LUMP-IN-THE-THROAT MOMENTS: TWILIGHT ZONE’s STEEL

As I wrote in Lee Marvin Point Blank, the actor proved to be more versatile on TV than he ever was on film so consequently, moments of genuine poignancy proved less elusive on the small screen with several ‘Lump-in-the-throats moments, with one in particular coming to mind; A Twilight Zone episode he appeared in back in 1963 that still resonates today.
Episode was “Steel, written by Richard Matheson and based on his short story. It’s one of Marvin’s best performance and given in less than a half hour’s time. It takes place in the near future with boxing outlawed due to its inherent brutality. Replaced by battling robots, former boxer ‘Steel’ Kelly (Marvin) and his partner Pole (Joe Mantell) have trundled their broken down robot, Battling Maxo, into town for his next bout. The problem is Maxo, like Kelly, has fought too many fights, so Kelly decides to go in the ring as a robot against the formidable robot opponent, The Maynard Flash.

Lee Marvin’s Steel Kelly disguised as ‘Battling Maxo” with Joe Mantell as his partner, Polo.

The viewer is obviously pulling for Kelly but the result is inevitable. Watching Marvin throughout the episode is an exercise in textbook poignancy. Whether witnessing his empty boasts of his prior career, or seeing him writhing in pain on the floor near the episode’s climax, his character elicits the same emotion as Death of Salesman’s Willie Loman. He is tragic, but he never gives in to the tragedy of his own situation, making him all the more torturous to watch.
Author Steven Jay Rubin’s new book, The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia garnered some major exclusives about the show and the Steel episode in particular.

Steven Jay Rubin’s excellent new book, THE TWILIGHT ZONE ENCYCLOPEDIA.

 

 

Most notably, an interview with the actor who portrayed Marvin’s robotic opponent, The Maynard Flash.  Former boxer and stuntman Chick Hicks stated to Rubin:
“I knew Lee Marvin for a long time, and he was a real man and a great guy. During the fight scenes, while filming I had two pieces of plastic over my eyes [to make me look like a robot] and I was pretty new to the business, so instead of putting little holes in them, so that I could have some air in there, I sweated and I was just looking at a blur most of the time, and I ended up hitting Lee a couple of times but the tough Marine that he was never complained.

‘Steel’ Kelly (Lee Marvin) taking some real punches as Battling Maxo from the more advanced Maynard Flash (Chuck Hicks) in The Twilight Zone.

He always would say, ‘Don’t worry abut it, Chuck. I know your problem.’ Yeah, he was a drinker, but a real great man underneath that plastic and skin.”
By the way, I’ll be interviewing Steve Rubin in an upcoming issue of Filmfax Magazine so be sure to be on the look out for it as he told me some things he left out of the book: *wink, wink*
-Dwayne Epstein

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LEE MARVIN’S LUMP-IN-THE-THROAT MOMENTS, PART 1

A recent thread on Facebook gave me the idea for this blog entry concerning ‘lump-in-the-throat’ moments. Due to the kind of films Lee Marvin made that kind of emotional impact on audiences were not always readily apparent. However, in researching Lee Marvin Point Blank, it did indeed become apparent when having to happily watch and/or rewatch all of his performances. He actually had several such lump-in-the-throat moments in his career and to my mind, there are a couple on both film and television, even within the realm of such genres as war film and westerns. Go figure. First up, on screen….

The look in Jeanne Moreau’s eyes as she gazes into Lee Marvin’s speaks volumes in this scene from Monte Walsh.

Although he was disappointed with the way the studio tampered with director William Fraker’s final cut, Marvin has said that the elegiac western Monte Walsh remains one of his favorite films. Probably because the film’s poignant message of an aging cowboy with nowhere to go still packs a punch. The message is quietly stated by costar Jack Palance, who tells Marvin, “Nobody gets to be a cowboy forever, Monte.”
A personal relationship with costar Jeanne Moreau may be another reason the film resonated for Marvin. In one scene in particular, without giving away the ending, he had never been more touching. He simply absorbs the moment and allows us to feel what he is feeling and it works every time. The film then quickly shifts moods into a thrilling climax involving Mitch Ryan but again, no spoilers here. See it for yourself and you be the judge.

The poignant climax to The Big Red One with Lee Marvin as the unnamed sergeant and a frail, young concentration camp survivor.

Sam Fuller’s The Big Red One, an epic and episodic WWII memoir remains one of Lee Marvin’s best performances and for my money, should really have been his cinematic swan song. He’s a wizened, old war horse throughout the film but a powerful and amazing climax involving a liberated concentration camp culminates with the most impressive, stoic performance that Marvin has ever given. Once again, no spoilers. Simply see it for yourself and make your own judgment. I dare you not to be moved by it.
– Dwayne Epstein

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LEE MARVIN, VETERANS DAY & LEATHERNECK MAGAZINE

Veterans Day is yet another time to honor the memory of Lee Marvin, and the honor is provided courtesy of Leatherneck Magazine. I was quite surprised to find out how long the magazine has actually been in existence. This month marks Leatherneck Magazine’s 100th anniversary. Not surprising since November 10th marks the 242nd anniversary of the Marine Corp itself, so there’s some symmetry there.
Equally surprising is the the date in which Veteran’s Day is observed. November 11th was chosen due to the Armistice being signed on that date in WWI, which by the way, it remains Armistice Day in other countries for that reason. Oh, and in case you ever wondered why such organizations as the American Legion sell paper red poppies to raise money, there’s an interesting reason for that, as well. Red poppies were seen blooming on the hills of the Western Front amid the carnage following the armistice of WWI. For some reason I take comfort in that symbolism of life among the dead, instead of selling toy guns or something.
Anyway, back to the subject at hand. Lee Marvin was interviewed by Leatherneck Magazine about a year before his death making it one of the last ones he ever gave to a periodical. I cam across it during my early research for Lee Marvin Point Blank and found it both insightful and humorous. Unfortunately, upon further research, I discovered some of the facts to be incorrect (Monte Marvin came out of WWII with a Sergeant’s rank, not a captain), making it hard to use anything in it other than Lee Marvin’s quotes. In the long run, that worked out best as it helped me decide to write the chapter on Lee’s time in the USMC strictly in his own words from letters he wrote home during the war. It became one of my favorite exclusives to the book, if you haven’t read it.
So, without further adieu, I give you Lee Marvin speaking freely to Leatherneck. Enjoy and have a good Veteran’s Day!
– Dwayne Epstein

Page 1 of Leatherneck Magazine’s July 1986 interview with Lee Marvin.

Page 2 of Leatherneck Magazine’s Lee Marvin interview.

Page 3 of Leatherneck Magazine’s Lee Marvin interview.

Page 4 of Leatherneck Magazine’s Lee Marvin interview.

Page 5 of Leatherneck Magazine’s Lee Marvin interview.

Page 6 of Leatherneck Magazine’s Lee Marvin interview.

 

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