster to THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE.

Poster art for THE PROFESSIONALS.




I came across the Moviefone list by chance only recently as it was posted back in 2017. I mention this since it was posted in honor of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood’s mutual birthdate of May 31st. Eastwood is now an amazing 91 years old!
  Personally, I’ve never been a fan of “Best Of….” lists, especially since there are bound to be some obvious omissions. This list is no exception, despite the inclusion of three Lee Marvin films, the single best of his westerns was indeed omitted. The full list can be read here
Upon reading it it’s seems to be rather weak on any Gary Cooper classics, save for High Noon, which belongs on any list of great westerns. Where is The Westerner (1940) or Along Came Jones (1945) or The Virginian (1929)? 
 Also, if you’re going to include such western comedies as Way Out West and Destry Rides Again, why not Support Your Local Sheriff and of course, Cat Ballou? Also missing are such personal favorites How the West Was Won (1962) as well as Tom Horn (1980) and the string of 1972 greats of The Cowboys, When Legends Die, Bad Company, and The Culpepper Cattle Company
Okay, enough griping…well, what the hell is TV-movie mini-series Lonesome Dove doing on the list? Okay, griping over. As to the reason this is even posted in a blog dedicated to the life and career of Lee Marvin, author Gary Susman did have the presence of mind to include the three Lee Marvin films, all good choices but once again, left out the best of the bunch. No, not the aforementioned Cat Ballou
It’s not only one of Lee’s best films and performances, it’s one of the best westerns ever made. Any guesses? 
Of course, any more info needed or wondered about can be found in the pages of Lee Marvin Point Blank. Until then, in the immortal words of Bruce Willis, “yippie-kay-ay, mutha….”
 – Dwayne Epstein

Monte Walsh, 1970

 

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MAY 2021 ON TCM

May 2021 on TCM is offering a nice assortment of Lee Marvin films as well as Lee Marvin related films for the diehard and novice fan alike. Unfortunately, the treasures are not on display until the middle of the month and later. However, the line-up is certainly worth waiting for as it includes projects from the earliest part of his lengthy career as well as Marvin inspired projects and films he was offered but ultimately turned down. All of which makes for a wonderful cross section for May 2021 on TCM. Titles and dates are listed below but check local listing for air time. If you want greater detail as to each projects’ importance, there’s always Lee Marvin Point Blank

The Big Heat (1953), Saturday, May 15th: Fritz Lang’s ultra violent crime thriller (at least for 1953) stars Glenn Ford as a tough city cop out to bust up the mob responsible for his wife’s murder.

Debbie (Gloria Grahame) taunts her sadistic boyfriend, Vince Stone (Lee Marvin).


A terrific supporting cast actually steal the show (especially pouty-lipped Gloria Grahame), and that includes a young Lee Marvin as sadistic Vince Stone, dubbed by N.Y. Times critic Vincent Canby as “The Merchant of Menace,” and with good reason! Marvin’s opinion of his director and costars are detailed in Lee Marvin Point Blank, as well as a rather unsavory run-in concerning Glenn Ford several years later. 

The Rack (1956), Thursday, May 20th: A showcase for the talents of a young Paul Newman, this Rod Serling & Stewart Stern scripted drama explores the phenomenon of American soldiers consorting with the enemy during the Korea War. Marvin delivers in a small yet essential role in two powerful scenes. An all-star cast enlivens the proceedings with Marvin and Newman reuniting on more equal ground almost two decades later for Pocket Money (1972).

Original ad campaign for THE RACK (1956).


I had not written much about The Rack in my book due to Marvin’s small contribution, but this blog helped me discover a fascinating detail that I would have included had I known about it at the time. Instead, it can be read here

Petulia (1968), Friday, May 21st: Director Richard Lester’s stylized film depicting swinging 1960’s San Francisco was first offered to Marvin who turned it down. In doing so, it opened the door to allow George C. Scott to play the frustrated middle-aged doctor infatuated with the kooky title character played by the luminous Julie Christie. The film is a time capsule

The original psychedelic poster art for PETULIA (1968).


that also includes a wonderful supporting cast, not the least of which is a VERY creepy Richard Chamberlain looking to change his image from the clean-cut Dr. Kildare.

Not only picture Marvin playing the role, but look quick for members of the San Francisco comedy troupe The Committee (Howard Hesseman most notably), The Grateful Dead (A very funny Jerry Garcia, Mickey Hart, Phil Lesh & Bob Weir) as well as Big Brother and The Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin.
   Another film Marvin turned down reportedly without even reading the script gave Scott his greatest success the following year. Any guesses?

Point Blank (1967), Saturday, May 22nd: This seminally influential films, is, as I like to call it, the first arthouse action film. What can be said about this neo-noir cult clasic that hasn’t been said already by yours truly and countless others?

Point Blank, 1967




John Boorman’s vastly original style still packs a wallop due largely to star Lee Marvin’s haunting performance.


Again, a veteran supporting cast keeps the film watchable, along with the surrealistic execution presented in muted colors, trippy sound, innovative editing and photography. At the end of the day it’s still Lee Marvin one recalls long after the film is done. If you’ve never seen it, you’re in for a surprise. If you have seen it, see it again. As with all classics, there’s always more to experience with each viewing.


Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967), Tuesday, May 25th: Once again, a stylized 1960s film, this time strangely directed by the legendary John Huston and starring Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor. 

Original poster for Reflections in a Golden Eye.


The basic premise is easy to describe but the characters and execution certainly are not. Brando is a southern military officer unhappily married to shrewish Elizabeth Taylor, who is carrying on an affair with docile Brian Keith, who is unhappily married to fragile Julie Harris. Along for the strange proceedings is Robert Forster making his film debut as a young recruit who pines for Taylor. Hence the premise.
   As for the execution, it’s all shot in a strange and sickly sepia tone and the character interactions go beyond bizarre, especially Brando. It’s all based on an equally bizarre novel by Carson McCullers. its inclusion here is based on the fact that Marvin was offered the Brando role but ultimately turned it down. Taylor had accepted the role as a chance to help her close friend, Montgomery Clift, who died before he could play the part. Longtime Clift rival Brando came aboard and the entire production is an acquired taste. I found the film rather mesmerizing, even more so if you imagine Lee Marvin in the role. After all, he did say, this.

The Devils Brigade (1968), & Kelly’s Heroes (1970) both Sunday, May 30th: Here are two films that applied 1960s sensibilities to the genre of WWII action films in the wake of the immense popularity of The Dirty Dozen. Although The Devil’s Brigade is not as well known, personally, I like them both, with maybe Brigade, a little bit more.

Original ad art for The Devil’s Brigade not accidentally similiar to the Dirty Dozen.

Allegedly based on a true story, it tells the story of a team of crackerjack Canadian soldiers led by Cliff Robertson, teaming up with a ragtag group of American G.I.s led by Vince “Ben Casey” Edwards all under the command of an over-the-hill William Holden. They even managed to recruit ‘Dozen’ alum Richard Jaeckel in a scene stealing performance as a jackrabbit-like G.I. named Omar. The standout is Claude Akins in a performance to rival John Cassavetes in Dozen. Unfortunately, there’s also an annoying performance by Andrew Prine and plenty of former football players, ala Jim Brown in The Dirty Dozen.  
   As for Kelly’s Heroes, Dirty Dozen alumni Donald Sutherland and Telly Savalas along with comedian Don Rickles are the best thing in the movie that sadly toplines a very wooden Clint Eastwood. A former boss and I were once comparing the films and he argued Kelly’s Heroes had a more believable premise of men risking their lives not for glory but for a treasure of Nazi gold. All I can say to that is you be the judge.

The Dirty Dozen (1967), Monday, May 31st: Not the first film with a plot consisting of WWII renegades on a secret mission, but certainly the best.

Poster for THE DIRTY DOZEN, the best of Men on a Mission films in which the genre is defined in the ad.



Even before The Devils’s Brigade and Kelly’s Heroes, there was Roger Corman’s The Secret Invasion (1964) with a similar theme. All that aside, this “men-on-a-mission” classic puts all the others to shame. TCM has long been a fan of this timeless classic, showing it whenever they can and promoting it as well, as seen here. Not much more to add to that, other than to suggest it certainly is worthy of repeat viewings. 

So, there you have it: May 2021 on TCM for Lee Marvin fans. Things are surely looking up!
• Dwayne Epstein

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