WILD BUNCH REMAKE? DON’T FORGET LEE MARVIN!

The Wild Bunch remake has recently been announced, to be written and directed by Mel Gibson. Lots of voices are arguing over whether it should even be done but to my mind, the question is will Lee Marvin finally get the credit he so richly deserves? What credit, you may ask? Well, as I discovered in researching Lee Marvin Point Blank, he was heavily involved in the project’s creation and was set to play the William Holden role of Pike Bishop.

Lee Marvin in THE PROFESSIONALS as Henry ‘Rico” Fardan, looking a lot like….

William Holden as Pike Bishop in the original version of  THE WILD BUNCH.

I discovered this lost nugget of information thanks to the files at the Academy Library in Beverly Hills in which the notes and communications between producers Phil Feldman and Ken Hyman tells the remarkable story in detail of Lee Marvin’s involvement in Sam Peckinpah’s renowned classic.
For Marvin’s part, he told his version to Grover Lewis in a 1972 Rolling Stone interview: “Good ol’ lovable Sam. …He approached me about doin’ The Wild Bunch. Shit, I’d helped write the original goddamn script, which Sam eventually bought and rewrote. Well, I mean I didn’t do any of the actual writing, but I talked it out with these guys who were writin’ it, Walon Green and Roy Sickner. Sam said, ‘Jeez, aren’t you even interested?’ I told him I’d already done The Professionals and what did I need The Wild Bunch for? And when the picture came out I didn’t think it really succeeded. It didn’t have the — I mean, it had all the action and all the blood and all that shit, but it didn’ have the ultimate kavoom, you know? It didn’t have the one-eye slowly opening it should’ve had.”
What Marvin failed to mention was the real reason he turned it down and why he made Paint Your Wagon, instead. Career-long agent Meyer Mishkin revealed that to me, which of course, is in the pages of Lee Marvin Point Blank.
As to The Wild Bunch remake? I reserve judgement on Gibson’s version until I see it. Bad enough he ripped off Marvin’s Point Blank with his bizarre remake Payback. Hopefully, with The Wild Bunch remake, he’ll give the devil — in this case Lee Marvin — his due.

(L-R) Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan and Woody Strode in a p.r. still from THE PROFESSIONALS (1966).

(L-R) Ben Johnson, Warren Oates, William Holden and Ernest Borgnine in the climatic scene in THE WILD BUNCH (1969).

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MARVIN? QUINN? CASSAVETES? ALMOST!

Of the films Lee Marvin almost made, one of the standouts is a project in which he would have costarred with Anthony Quinn and been directed by….John Cassavetes! Readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank have commented to this author on how much they enjoyed the appendix in which films the actor almost made are listed but some have questioned the veracity among the titles. I can assure one and all they are indeed documented as the Marvin-Quinn-Cassavetes project is proof of below.
Actually, Marvin and Quinn had worked together briefly in the early 50s western Seminole (1953) with Marvin in little more than a glorified cameo. However, on the face of it, Marvin and Quinn may seem an unlikely pairing based on their different cinematic appeal. Quinn was ethnic and earthy, while Marvin came off more weather-beaten and militaristic.
Their screen differences aside, Marvin was actually cast in a role meant for the Mexican-Irish actor. According to novelist, JPS Brown, author of the autobiographical novel Jim Kane which was the basis for Pocket Money (1972), Marvin’s character of Leonard, opposite Paul Newman, told me that Leonard was based on Brown’s Mexican business partner:

Lee Marvin as Leonard in Pocket Money, originally meant to be played by Anthony Quinn.

“His name was Andres Canye. He’s the character they tried to base Lee Marvin’s character on. They called him Leonard. I called him ‘The Lion’ in Jim Kane. So they got Leonard from that. A lot of imagination there, don’t you think? There’s only one Gato Canyes [‘Big Cat’] in the world….A man that knew the name of every plant, every weed, every grass, every rock. He knew the medicinal capabilities of everything on the range. He knew the mountains…he lived there in those mountains on horseback. He was a real man. In Pocket Money, here’s the two big gringos on great big stout horses. ….Gatos Canyes was just a great, big, course-looking Anthony Quinn. Really. And Anthony Quinn really liked the book.”
It was actor/director John Cassavetes who thought Quinn and Marvin might work well together. Marvin and Cassavetes had of course, worked together in The Killers (1964), and a few years later in The Dirty Dozen (1967). In discussing his career on the set of Emperor of the North (1973) for Rolling Stone’s Grover Lewis, Marvin opined: “Remember Cassavetes in The Dirty Dozen? Jeez, he was sensational in that. Then you go see Husbands and you have to say ‘What are you tawkin’ about Jawn?’ I mean, he’s a bizarre little guy. Very juicy. John’s a violent little Greek, is what he is.”

Actor/director John Cassavetes around the time he considered pairing Marvin and Quinn.

Grover Lewis also interviewed Cassavetes the same year who at the time mentioned teaming himself with Marvin and George C. Scott. He said at the time, “Maybe it’ll happen. Who knows? The thing about acting is…Well, I like to do it.”

Over a decade later,  when asked about Cassavetes in a 1986 Orange County Register interview, Lee Marvin said:

Renaissance man Anthony Quinn in The Secret of Santa Vittoria, or as he may have looked barhopping the Midwest with Lee Marvin.

“A wild greek. He wanted to get Tony Quinn and me to travel around the country, stop in all these honky-tonk bars, then he’d write a story based on all that and we’d go shoot it. I said, ‘No, John. Please. Oh, Jesus please, no. I don’t wanna die in some barroom brawl in the Midwest.'”

One can certainly understand Marvin’s feelings but it still leaves one wondering. As the old verse goes:
“Of all the words of tongue or pen,
the saddest of these:
‘What might have been.'”

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EMPEROR OF THE NORTH

I recently heard that Emperor of the North will finally be getting a Blu-ray release soon. I don’t have a Blu-ray player but I’m certainly glad to see the film is getting the overdue exposure it so richly deserves. It has always been a personal favorite of the films Lee Marvin made and in researching about it, I discovered some fascinating tidbits I was able to put into Lee Marvin Point Blank. I was fortunate enough to interview both cinematographer Joe Biroc (at the end of his life) as well Rolling Stone Magazine’s Grover Lewis, who was onset everyday of the shoot and enlightened me with tales that didn’t go into his detailed article.
The screenwriter, Christopher Knopf, got his idea for the film when he read the books of Leon R. Livingston, the self-proclaimed ‘A-No-1,’ as well as from Jack London’s The Road. Figuring the story would be more interesting if updated to the 1930s Depression rather than the Depression of the 1890s, Knopf removed the political polemic of London’s version to focus instead on the symbolism of hoboes in the time of the 1930s…..

Jack London (left) and the self-proclaimed 'A-No-1,' Leon Livingston years after their tramping days. The caption says it all.

Jack London (left) and the self-proclaimed ‘A-No-1,’ Leon Livingston years after their tramping days. The caption says it all.

 

 

Why did London quit the road, as stated in the caption? Well, that story requires a little background. After his teen years as an oyster pirate, London took to the road to be a part of what was called Coxie’s Industrial Army of 1894. Coxie, a U.S. Senator determined to undermine the nightmarish economic Depression of the time, solicited Congress to grant 500 million dollars for the construction of roads, waterways and other infrastructure improvements to be labored over by the overflowing army of unemployed but able-bodied family men. When Congress declined, Coxie organized a vast army of men to much on Washington D.C. as living petitioners of his cause, very much like The Bonus Marchers following WWI.
Jack London had learned the ropes of the road a few months earlier from a group of road kids and had earned the moniker ‘Sky Sail Jack,’ due to his maritme adventures. He weaved in and out of Coxie’s Army as a ‘Profesh,’ the hobo/tramp term for the best of the best a hobo can be. The West Coast contigent of Coxie’s Army was dubbed Kelly’s Army under the auspices of a dubious leader named ‘General’ Kelly, which was where London joined the fray. London was arrested several times along the way, road the rails, hoofed it and encountered all manner of experiences along the way that he detailed later in his novel, The Road. The book predates Livingston’s tale and included the use of the coupling a ‘shack’ would use to torture hoboes….

Leon Livingston's (A-No-1) description of jumping off the train to avoid the dangling and deadly coupling clanking under the track as seen in the film, Emperor of the North. His description of Jack London is more like the Keith Carradine character than what London was actually like.

Leon Livingston’s (A-No-1) description of jumping off the train to avoid the dangling and deadly coupling clanking under the track as seen in the film, Emperor of the North. His description of Jack London is more like the Keith Carradine character than what London was actually like.

London’s disgust with the treatment of hoboes, the disenfranchised, the infirmed, the weak, at the hands of authorities was so intense, he left the road for good to become a writer who railed against such treatment, in-between his intensely popular adventure stories.
The makers of Emperor of the North would have none of that, choosing instead a symbolic tale of similar concept but without the historical context of the source. In fact, nowhere in the credits is London’s name even mentioned as an original source. There is a brief mention in the dialog of a character named Sky Sail Jack, but that’s about the extent of it.
Knopf’s tale does incorporate colorful hobo dialog and placing it in the 1930s certainly makes sense as it allowed for the following ad line to be used in posters and press releases…

This back page image of Lee Marvin from the Japanese program of Emperor of the North was used in American ads that described both the time period and storyline of the film.

This back page image of Lee Marvin from the Japanese program of Emperor of the North was used in American ads that described both the time period and storyline of the film.

“This movie is about one hell of a man who lived when Dillinger was slamming banks, and Roosevelt was awakening the nation.
“He’s a hard-time fast-tracker who’s been where it’s mean. A grizzly with a sense-of humor, an adventurer with holes in his pockets. A wandering rebel, living off the land by his wits and his fists. He goes it alone, he does what he wantss — for the beautiful pure sweet hell of it. Who’s going to stop him — you?
“Now he’s taking on his biggest run. A challenge no one ever survived. That’s why he has to do it!
EMPEROR OF THE NORTH It’s not a place…it’s a prize!”
The filmmakers certainly made use of many of London’s specific details as shown below and utillized in the film by Marvin’s character….

In historian Russ Kingman's book, A Pictorial Life of Jack London, he pictures and describes the 'ticket' London used in his bumming days, identical to the one Lee Marvin used in Emperor of the North.

In historian Russ Kingman’s book, A Pictorial Life of Jack London, he pictures and describes the ‘ticket’ London used in his bumming days, identical to the one Lee Marvin used in Emperor of the North.

It’s a wonderful film in spite of its lack of acknowledgement of London’s influence. However, the use of Livingston’s characterization of London (“Cigarette”), the annoying and clinging novice, is not only inaccurate but rather irksome. It suffices to think of Marvin as London, the REAL ‘A-No-1,’ Livingston’s made up term for himself and not ‘The profesh’ London was known as at the time. Either way. it still has one of the greatest fight scenes in movie history…..

The famous fight scene at the climax of Emperor of the North that was aptly described by cinematographer Joe Biroc in Lee Marvin: Point Blank.

The famous fight scene at the climax of Emperor of the North that was aptly described by cinematographer Joe Biroc in Lee Marvin: Point Blank.

I wanted to include in this entry a ‘making of’ short of Emperor of the North that’s not included in the recent Blu-ray release. I have it on a homemade DVD but unfortunately, I’m not technologically profecient enough to pull off the download. With that in mind, if any ‘techies’ out there reading this can clue me in…Please do!

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