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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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 wants — 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!
– Dwayne Epstein

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LEE MARVIN, KING OF THE HOBOS & EMPEROR OF THE NORTH

One of Lee Marvin’s best and least recognized films was director Robert Aldrich’s violent 1973 hobo opus, Emperor of the North, the production of which is detalied in Lee Marvin: Point Blank. Do you know the film’s connection to the great Jack London? Gotta read the book to find that out. Anyway….
The film failed to find an audience when it first came out, despite efforts by everyone concerned to publicize its worthiness. Below is an example of the novel lengths Marvin would go to promote the film. Although already sporting the walrus-sized mustache and extra few pounds for his next film, Spikes Gang, according to the AP Wire at the time, the picture below, from May 29, 1973, stated: “Hobo Maurice ‘Steamtrain’ Graham (left) of Toledo, Ohio, is joined by actor Lee Marvin, who stars in the film about hobos of the ’30s, Emperor of the North, outside the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. More than a score of Depression Era hobos dined at the Waldorf as guests of Marvin.”

Lee Marvin & 'Streamtrain' Graham (left) after dining at the Waldorf-Astoria.

Lee Marvin & ‘Streamtrain’ Graham (left) after dining at the Waldorf-Astoria.

And exactly who was Maurice “Steamtrain” Graham?  “Steam Train Maury” Graham (June 3, 1917 – November 18, 2006) was best known as five-time holder of the title “King of the Hobos”, and was later known as “Patriarch of the Hobos”. Born to a broken home in Ohio, he was shunted from father to mother to aunt to married siblings. In 1931, at the age of 14, Graham began riding the rails as a hobo during the Great Depression. He settled in Toledo, Ohio with his wife Wanda in the late 1930s, and worked as a cement mason and founded a trade school for masons. During World War II, he served in the military as a medical technician. In 1969 he returned to the hobo life for another eleven years, finally retiring in 1980.
Maury Graham adopted the nickname “Steam Train” in 1969, when the “Golden Spike Special” steam train came through Ohio, returning home from the 100th anniversary of the completion of the first US transcontinental railroad. He was one of the founding members of the National Hobo Foundation. He also helped established the Hobo Museum in Britt, Iowa. He died due to complications from stroke at the Northcrest Nursing Home in Napoleon, Ohio at the age of 89!

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