HAPPY HEAVENLY BIRTHDAY, TOSHIRO MIFUNE

The first of April is known to most folks as April Fool’s Day (or Easter this year!) but to some observant film fans it also the birthday of Lee Marvin’s favorite co-star, Toshiro Mifune. Lee Marvin Point Blank readers are well aware of Marvin’s feelings for Mifune.

Original release ad for HELL IN THE PACIFIC, Marvin & Mifune’s only film together.

Marvin’s affection for Mifune was rare for a man of his generation and despite the difficult circumstances during their one project together, their friendship grew and lasted until Marvin death in 1987.
Mifune was a legend in the Japanese film industry, due largely to his collaboration with director Akira Kurosawa. He achieved the rarely seen success of international celebrity in the burgeoning film market of the postwar years, including a handful of American films despite his inability to speak English. It did not matter as his appeal required no words. As Lee Marvin famously said of Mifune: “This guy hypnotizes you with his genius. Those eyes! The battered samurai warrior standing alone, not wanting outside help.”

(L-R) Toshiro Mifune, Lee Marvin, Michele Triola and Mifune’s wife, Sachiko Yoshimine.

Of the one film they made together, Hell in the Pacific is given it’s just due in Lee Marvin Point Blank. Other sources for its production are detailed in director John Boorman’s memoir, Adventures of a Suburban Boy and Stuart Galbraith’s IV mammoth tome, The Emperor and the Wolf: The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune.  Personally, I found it to be a noble failure as both allegory and filmmaking. Upon the heavily edited version released to theaters at the time, Marvin himself felt the same way but, despite it’s reception,  it remained on of his personal favorite films. It’s not without its merits, chief among them being the two actors’ presence and the eye-popping cinematography of Conrad Hall.

(L-R) Cinematographer Conrad Hall (seated), Lee Marvin, director John Boorman and Toshiro Mifune on location during HELL IN THE PACIFIC (1968).

While Galbraith and Boorman give wonderful accounts of the rigorous production, both seem to lack insight into the one element that seems to accompany any Lee Marvin project, and that is humor. Thanks to exclusive interviews with Lee’s first wife, Betty Marvin and his career-long agent, Meyer Mishkin, I was able to secure several hilarious anecdotes to put in my book that would have been lost to time had they not agreed to open up to me.
Still in all, Hell in the Pacific is worth viewing, if only for the powerful presence of both Marvin and Mifune, two actors at the top of their game in a film personal and important to them both. Watch it again for the great Mifune’s heavenly birthday and when Marvin shouts out “Come and get it!” raise a sakazuki in the great man’s honor.
– Dwayne Epstein

Director John Boorman’s 2003 memoir, Adventures of a Suburban Boy.

Author/Historian Stuart Galbraith’s massive 2001 tome, The Emperor and the Wolf: The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune.

 

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LEE MARVIN: IN COLD BLOOD

I recently watched the 1967 classic true-crime thriller In Cold Blood on TCM and it still packs one hell of a wallop. Writer/Director Richard Brooks was at the peak of his game in his stark tale of the horrific murders of the Clutter family at the hands of ex-con drifters Perry Smith (Robert Blake) and Dick Hickox (Scott Wilson). As readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank know, Marvin himself came pretty damned close to being in the film.
How close? From the IMDb: “Lee Marvin wanted the role of Alvin Dewey but director Richard Brooks gave it to John Forsythe instead. Brooks had worked with Marvin on the extremely successful, The Professionals.  but Marvin had proved to be a handful on the set.”

L-R: Veteran character actor James Flavin, Robert Blake, Gerald S. O’loughlin, John Forsythe (in the role Marvin was to play) & Scott Wilson in Richard Brooks’ true crime thriller, IN COLD BLOOD.

I’m not quite sure where the IMDb got its information from but I had interviewed stuntman Tony Epper, who had worked very closely with Brooks and Marvin on The Professionals. His version of why Marvin was not in the film was quite different. While it’s true Marvin and Brooks did not always get along, both men were well aware of each other’s  personality traits and it was Marvin, not Brooks, who did not want to work with the other. Marvin thought of Brooks as a martinet who may have been a military veteran, but having not seen actual combat, he considered Brooks a phony and a bully. Unfortunate really as it was another golden opportunity that Marvin missed in being a part of portraying the horror of violence on film as never seen before at that time.

Lee Marvin as Detective Frank Ballinger on M Squad, or, as I like to think of it, how he would have appeared in the John Forsythe role for IN COLD BLOOD.

Tony Epper: “I’ll tell you what Lee did. I came over and Lee said ‘Go get some of that good wine at the liquor store.’ It was a different label, that’s all. Other than that, after the third drink, you know. Anyway, I get a phone call. I lived down in the valley in those days. It’s Richard. I remember Tommy Shaw, who was the production manager, in those days. He was a good production manager. Anyway, Brooks wanted to get the script of In Cold Blood to Tommy. He had called Tommy and Tommy couldn’t come. I took it, because his wife had a liver problem. That’s where the money went. Anyway, I went over and that’s when Brooks was still with Jean Simmons. He and I were good friends. Nothing but good friends…Anyway, I go in the house and there’s Richard. He says, ‘I want you to do me a big favor.’ I said ‘Do you want me to kill somebody?’ (laughs) He gives me the script. Lots of seals all over it. I stopped by Lee’s with the script and the bottle he wanted. Anyway, this part was Lee’s idea. He saw the sealed script I was to deliver to Shaw, and since he knew Brooks was so paranoid about anybody reading his script, he came up with this idea. He said, ‘Let’s just break the seal before giving it to Shaw.’ I asked Lee if he wanted to read it first. We never read it, just broke the seal. Brooks, until the day he died, kept asking me if we had ever read the script to In Cold Blood. I think that’s why he changed his mind about offering the role to Lee.”
– Dwayne Epstein

IN COLD BLOOD writer/director Richard Brooks (behind the camera) and cinematographer Conrad Hall behinds Brooks.

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THE ARCHIVES: MY FILMFAX INTERVIEW W/ ROBERT J. GURNEY, JR

Anyone who knows me knows that with precious few exceptions, I am no fan of the science fiction genre. So, with that in mind, I’m the last writer wiling to research, interview, and write up a piece on an unsung Sci-Fi filmmaker. Enter Filmfax Magazine. You never know what you might learn and enjoy being a professional writer and writing for Filmfax is the best example of that. I had recieved a call from the magazine’s publisher, Mike Stein (terrific guy, by the way), telling me such an unsung filmmaker has made his presence known and wanted to speak with Filmfax. It concerned a recent book that had incorrectly stated that Invasion of the Saucer Men was not meant to be a comedy, despite the laughs it garnered from audiences upon its release.
I thought it over, and eventually figured, what the hell, might even be a little enlightening on some level. I was still very much researching  Lee Marvin Point Blank at the time but needed to keep my actually writing chops up. Besides, I needed to pad my resume’ as well as my bank account as best as I could. Keep in mind, this was back in 2002, and my ability to navigate the digital highway, was tenative at best. Any research was done the old-fashioned way, i.e. my local library. Not only had I not heard of Robert J. Gurney, Jr., neither had any of the stalwart genre fanatics I knew personally. The intrigue was rising.
Turns out, Gurney was living in Marina Del Rey and had a voice like a late-night FM  radio announcer with a Southern drawl. Upon meeting with him, I discovered he was a sweet, unassuming, older gentleman with a razor-sharp memory definitely worthy of Filmfax’s auspices, beyond what his valid complaint was. The complaint, by the way, was also a natural lead for the article. Better yet was discovering his life story included eye-opening personal anecdotes with the likes of Stanley Kubrick, Marlon Brando, Roger Corman, AIP’s exectuives Sam Arkoff & Jim Nicholson, a future mutli-Oscar winning cinematographer named Conrad Hall,  and the genesis of some groundbreaking films still in dire need of rediscovery. My favorite example being Gurney’s long-lost late 50s thriller, Edge of Fury. He had a print he had not seen since its release, and because I knew someone who could transfer it to VHS, we were able to watch this strange little thriller together as I took notes on his reactions. Those are the times I love my job. So, posted below, in its entirety, is my eye-opening interview with writer/director/producer and thought-provoking racontuer, Robert Gurney, Jr.
Oh, one more thing. According to Google, at the age of 92, Gurney is still with us, but my contact information for him is long gone. If anybody who reads this knows how to get back in touch with him, please let me know. In the mean time, I give you my cover story interview with Mr. Gurney from Filmfax, 2002. Enjoy…..

Artist Harley Brown rendered the cover art for the Oct/Nov 2002 issue of Filmfax featuring my interview with filmmaker Robert J. Gurney.

Artist Harley Brown rendered the cover art for the Oct/Nov 2002 issue of Filmfax featuring my interview with filmmaker Robert J. Gurney.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 1.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 1.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 2.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 2.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 3.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 3.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 4.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 4.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 5.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 5.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 6.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 6.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 7.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 7.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 8.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 8.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 9.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 9.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 10.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 10.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 11.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 11.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 12.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 12.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 13.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 13.

-Dwayne Epstein

 

 

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