‘FEUD’S ROBERT ALDRICH, JOAN CRAWFORD & LEE MARVIN

From the NY Times, March 12, 2016: After a tough day shooting “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?,” director Robert Aldrich complains to his wife (Molly Price) that his two stars — Bette Davis and Joan Crawford — have ganged up on him, undermining his power on the set. He seethes that Jack Palance and Lee Marvin would never have resorted to such maneuvers. His wife replies flatly: “They don’t have to. They’re men.”

The original cast of “Feud” (L-R): Bette Davis, Jack Warner, Joan Crawford and Robert Aldrich.

That line is one of the points of this week’s episode of “Feud: Bette and Joan.” The show so far is at its best when it examines the different ways in which power operates, and the different ways in which power is perceived. As Aldrich’s wife observes, when men fight for something (or fight with one another), it’s perceived as business as usual. When women fight, they’re perceived as being difficult, petty, or “catty.”

I’ve been fascinated with this original cable series and the Lee Marvin reference in the second episode got me to thinking. In Lee Marvin Point Blank readers are fully aware of the connection between Lee Marvin and Robert Aldrich. He directed Lee in 3 different decades and the films Attack! (1956), The Dirty Dozen (1967) and Emperor of the North (1973) are fully explored. However, there’s one anecdote from Attack! costar Eddie Albert that shows a side of Robert Aldrich not yet mentioned on the series that so far has portrayed him as rather dominated and put-upon. From my interview with the late, great Eddie Albert:

Director Robert Aldrich’s ATTACK! co-stars Lee Marvin and the ‘late’ William Smithers.

“I remember one thing about him. We were just starting Attack! We had rehearsed for a week. I think it was a Monday and we were all there. But the kid from New York, I’ve forgotten his name…he was a leading part. He played the main solider. …William Smithers! Anyway, he was about 15-20 minutes late and Aldrich didn’t say anything. Tuesday came and he was 20 minutes late again. Aldrich said, ‘I want to have a conference.’ He said, ‘Now, this is very difficult. We have problems. We have all got to work together…’ He went on very beautifully and then stopped, pointed to the actor and yelled, ‘Now you cocksuckers that come in late, I am going to kick the shit right out of you!’ I never heard him explode like that. The kid was never late again. ‘I’ll run your ass right out of this town…!’

To my knowledge, Marvin never encountered Jack Warner but he did almost work with Bette Davis on a film called Bunny O’ Hare (1971that was made instead with his frequent costar, Ernest Borgnine.
However, he did have a memorable run-in with Joan Crawford. According to Lee’s first wife, Betty Marvin, who had worked for Crawford as her nanny (the Mommie Dearest stories are true, by the way), the run-in took place at the premiere of Lee’s film, Raintree County (1957). In Betty’s own words:

“At the the premiere Lee and I were lined up. Big joke in those days. So there we were, and who’s behind us? Joan Crawford. She, in her wonderfull style, looks right through me… Because Lee was like the next big star on the horizon and on, and on..The next day, comes this script. I thought, “Oh isn’t this interesting.” She wants him to co-star in her next film and would he please read the script and set up an appointment at MCA. I said to myself, ‘Here we go.’ She calls. Talks right through me. ‘Is Lee there? Why don’t you come over. We’ll go over the script in my office and read it together.’ He said, ‘Okay.’ He left about one o’clock. You know, I was a young wife. It made me very uncomfortable.

Newlyweds Betty and Lee Marvin around the time Lee was offered a ‘role’ opposite Betty’s former employer, Joan Crawford.

What’s going on here? The whole afternoon, it was difficult for me. When he came back, he was laughing. I said, ‘How did he go? Are you going to co-star with Joan Crawford?’ He said, ‘Oh, hardly.’ I asked if he read the script. He was a very slow reader, as I told you. He had went into a room with the script and she was waiting. After about two hours, she said, ‘Well?’ He said, ‘Listen, it takes a long time to get through this crap.’ Once again, you know? He was like, ‘Give me a break.’ Oh she was livid! That was Lee’s lovely way. And I’m not saying out of respect for me. He didn’t like her crappy script because she was doing a lot of garbage.”

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FIGHT SCENE FAVORITES, PART 4 OF 5

Presenting the penultimate installment in my own choices of favorite movie fight scenes. I became even more aware of the distinct changes that took place thru the decades, due to researching Lee Marvin Point Blank and discovering Marvin’s important influence on screen violence. This time, the late 60s lead into to the early 70s, with both known and obscure choices. Naturally, Lee Marvin is duly represented.

16. DARK OF THE SUN-1968

Rod Taylor unrelentingly takes on Peter Carsten for the murder of Jim Brown.

Rod Taylor (left) unrelentingly takes on Peter Carsten (right) for the murder of Jim Brown.

Unrelenting. That single word is the best way to describe Rod Taylor’s battle with his opponent in the underrated action opus Dark of the Sun. One of the 1960s many international productions, this one deals with mercenaries carrying out a mission in Africa to save both missionaries and a cache of diamonds…they are, after all mercenaries. The film contains plenty of action, including train battles, buzzsaws and such obligatory eye candy as Yvette Mimiuex.
But, the growing animosity between team leader Rod Taylor and former Nazi team member Peter Carsten, results in one of the most brutal and unrelenting fight scenes of its era. When Taylor leaves the team momentarily, Carsten kills Taylor’s comrade, Jim Brown, and attempts to abscond with the goods. When Taylor returns and discovers what transpired, no amount of common sense or cajoling can stem the tide of his anger. A rousing climax to a film that just made me a Rod Taylor fan all over again. I’ve read that his fight scene in Darker Than Amber (1970) with William Smith is even better but since I’ve yet to see it, this will have to suffice. Maybe if I revamp this list in a few years I’d have seen it and changed my mind. Until then, Dark of The Sun. Unrelenting.

17.THE SCALPHUNTERS-1968

Scalphunters

Burt Lancaster as Mountain man Joe Bass (right) tries to teach a lesson to runaway slave Joseph Lee (Ossie Davis, left) as the plot continues around them in The Scalphunters.

By the end of the 1960s, not only had the studio system and ancient production code bitten the dust, but the social upheaval of the times had permeated films of every genre, including the sacred western. No all such attempts at social relevance were successful but The Scalphunters certainly was. The simple plot of a mountain man trying to retrieve his stolen pelts from a gang of merciless scalphunters is complicated by the presence of a runaway slave, a wily madam and a band of often drunken Indians.
Fans of star Burt Lancaster’s will recognize the film as a bit of a vanity project since it includes the likes of childhood friend and acrobat partner Nick Cravat, as well as longtime stunt double Tony Epper as scalphunters, and ex-girlfriend Shelley Winters as the madam. Even former TV executive Telly Savalas, whom Lancaster successfully talked into giving acting a try, wonderfully chews the scenery as the lead villain. Probably the weakest link, at least in my opinion, is Ossie Davis as the runaway slave. He seemed miscast, as another black actor from the period, such as Al Freeman or Ivan Dixon, might have been better suited in the role.
All that aside, the climatic and lengthy battle between Lancaster & Davis through mud, sand, dirt, and crevasses, is wonderfully rendered as the remaining plot points go on without them even noticing! Lancaster was in his 50s when he made this but you’d never know it from his physical performance. The film doesn’t preach it’s point of view. It’s done in a style of rousing fun. REALLY worth a second look!

18. CHISUM -1970
Chisum
Why is this movie on the list, you may ask? Well, picture this: it’s the summer of 1970 and Tim Romero and I decide to go to the movies. Only decent thing playing for a couple of ten-year-old boys is this John Wayne programmer. So we go. Sit through the tedious plot (a largely fictional tale about Billy the Kid, I later learned) and we are just about to leave out of sheer boredom when John Wayne turns to his buddy Ben Johnson and drawls, “Break out the Winchesters.” Johnson smiles big and says, “Why sure.” Tim and I give out a hoot and we are in little boy heaven.
While a gun battle rages, John Wayne seeks out lead bad guy Forrest Tucker and proceeds to beat the holy hell out of him. Folks, it just doesn’t get any better than this for a little boy summer matinees. Not great movie making by any stretch of the imagination but I watched it again recently and felt like that little kid again. Nostalgia aside, I genuinely feel sorry for young film goers who think comic book films and their attended CGI effects are worth their time and energy. Unless you’ve felt that child-like adrelaline rush of hearing “Break out the Winchesters,” you are just plain missing out on a great childhood moment.

19. EMPEROR OF THE NORTH-1973

EmperorNorth

The real clash of the titans as hobo Lee Marvin challenges sadistic railroad man Ernest Borgnine in Robert Aldrich’s Emperor of the of the North.

This one could quite possibly earn the right to be called my favorite fight scene of all time as it has, in my opinion, never been equalled. The making of director Robert Aldrich’s violent, non-sentimental, Depression-era fable of non-conforming hobo Lee Marvin challenging the railroad establishment in the person of sadistic conductor Ernest Borgnine is covered in-depth in Lee Marvin Point Blank, of course. All I can add here is the fact that  the fight scene at film’s end may not be believable for some people from a realistic standpoint, as it’s been pointed out, but within the realm of the story, it is perfectly in keeping with the film’s style and overall theme. Axes, chains, and 2×4’s may not be worthy weapons in modern films but it certainly makes sense for the Depression!

20. MEAN STREETS– 1973

Robert DeNiro, with pool cue in hand, takes on all comers in Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets.

Robert DeNiro, with pool cue in hand, takes on all comers in Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets.


Once again, there is not a whole lot more I can add to anything that’s been said of Martin Scorsese’s and Robert DeNiro’s breakthrough film that has not been said a dozen times already. The modern day noir exploded on the screen in 1973 and rattled the minds of moviegoers in the process. There is so much to take in when viewing this masterpiece that several viewings is just not enough. Lasting images permeate every frame, drenched in overly saturated color and photographic stylings.
It’s inclusion here is for one such image. When Harvey Keitel and his buddies go to pick up an overdue loan at a pool hall, it isn’t long before all hell breaks loose. The most eye-popping aspect of the brawl is, without a doubt, DeNiro as Johnny Boy. He scrambles to the top of a pool table and plays ‘King of the Mountain’ to anyone who tries to get near him. He’s as crackling an explosive as the cherry bomb he drops in the mailbox in the film’s opening. Try to find a more believable street fighter in a movie than Johnny Boy. G’head, I dare ya!

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MY FAVORITE FILM FIGHT SCENES, PART 2 OF 5

My Favorite Film Fight Scenes, Part 2 of 5
As stated in the first installment, writing Lee Marvin Point Blank gave me a new appreciation for movie fight scenes. In this installment, my favorite film fight scenes, Part 2 of 5, the 1950s and early 1960s are rightfully represented….

6. IT’S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER -1955

(L-R) Gene Kelly, Dan Dailey & MIchael Kidd survery the damage they wreaked aftet their brawl on live TV.

(L-R) Gene Kelly, Dan Dailey & MIchael Kidd survery the damage they wreaked aftet their brawl on live TV.

Let’s be honest, You’re infinitely more likely to see somebody sing and dance down the street then you’ll ever see an intergalactic space battle or caped crusader. Yet the latter rules the current box-office while the former has been relegated to the dustbin of time as being phoney and unrealistic. That’s a shame for many reasons, not the least of which is the amount of talent and ingenuity being wasted by not producing any more original film musicals which was once the bread-and-butter of the industry.
One of the best and least appreciated of the genre was the atypical, It’s Always Fair Weather. Three war buddies vow to remain friends and meet 10 years later only to find they have absolutely nothing in common. Not the plot of a ‘How-are-we-going-to-get-the-show-on’ musical, but an interesting character study that also pokes satirical fun at Madison Ave, professional sports, and most of all that new stranger in the house, television. Gene Kelly had at first thought it would be a sequel to On The Town but opted instead for a dance extravaganza with atheletic Dan Dailey, leggy Cyd Charisse and bite-sized Michael Kidd. I could go on about the greatness of this forgotten classic (it’s the one in which the 3 leads dance with trash-can lids on their feet and Kelly solos on roller skates) but since this about fight scenes check out this movies’ amazing climax. Since all fight scenes are essentially choreographed, who better to show off their prowes in their field than 3 of the best dancers in movie history? Kidd especially shines with rapid movements in, out, down and around the fight but Kelly and Dailey are no slouches. Just watch it some time and see for yourself.

7. BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK-1955

Robert Ryan (left) sics his bulldog Ernest Borgnine (right) on poor one-armed Spencer Tracy (center).

Robert Ryan (left) sics his bulldog Ernest Borgnine (right) on poor one-armed Spencer Tracy (center).

Maybe not THE most, but certainly one of the most influential fight scenes in movie history. A brillian study on that all-American virtue known as bigotry, director John Sturges and writer Millard Kaufman slowly turn the screws of tension as middle-aged, one-armed, slightly paunchy Spencer Tracy gets shut out in his attempts to find out what happened to his war-time comrade, Komoko, in the sleepy desert town of Black Rock. The film is brimming with great moments (including several with lower-billed henchman Lee Marvin) but the highlight is without question what happens when bulldog-squeezed-into-a-pair-of-jeans Ernest Borgnine taunts Tracy into a fight.
How could Tracy possibly come out alive? As Steve Allen said to me when I interviewed him back in the 90s: “The moment when poor, one-armed Spencer Tracy finally lashed out as the good guy, elicited from a good neighborhood totally white audience the loudest ‘Yeah!’ I ever heard in my life in a movie. I mean you hear it at football games and such but I never heard a [movie] audience do that before.”

8.THE KENTUCKIAN 1955

Director and star Burt Lancaster (left) lays it on bad guy Walter Matthau (right) in Matthau's film debut.

Director and star Burt Lancaster (left) lays it on bad guy Walter Matthau (right) in Matthau’s film debut.

Burt Lancaster made his directorial debut with this film, and although rarely appreciated in his canon of work, it has one of my all-time favorite fight scenes. Walter Matthau made his film acting debut as Lancaster’s nemesis, taking him on with a whip as Lancaster battles bare-fisted. It’s a western, but unlike most westerns it takes place in the early 1800s, tells the tale of a traveling backwoods single father and his young son and, despite some overly talky scenes, has some phenomenal action scenes. It builds to a fight between Lancaster and Matthau, whom we’ve seen is an expert with a bullwhip, while all Lancaster has is bare knuckles. Feel sorry for Matthau, who does make you think he has ol’ Burt out maneuvered….for a little while, anyway.
Becuause former acrobat Lancaster directed the film, he gave himself a rousing end scene in which he races through a pond without cutting away in order to stop his enemy from relaoding his flintlock. Must be seen to be believed.

9. WEST SIDE STORY-1961

Richard Beymer (left) as Tony scrambles to help Russ Tamblyn as RIff (center) against rival gang leader Bernardo (right) played by Geroge Chakiris.

Richard Beymer (left) as Tony scrambles to help Russ Tamblyn as RIff (center) against rival gang leader Bernardo (right) played by Geroge Chakiris.

Yeah, it’s a favorite and since there’s very little I can add about this classic that hasn’t been said already a million times, I’ll just go on about what it means to me personally. Oh, other than it’s another example of a movie still chided for being less beleviable than a superhero franchise simply because street gangs don’t go around dancing the mean streets of NYC. Right. But caped crusaders do. Please!
Anyway, when I was a kid and first saw the knife fight ballet, it scared the hell out of me! Seriously.  I bought into the film’s premise completely and since I was just a kid, I picked sides. Russ Tamblyn as Riff was a favorite since seeing him in Tom Thumb and then seeing the gymnasitc dancing he did made him even more a favorite. I still recall being on the edge of my seat during that knife fight and my pounding heart jumping into my throat at the outcome. I really didn’t expect it and watching it today, it still gets to me. Sure, they’re dancing in the fight but it makes it no less belevable to me. I recall George Chakiris once saying that Jerome Robbins taught him the difference in dancing between just movement in step and movement as character and geez, does it show in this sequence. Watch it again and you’ll see what I mean.
Oh, one more  afterthought:  Tamblyn and Chakiris have remained friends through the years and recently, Tamblyn underwent open heart surgery. Apparently it was touch-and-go but when they wheeled him out of post-op one of the people Tamblyn saw nervously awaiting the outcome, was Chakiris. They locked eyes and Tamblyn smiled, held up his hand and snapped his fingers. Is that cool or what? I guess Riff was right: “When you’re a Jet you’re a Jet all the way….”

10. THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE-1962

Henry Silva (left) as a VERY savvy houseboy and Frank Sinatra (right) do battle.

Henry Silva (left) as a VERY savvy houseboy and Frank Sinatra (right) do battle.

If a paranoid cold war thriller can be considered perfect, than this is the one.  Why they thought it neccessary to remake it 2004, is beyond me. Well, they didn’t ask me so there you go…..
Anyway, from the very first scene this one grabs you. The opening (suggested to director John Frankenheimer by Frank Sinatra) sets the tone for the unrelenting weirdness to come, all the way up to and including the amazing ending. In the midst of the strange doings, Korean War vet Frank Sinatra, frsutrated over the nightmares he’s experiencing, confronts one of the people in his nightmare, Korean houseboy Henry Silva (!?) Both being combat vets, they tangle in hand-to-hand-combat while Sinatra desperatley tries to extract needed information from Silva. It’s a fight scene that is filmed, edited, and performed in a highly stylized format for the early 60s and consequently, still packs a wallop. A true stand-out in films in general but especially for a film already brimming with stand outs.
I remember seeing an interview Barbara Walters did with Frank Sinatra late in his life in which they toured his Palm Springs home. They then settled in by the pool in which Walters noticed the giant Queen of Diamonds shimmering in the cement beneath the crystal clear water. She then asked Sinatra, “Is that a symbol from your Vegas Rat Pack days?” Sinatra smiled at her and said, “Actually, Barbara, it’s from a film I made years ago called The Machurian Candidate….”
I hate a journalist who doesn’t do their homework. Coming up from My Favorite Film Fight Scenes Part 2 of 5 is…wait for it Part 3 of 5.
– Dwayne Epstein

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