MY FAVORITE FILM FIGHT SCENES: PART 3 OF 5

Continuing on into the groundbreaking decade of the 1960s, below is the next five films in my list of personal favorite movie fight scenes……

11. SOLDIER IN THE RAIN-1963
Rarely scene and hardly liked by most Steve McQueen fans, Soldier in the Rain was made fresh off his blistering success of The Great Escape. It may seem like an odd choice to most McQueen fans as it’s an odd film to begin with but along with Baby, The Rain Must Fall it is in dire need of rediscovering. Based on a novel by the prolific WIlliam Goldman,and directed by the criminally underrated Ralph Nelson the offbeat tale is mostly a comedy about the peace-time shennigans of Supply Sgt. Eustis Clay (McQueen) and Master Sgt. Maxwell Slaughter (Jackie Gleason) and their unlikely yet beleviable friendship. The moody tone of the latter half of the film is hinted at during the opening credits via Henry Mancini’s meloncholy main theme. Tuesday Weld heads up the equally offbeat supporting cast of Ed Nelson, Lew Gallo, Tony Bill, Adam West, Tom Poston and Rockne Tarkington.

Jackie Gleason takes Ed Nelson for a spin.

Jackie Gleason takes Ed Nelson for a spin.

The black and white film is shot bright and sunny throughout most of the proceedings but once the film’s mood changes, so too does the lighting, to a darker tone that is neither inappropriate nor jarring. It all works, and brilliantly at that, especailly during the barroom brawl that remains a favorite if spooky reminder of how great this film is. The viewer is right in the thick of it as McQueen and Gleason versus Gallo and Nelson reaches a most beleviable conclusion, as does the film itself in which all loose plot developments are poignantly tied up. The pairing of Gleason and McQueen in an early ‘Buddy Film’ may seem odd at first glance but the chemistry between them is there and quite touching at times.

Steve McQueen (right) consoles Jackie Gleason (left) following their barrom brawl.

Steve McQueen (right) consoles Jackie Gleason (left) following their barrom brawl.

In a moment that sounds like a scene right out of the film, rumor has it that Gleason gave McQueen a pair of cufflinks depicting one of his own favorite recreations, playing golf. Supposedly, McQueen thanked him for the gesture but told The Great One he didn’t wear cufflinks when indulging in his favorite recreation: riding motorcycles.

12. DONOVAN’S REEF-1963

When I interviewed Betty Marvin for Lee Marvin Point Blank she was not only forthcoming in her memories of her ex-husband, she proved to be extremely insightful of his screen persona. In comparing Marvin to frequent costar John Wayne, she used a wonderful metaphor, describing Wayne as a big lumbering, yet to her mind, loveable bear. Lee, on the other hand was a panther, sleek, muscular and ready to pounce at a moment’s notice. No where is that anaology more true than in Donovan’s Reef, which opens with a wonderful comic brawl between the two that makes almost the entire remainder of the fllm anti-climatic by comparison.

Marvin and Wayne temporarily abide by Jack Warden's orders to heed their annual birthday brawl in Donavan's Reef.

Marvin and Wayne temporarily abide by Jack Warden’s orders to heed their annual birthday brawl in Donavan’s Reef.

13. WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS-1966
Why is a Toho monster film on this list? I say, why not? Besides, when I was a kid I LOVED this movie. Watching it now it commands an amazing amount of camp value that rivals anything Ed Wood ever did! The premise is simple enough. Two incredibly ugly behemoth brothers battle it out over bragging rights to destroy Japan, while destroying Japan in the process. You want camp? Try this, when a lounge singer warbles out the film’s love song  on a crusie ship (“The Words Get Stuck in My Throat”), a Gargantua, skilled in music criticism, promptly picks her up, eats her, and spits out her clothes like a sunflower seed shell.
The Brown Gargantua is ‘the good one’ and the Green is ‘the bad.’ Naturally, I was rooting for the green. Along for the ride is a slumming Russ Tamblyn as a hip talking scientist. All in all one of the best — albeit longest — fight scenes in movie history. Their faces and body language alone is worth the price of admission!

No it's not Whoopi Goldberg and Sharon Osborne. It's the title characers of WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS in mid-brawl.

No it’s not Whoopi Goldberg and Sharon Osborne. It’s the title characers of WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS in mid-brawl.

14. THE SAND PEBBLES – 1966
As a 1960s roadshow engagement film and the only time Steve McQueen ever got an Oscar nomination, the overblown production of The Sand Pebbles is dying for rediscovery, if only for the bizarre fight scene between diminutive Mako and Slovenly giant Simon Oakland.  The film revolves around a U.S. gunboat mired in the quagmire of 1920s China’s political upheaval. The many analogies to Vietnam become a little annoying afte a while but the relationships of the characters, especially the crew of the San Pablo, is the heart of the film. The battle between Oakland and Mako is a standout as the viewer doesn’t think there’s any way Mako can possibly triumph. He’s a ship’s Coolie fighting for his right to stay on the ship in a bet made by McQueen’s Jake Holman character (who incidentally proves he  can take Oakland himself by a couple of quick body blows). Oakland is fighting for the right to break in a virginal Chinese prostitute. What unfolds in the sequence is not only good ol’ fashion underdog heroics, but a rousing yet beleviable climax of events.
One little known footnote: When Francis Ford Coppola was filming Apocalypse, Now! he had his cast & crew watch The Sand Pebbles first in order to see what kind of superior filmmaking can emerge in the midst of difficult location shooting. Robert Wise’s The Sand Pebbles proved to influence films more than he ever realized.

Slovenly Simn Oakland seems destined to pummel minute Mako in The Sand Pebbles. Viewers of the film know better....

Slovenly Simon Oakland seems destined to pummel minute Mako in The Sand Pebbles. Viewers of the film know better….

15. POINT BLANK– 1967
“Taut thriller, ignored in 1967, but now regarded as a top film of the mid-60s,” is how film historian Leonard Maltin aptly described director John Boorman’s ‘arthouse action film,’ Point Blank. How could I possibly write about my favorite fight scenes and not include this Lee Marvin movie? There are of course several to choose from, but I chose the battle between Marvin’s Walker and a couple of thugs hired to beat him up behind the movie screen of Angie Dickinson’s posh strip club, covered by the wailing of on stage soul singer. Why was it chosen? This film is chockful innovations: the first film shot at Alcatraz after it was shut down; the first film in which the actors were each individually miked for sound; the  stylized jump cuts, camera angles visual effects; but more than anything it’s the fight scene. Speaking of firsts, witnessing Marvin grab stuntman Jerry Catron by the crotch –the way someone would grab an opponent’s lapels to punch him in the face, and then doing just that, to his CROTCH — is an innovation in itself, for better or for worse. I defy any man to watch that moment and not reflexively bend over, cross his legs and wince after witnessing it!

Lee Marvin's Walker surprises mob goon Jerry Catron with a beer bottle to the kisser, and that's just for starters!

Lee Marvin’s Walker surprises mob goon Jerry Catron with a beer bottle to the kisser, and that’s just for starters!

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IN HONOR OF VALENTINE’S DAY, LEE MARVIN STYLE

With Valentine’s Day upon us, I was rather stumped for a blog idea that would be appropriate for the occassion. At first, I though of simply uploading the image below. No, it’s not from the set of The Untouchables, although Lee did appear on it frequently enough. Actually, it’s a rare picture of Lee and first wife, Betty Marvin at a St. Valentine’s Day Massacre Party in the 50s courtesy of Betty Marvin

Betty Marvin (left) with husband Lee (bottom right) dressed approriately for a St. Valentine's Day Massacre Party.

Betty Marvin (left) with husband Lee (bottom right) dressed approriately for a St. Valentine’s Day Massacre Party.

herself.. Cool, huh?

Howevever, even better than the image is a completely different blog entry that was posted in Vanity Fair online shortly after Lee Marvin: Point Blank was released. Writer James Wolcott takes an interesting look at the subject that may seem far afield, but nails it nontheless. What do you think?

“FEBRUARY 14, 2013 3:15 PM

“Wash his face. He’s fine.”
BY JAMES WOLCOTT
It being Valentine’s Day, I can think of no more romantic way to waste the day (before I get to work) than by dipping in and out of a tender, caring, just-published biography of America’s former sweetheart, Lee Marvin. In Lee Marvin: Point Blank, written by Dwayne Epstein, the action star who terrorized the West with a bullwhip in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, taught a squad of murderers and borderline psychos how to love again in The Dirty Dozen, and let Angie Dickinson use him as a punching bag for her furious little fists in the movie that gives this bio its subtitle weaves through the pages like the big rangy scary cat he was.

I’d often wondered why Marvin and director Sam Peckinpah never worked together in movies. Such simiarities. Both tough ex-Marines, both heavy intakers of alcoholic content, both volatile, both white-haired with a silvery patina to their appearance. Maybe it was because their experience shooting a TV’s Route 66 killed off any chance of bromance:

…Frustrated with his career, at odds with director Sam Peckinpah, and hating the dreary Pittsburgh location, the actor drank too much during work hours and paid the price. “What I remember most was his eyes,” recalled co-star Bert Remsen [who would go on to become a member of Robert Altman’s rep company, appearing in California Split, Thieves Like Us, Nashville, et al]. “He’d come in from the night before with his eyes all red and that strange walk he had, and say with that voice, ‘Hiya baby! You going out drinking with me tonight?'” I’d say, ‘No way! I gotta work the next day.’ He could do it though. He’d come in all disheveled and go throw up in the corner. Sam would say, ‘Wash is face. He’s fine.’ He’d do the scene and never miss a line…”

It’s never good to work woozy, however, and during this episode there was a fight scene with Martin Milner where one of the actors zigged when he should have zagged and the result was a punch that split Marvin’s nose wide open, the resulting damage putting his career in jeopardy. He was fortunate, notes Epstein, that The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was shot in black and white, masking the discoloration.

The pages devoted to Donovan’s Reef, the “rollicking comedy” (an extinct genre) that reunited Ford, the Duke, and Marvin, confirm the impression that I acquired at an early age that Donovan’s Reef is one of the booze-bathed movies of all time, a sot’s vision of tropical paradise. “For tax reasons [Ford] had to sell his beloved yacht, The Araner, so he decided to use it in the movie before selling it off, and figured he could have a good time drinking on board during the film.” This is the sort of consideration that seldom comes up in film-studies courses. As it turned out, Ford wasn’t allowed to drink for health reasons, so he “had to referee” while Wayne and Marvin went watery-eyed.

I once heard someone compare Donovan’s Reef to Shakespeare’s The Tempest, but that person might have been drinking too.”

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UNSEEN LEE MARVIN PHOTOS FOR LEE MARVIN POINT BLANK

Unseen Lee Marvin photos?
In researching and writing LEE MARVIN POINT BLANK, choosing the final images that would accompany the text proved to be an embarrassment of riches. However, due to both space and rights restrictions, not all the images were able to make the final cut. Periodically, those images will be seen here and for whatever reason, often make their own themes. Below are three such examples.

First, a still from the climatic opening fight scene from John Ford’s  Donovan’s Reef (1962) with John Wayne in the scenic Hawaiian Islands. The film started out to be the fun-loving romp Ford had intended for all concerned, but Marvin’s excessive partying took a much darker turn (Lee Marvin Point Blank).

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Lee Marvin and Duke Wayne heed Jack Warden’s advice to stand at attention in the midst of their annual brawl.

Next, there’s an image from writer-director Richard Brooks’ The Professionals (1966) showing the four leads, Woody Strode, Lee, Burt Lancaster, and Robert Ryan with their backs to the camera preparing to shoot the next scene. During the film’s down time in the Nevada desert, Marvin and Strode, along with stuntman Tony Epper, wreaked such havoc in the Vegas casinos that it rivaled the fabled Rat Pack. Marvin is shown here easily talking Strode into doing just that as an uninvited Lancaster curiously looks on.

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Finally, while making Robert Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen in England in 1967, Marvin cavorted in the London pubs with former Chicago cop and ex-Marine Bob Phillips (shown left),  who played Cpl. Morgan in the film. An unknown old friend from Phillips’ Chicago days (center) visited the set after a day’s shooting. Phillips’ own caption for this photo: “You can tell’em it ain’t coffee in those cups.”

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