Paul Newman, a recognized film legend made many a great film but in my opinion his best performance was in The Verdict (1983). Going through my archives recently I rediscovered the review I wrote for the film when I was critic on a paper in southern California. In rereading the review what struck my me most was my use of Newman’s career as a theme within the film and his performance. Pretty impressive for a pretentious young punk, if I do say so myself.
As a matter of fact, the concept of a successful film actor creating a through line of sorts in his canon of work remained in the back of mind for a while and came in handy when working on Lee Marvin Point Blank. Seriously.

Lee as Charlie Strom in THE KILLERS.

As Walker in POINT BLANK.

As Jack Osborne in GORKY PARK.

One need only do a cursory glance at the films and characters in Lee Marvin’s career to see a through line that extends for decades. From Charlie Strom in The Killers to Walker in Point Blank to Jack Osborne in Gorky Park and several others as well, Lee Marvin’s choice of roles has created an impressive link and theme to his work that has lasted to this day. One need only look at the career of any successful actor to see such a link and doing so has always fascinated yours truly. Name an actor with a highly successful film career and there will undoubtedly be a link from their youth to their golden years, if they’ve been lucky enough to have such a lengthy career.
In the case of Paul Newman, I was very proud to see the connection between his character of Tony Lawrence in The Young Philadelphians (1959) and decades later as Frank Galvin in The Verdict. To my mind, it’s the same person just three decades apart. It certainly makes sense since a successful actor is the one who fortunate enough to choose the role he plays based on his interest and personal experience. In the case of actors like Paul Newman and Lee Marvin, those choices clicked with audiences, too, which is what makes them legends.


Paul Newman in poster for THE VERDICT.

My 1983 review for THE VERDICT.

Following the graphics I chose for this blog is a copy of the review for The Verdict that I rediscovered. Think it holds up with my theory? Be interested in your thoughts.
– Dwayne Epstein

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Brian Dennehy, the burly leading character actor, died April 15th of natural causes at the age of 81. Obits of course made mention mostly his well known and popular projects, such as First Blood (1982), Cocoon (1985), Tommy Boy (1995), etc. All great performances, I grant you, but I thought he was best in other roles. His role as the wise and friendly bartender in 10 (1979) was an early indication of what he was capable of beyond his bulky exterior. That role, in fact, resulted in his being cast as the tough New York City cop on the trail of his brother’s murderer in Gorky Park (1983).

Brian Dennehy as NYC cop, Kirwill, confronted by William Hurt’s Russian police officer, Arkady Renko, in GORKY PARK.

According to the film’s production notes, director Michael Apted did not consider Dennehy right for the role, at first. However, Dennehy persisted as doggedly as his character in the film and finally convinced Apted to change his mind. The result, according to the likes of Facebook friend, Matt Lamaj, “I remember when I first saw Gorky Park. I walked out of the theater and said ‘that sonofabitch, Dennehy, just stole the film from Lee Marvin and all those ham actors just by being real.'”
I would not necessarily agree that Dennehy stole the film from Marvin and the other members of the veteran cast, but he was indeed very real in the role.
There’s good reason for that, of course. Like Lee Marvin, he was a former high school athlete — a football lineman, whereas Marvin was a champion track star and swimmer — and was also a veteran Marine. He trained as an actor via different acting schools but, like Marvin, had something that could never be taught: mesmerizing presence.
I didn’t pursue an interview with Dennehy as he had no scenes with Marvin in the film. I did, however, interview director Michael Apted at length for Lee Marvin Point Blank, who told me some unknown aspects concerning Marvin and the production of the film that proved to be a revelation.

The simple yet powerful logo used for the presskit.

One unused quote from Apted concerned Brian Dennehy’s opinion of Lee Marvin: “I think Brian was very much in awe of Lee as I was. Brian was into that same kind of genre, as it was. Wanting to do action stuff, and here is one of the great action movie stars of all time.”
Glad to finally be able to use that quote in its proper context but saddened for the context at the same time. In other words, Dennehy’s admiration of Marvin was well-placed. I just wished both men had worked together and maybe remembered more for their lesser known performances.
If you want to see the greatness Dennehy was capable of exhibiting, the more popular projects listed above are good examples but there are others. Witness his mentoring Vietnam-era sergeant in the mini-series A Rumor of War (1980); his troubled yet benevolent police chief in Skokie (1981); and best of all was his father of a troubled son caught up in a religious cult in the largely forgotten Canadian film, Split Image (1982). He’s heartbreakingly good in the role worthy of rediscovery.

Brian Dennehy

It’s cliche of course to say we shall not see his like again but cliche’s are borne of truth. It could not be more true than in the example of Brian Dennehy. Hell, see all his work and admire a truly great actor who’s like we shall never see again.
– Dwayne Epstein

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Gorky Park (1983), director Michel Apted’s adaptation of the popular Martin Cruz Smith thriller, was not well-recieved when first released but it may be worthy of re-evaluation. There are several reasons I say this but the main reason, is of course, Lee Marvin’s performance.

Lee Marvin as Jack Osborne in Michael Apted’s GORKY PARK.

It was not only one of the actor’s last films, it would be the last time he would play a classic villain, as he had earlier in his career. I don’t want to give a spoiler alert if you haven’t seen the film (which I highly recommend) so simply the premise will suffice here. It’s a complicated ‘whodunit’ in which Soviet-era police detective Arkady Renko (William Hurt) is tasked with finding who is responsible for the three mutilated bodies found in Gorky Park. There are several suspects and among them is shady American businessman, Jack Osborne (Marvin). To Marvin’s credit, as good as he looks in uniform, he looks even more impressive in the dapper expensive suits his character wears.  Watch the way he carries himself, as well. The brilliance mentioned are the touches the actor adds that are clearly not in the script. Dressing after a day at the sauna, he uses the back of his index fingers to straighten his collar and expensive tie he admires in the mirror. Then there’s the way he dallies the cat-and-mouse dialog with adversarial Hurt.

(L-R) Lee Marvin as Jack Osborne, William Hurt as Russian police detective Arkady Renko and Ian Bannen as Renko’s superior.

I genuinely believe it’s one of Marvin’s best performances that creates a through line of sorts to his career. Think of Paul Newman as the idealistic lawyer Anthony Lawrence of The Young Philadelphians (1959), and then the tragic alcoholic Frank Galvin of The Verdict (1982). There are other such examples to be made but I like to think that in Jack Osborne’s wilder youth he was not unlike the dapper yet violent Vince Stone of The Big Heat (1953). See Gorky Park and judge for yourself, of course.
As for the film, I was fortunate enough to interview British director Michael Apted for Lee Marvin Point Blank and his insights as to the films success and/or failure is on the money, as well as the fascinating anecdotes about its production. So check it out again wherever possible and give Lee Marvin’s performance a second look. I think you’ll pleasantly surprised.
– Dwayne Epstein

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