JANUARY 2021 ON TCM

January 2021 is FINALLY upon us and not a moment too soon, as far as I’m concerned. With this new month and year (hell, new decade even!), comes a new schedule of films from the good folks at TCM. Below are the films that either star Lee Marvin or has a particular link to Marvin’s life, career or legacy. So, with January 2021 upon us, let the classic films begin!
All times are Pacific Standard Time

The Sea Wolf (1941), Wednesday, January 6 (1:15 am): It’s hard to imagine that Lee Marvin might have had anything in common with the legendary John Garfield but the two men shared an appreciation of the writing of Jack London. Garfield begged Jack Warner to put him in a London biopic but instead he got to costar in this classic sea story. London was at one point the most popular writer in the English language and his 1904 novel The Sea Wolf became his most often filmed stepchild. Filmed no less than nine times since 1913, this version with Garfield, Edward G. Robinson, Alexander Knox and Ida Lupino is the best known and for my money the best of all. I could easily see Marvin playing the villianous captain Wolf Larsen as well as Robinson played it, of whom Marvin was also a huge fan. Unfortunately, the closest Marvin ever got to playing a London character was A#1 in the London inspired Emperor of the North.
By the way, frequent Marvin costar Charles Bronson took a shot at playing the title character in a cable TV movie version for Turner’s TBS station with less than stellar results.

The Big Heat (1953), Saturday, January 9 (9 am):

The attitude of Vince Stone toward his annoying girlfriend, Gloria Grahame, is shown building to a painful climax in Fritz Lang’s THE BIG HEAT (1952).

You want early Marvin sadistic mayhem? It doesn’t get any better than this. As gangster Vince Stone he terrorizes men but especially women like the screen had never seen before. Fritz Lang’s neo-noir classic stars Glenn Ford as a tough cop putting the heat on for the murder of his wife, Jocelyn Brando, you-know-who’s real-life sister.  Ford’s encounters with the city’s underbelly makes up the bulk of the film but the real stars are Gloria Grahame as Stone’s pouty-mouth moll and Marvin as Stone. Stories galore of its making in Lee Marvin Point Blank with the best being NY Times critic Vincent Canby dubbing Marvin “The Merchant of Menace.” Canby had no idea the best was yet to come.

The Searchers (1956) Saturday, January 16 (5pm):

John Wayne to Harry Carey, Jr: “What do you want me to do, DRAW YOU A PICTURE?! DON’T EVER ASK ME AGAIN!”

It’s been said that the cinematic mythology of the American western was pretty much created by John Ford and the best of his westerns  always starred John Wayne. Of their many films together, The Searchers remains their greatest for countless reasons and not the least of which is the fact that ol’ Duke Wayne was never more vicious in a movie than he was here. A shame he didn’t play more men of questionable morals as the racist Ethan Edwards but at least he did once…well, twice if you count his wonderful Captain Bligh on the cattle trail in Howard Hawks’ Red River (also airing this month on Saturday, January 23, 12:30pm) . What does all this have to do with Lee Marvin? Quite simply, Marvin loved the cinematic output of both men and luckily got to work with them both later in their careers. Watch The Searchers and discover why he admired them so much if you haven’t done so already..

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), Sunday, January 17 (12:30 pm):

A young Lee Marvin as Mitch in the stage version of STREETCAR.

There isn’t much more to be said about this classic film starring the brutish young Marlon Brando, delicate Vivien Leigh, along with Oscar-winning Kim Hunter and Karl Malden. However, most people may not be aware that a young Lee Marvin played in the stage version in Summer stock. If you think he portrayed the savage Stanley Kowalski, think again. Actually, he played Mitch, Stanley’s oafish co-worker who’s smitten with Stanley’s sister-in-law, Blanche, until he sees the light, as it were. So, when watching the classic film written by Tennessee Williams and directed by Elia Kazan, pay attention to Karl Malden and picture a young Lee Marvin in the role.

Drum Beat (1954), Thursday, January 28 (5:30 am):

(L-R) Alan Ladd as Johnny Mackay and Charles Bronson as Captain Jack in DRUM BEAT.

Other than Marvin himself, the only other actor who spent a longer apprenticeship on the way to superstardom was frequent costar Charles Bronson. His scene-stealing performance as renegade Modoc warrior Captain Jack in the Alan Ladd western Drum Beat may have given hope that success might be right around the corner. Hope springs eternal. He had changed his name from Buchinski to Bronson with this film and got the best reviews of his career up to that time:
“The renegade redskin is forcefully played by Charles Bronson,” Variety.
“Charles Bronson is probably the most muscular Indian ever to brandish a rifle before the camera,” NY Times.
Alan Ladd…is dwarfed by that of Charles Bronson…proud, ruthless, magnificent,” Films and Filming.
Unfortunately, not many folks saw this fact-based color horse opera. He does outshine the nominal star, Alan Ladd, but it would be almost 20 years for audiences to appreciate Bronson’s screen image in 1973’s Death Wish. Watch him in Drum Beat to see what the likes of Lee Marvin and a handful of others had seen long ago.

The Killers (1964), Saturday January 30 (9:30pm) & Sunday, January 31 (7:00 am):

As hired killer Charlie Strom, Lee Marvin gently persuades blind receptionist Virginia Christine  to divulge vital information in Don Siegel’s THE KILLERS.

Ernest Hemingway’s five-page short story was first filmed in 1946 with a star-making debut of Burt Lancaster as the doomed Swede, an ex-boxer awaiting the title characters. The story goes that screenwriter Richard Brooks met Hemingway in a bar and asked him what he thought the reason would be the killers were coming for Swede. A drunken Hemingway apparently slurred, “Damned if I know. Probably had something to do with big money or maybe a special woman…or maybe both.” Thus, a film noir classic was born.
Almost 20 years later, Lew Wasserman of MCA had the idea of reworking it on the cheap as the first TV-movie, that is until JFK was murdered on the streets of Dallas. There is of course infinitely more to tell about the remade little thriller and I was lucky enough to get great stories about it for Lee Marvin Point Blank from such principal players as Angie Dickinson, Clu Gulager, Norman Fell and Bob Phillips. If you’ve read my book you’ll know what to look for when watching the film.

So there you have it, a summary of Lee Marvin films and interests on TCM for January 2021. Enjoy and above all, have a great new year and good riddance to 2020!
– Dwayne Epstein

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LANCE HENRIKSEN

Lance Henriksen, veteran character actor of many a film and TV project, has had a few run-ins with Lee Marvin, as I recently discovered in an interview he did promoting his film Fallen (2020), which was written, directed and costarring Viggo Mortensen. In the joint interview, Henriksen tells several anecdotes about his career, all fascinating, but one in particular was worthy of this blog that I was totally unaware of. As recounted by Ryan Gilby in the online version of the U.K.’s The Guardian:
“Henriksen’s distinctive features have haunted cinema screens for almost half a century – that drawn face, those goggle eyes in their deep-scooped sockets, the high forehead and prim lips. His first paid gig was as a prison yard extra on The American, a 1960 TV special with Lee Marvin. “I was in jail myself at the time for vagrancy. They paid me $5 and I told the guard: ‘I’m not a vagrant any more!’” He even asked Marvin to spring him from the slammer. “He looked at me, like: ‘Hold that thought,’ and walked off. Hahaha!”

P.R. image of Lee Marvin as Ira Hayes in John Frankenheimer’s THE AMERICAN (1960).

Interestingly, Henriksen’s IMDb profile makes no mention of the appearance, but it does list his first acting credit as an extra in the film version of Ira Hayes released the same year with Tony Curtis as The Outsider. I’d take Henriksen’s word over IMDb any day.
It does however mention that Henriksen made his big screen debut over a decade later as an extra play a train yard worker on Emperor of the North (1973). His bigger break came two years later as an FBI agent in Dog Day Afternoon.

Actor Lance Henriksen in his prime in the mid-1990s.

There’s other odd connections the now 80-year-old Lance Henriksen had to Lee Marvin. He may be the only actor to ever play Marvin’s frequent costar, Charles Bronson, as he did in the TV-movie version of Jill Ireland’s battle with cancer. He also played a bounty hunter in Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man (1996) who kills and cannibalizes two men named Lee & Marvin. Strange but true. May not be worthy of Lee Marvin Point Blank but it works for this blog. Wonder if Henriksen himself sees the connection.
– Dwayne Epstein

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MEN ON A MISSION: THE BEST OF LEE MARVIN

Men on a Mission, a subgenre of pretty much every possible action film, has been around for a very long time and is undergoing a resurgence of sorts within the ranks of superhero films and the like. The undeniable king of the subgenre, however, has to be Lee Marvin. Whether the genre is a western, WWII, crime films or sometimes impossible to categorize, no actor did more of them or the best of them than Marvin.
According to a 2014 IndieWire article on WWII films, “The recipe is simple: take a bunch of men (the more ill-suited and quarrelsome the better), give them an objective—killing Hitler, looting Nazi gold, saving Private Ryan, protecting crucial work of arts from destruction by the Germans—and send those men on the mission.”
By that definition, no list of great WWII Men on a Mission films could be complete without The Dirty Dozen (1967). Of course, the definition left out the crucial aspect of training which often makes up the best part of the film, all elements of which are even the ad line for the film….

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

When it comes to westerns within the subgenre, it’s hard to beat The Professionals (1966) for plot, character, action and dialogue. Kind of forgotten nowadays but anyone familiar with it knows how great a film it truly is.

 

Poster art for THE PROFESSIONALS.

 

 

 

 

Some crime films don’t usually include the subgenre as they are often revenge or heist oriented in their plots and themes. One obvious exception would be Prime Cut (1972).

The very strange project had Marvin tasked with rounding up a crew to get rogue mobster Gene Hackman to fork over the money he’s been skimming from the Kansas City mob. Naturally, Hackman does not take kindly to their mission and the resulting violence makes up the bulk of the film. Marvin does rescue Sissy Spacek from Hackman along the way and dallies with ex-girlfriend Angel Tompkins but that aside, it’s pure male-dominated action. At one point, Marvin even has to introduce himself to the mother of one of his young recruits!

Two different ad campaigns for director Michael Ritchie’s, PRIME CUT.

And then there are action films that simply defy categorization. The best example of this is Marvin’s 1973 opus, Emperor of the North. The mission, which is also clearly stated in the ad, was so unique audiences did not know what to make of it and ultimately simply avoided it altogether. A shame really as the finale and the cinematography throughout are excellent.

EMPEROR OF THE NORTH’s ad states the mission quite clearly.

So there you have it. A small smattering of examples showing Lee Marvin’s work as the best of the subgenre. There are many more, of course, but for the uninitiated, the above examples are a good place to start. Naturally, all of his films, including the ones mentioned herein, are explored in detail, from inception to reception within the pages of Lee Marvin Point Blank. Feel free to check it out for yourself and you’ll discover the best of a rediscovered and still relevant subgenre.

  • Dwayne Epstein
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