LEE MARVIN’S LUMP-IN-THE-THROAT MOMENTS, PART 1

A recent thread on Facebook gave me the idea for this blog entry concerning ‘lump-in-the-throat’ moments. Due to the kind of films Lee Marvin made that kind of emotional impact on audiences were not always readily apparent. However, in researching Lee Marvin Point Blank, it did indeed become apparent when having to happily watch and/or rewatch all of his performances. He actually had several such lump-in-the-throat moments in his career and to my mind, there are a couple on both film and television, even within the realm of such genres as war film and westerns. Go figure. First up, on screen….

The look in Jeanne Moreau’s eyes as she gazes into Lee Marvin’s speaks volumes in this scene from Monte Walsh.

Although he was disappointed with the way the studio tampered with director William Fraker’s final cut, Marvin has said that the elegiac western Monte Walsh remains one of his favorite films. Probably because the film’s poignant message of an aging cowboy with nowhere to go still packs a punch. The message is quietly stated by costar Jack Palance, who tells Marvin, “Nobody gets to be a cowboy forever, Monte.”
A personal relationship with costar Jeanne Moreau may be another reason the film resonated for Marvin. In one scene in particular, without giving away the ending, he had never been more touching. He simply absorbs the moment and allows us to feel what he is feeling and it works every time. The film then quickly shifts moods into a thrilling climax involving Mitch Ryan but again, no spoilers here. See it for yourself and you be the judge.

The poignant climax to The Big Red One with Lee Marvin as the unnamed sergeant and a frail, young concentration camp survivor.

Sam Fuller’s The Big Red One, an epic and episodic WWII memoir remains one of Lee Marvin’s best performances and for my money, should really have been his cinematic swan song. He’s a wizened, old war horse throughout the film but a powerful and amazing climax involving a liberated concentration camp culminates with the most impressive, stoic performance that Marvin has ever given. Once again, no spoilers. Simply see it for yourself and make your own judgment. I dare you not to be moved by it.

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I DIED A THOUSAND TIMES W/ JACK PALANCE & SHELLEY WINTERS

In Lee Marvin Point Blank I cover all of the actors films and most of his TV & stage work, but depending on the amount of time on screen, much of his earlier work is given less space, such as 1955’s I Died a Thousand Times, toplining Jack Palance. In an almost scene-for-scene remake of Humphrey Bogart’s classic, High Sierra, Palance is overshadowed but the outstanding cast and breathtaking color photography. The cast consisted of such pros as Shelley Winters, Lon Chaney, Jr., Earl Holliman, Howard St. John, Nick Adams, and a whacked out partying teenager played by Dennis Hopper.
Lee Marvin’s contribution to I Died a Thousand Times is minimal at best. However, since his face was becoming fairly well known, he did receive prominence in some of the advertising….

An Ad in which Lee Marvin is slightly on display (top right corner) for I Died a Thousand Times.

He and Holliman play Palance’s henchmen for an upcoming heist with Marvin being brutal to his girlfriend, Shelley Winters, and then cowering in fear when challenged b Palance. It may have been this film for which Marvin famously said, “People see me in a movie and they know two things: I’m not gonna get the girl and I’ll get a cheap funeral by the final reel.” Some times it was one or the other but on this occasion, it was both.
The film’s female lead, Shelley Winters, would work again with Marvin in the actor’s last film, Delta Force (although they had no scenes together). About I Died a Thousand Times, the usually acerbic actress was surprisingly kind in remembering Lee Marvin in her memoir:
“My agent Herb Brenner quickly volunteered reasons why I should do it. He told me ‘This one is a big color picture in CinemaScope. Jack Palance will star with you and Lee Marvin, who is a very good character, will be featured.’ Lee Marvin was a fine character actor then, and he was always full of fun, and very intelligent, drunk or sober. Though sometimes loaded while we were working, he was always in control of the scene. Every night, over martinis, after shooting twelve hours, we would meet in the bar and discuss nothing for hours.”
-Dwayne Epstein

More prominently featured in this ad, Marvin is shown doing what he did often: cowering in fear.

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FOR MEMORIAL DAY: MY INTERVIEW W/ EDDIE ALBERT ON ATTACK!

The tag lines aside, the powerful artwork spoke volumes for the film ATTACK!

The tag lines aside, the powerful artwork spoke volumes for the film ATTACK!

This being Memorial Day Weekend, I can think of no better way to honor it’s true meaning then to highlight a film in Lee Marvin’s canon of work that has been sadly overlooked for decades. I wrote about it, of course, in the pages of Lee Marvin Point Blank, but it could still use some more overdue attention. Based on the play “Fragile Fox” (the film’s working title, by the way) director/producer Robert Aldrich’s Attack! (1956) may be the first film to daringly question the abilities of American military commanders.
Not an easy movie to sit through, I grant you, but it’s certainly worth the effort. A stellar cast, led by Jack Palance (in a rare turn as a hero), the stand-out, Oscar-worthy performance really belongs to Eddie Albert in the thankless role of a cowardly officer. Albert was actually a hero in WWII but didn’t care to talk about it, understandably. Prior to his passing in 2005 (at the ripe old age of 99!) I was fortunate enough to interview him at his home back in 1997. Below is the unpublished portion of that interview in which he elaborates further on the experience of working on Aldrich’s Attack!….

Another great example of the ad campaign for ATTACK!

Another great example of the ad campaign for ATTACK!

Dwayne: Do you remember the Robert Aldrich film, Attack!?
Eddie: Oh yeah. Oh my god, he was so fucking wonderful. Geez, he was good. That was a few years later. He was … he should have gotten…well, we all should have gotten something for that.
D: You especially. You were great in that film. Let me show you something real quick. Sometimes seeing photos can bring back memories. This is a book that came about Robert Aldrich’s a few years ago [shows him pix]. Right there is you and the back of Marvin’s head…

The photo from the book "What Ever Happened to Robert Aldrich" I showed to Eddie Albert that jogged his memory.

The photo from the book “What Ever Happened to Robert Aldrich” I showed to Eddie Albert that jogged his memory.

E: [looking] Oh yeah. And that son-of-a-bitch, the other guy, he was a giant. Wasn’t he great?
D: Palance?
E: Yeah. God, he was good. He was kind of a new kid at the time. He came out of the mines of Pennsylvania somewhere. [Laughs] But man….I was sick the whole time because I had to…I had just come from the war and I had a bad time during the war….I had to talk myself into that I was a coward, which will make you sick. All day, like the master at that time..the other guy, what was his name?
D: Jack Palance?
E: Yeah, he was a master. He whipped himself to such a hatred against me. Really, he did.
D: That could be pretty frightening. So, it made you more of a coward in your part.
E: Yes, but he had no intention of holding his punch, either So, I’d put a foot out like that [demonstrates] because I was ready to move if he made the slightest move. I was going to get out of there. It was that close. I had nothing but admiration for that guy. I think he was one of the most individual actors that I have ever seen. Jack, I’m talking about. Now, going back to our friend Marvin here, he was totally in charge. He was always in charge. He had done his homework.
D: Do you remember the two big scenes you had with him in the movie?

Lee Marvin (left) goes over the attack plan with Eddie Albert (right).

Lee Marvin (left) goes over the attack plan with Eddie Albert (right).

E: I can’t think of anything special about that but every time I saw him, he had grown tremendously in charge of the peculiarities of acting. He had a wonderful voice. [looks at Aldrich book] I never saw this book about him. I did about four pictures with him. I loved him.
E: What was he like? What kind of man was he?

A rare photo from the film's pressbook showing director Aldrich (left) instructing actor Eddie Albert (right).

A rare photo from the film’s pressbook showing director Aldrich (left) instructing actor Eddie Albert (right).

E: He knew acting. He selected us [Marvin & Albert] all the time with several other guys he could count on…I forgot all the things I did with him. 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 soldier.
D: William Smithers?
E: That could be. 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 to everyone gathered the importance of being on time. Then, looking right at Smithers, he said, “Now, this is very important: if you are ever late again, I’ll run your ass right out of this town…”
D: That’ll do it.

The presskit bio on Lee Marvin is added here as a bonus so readers can see just how much the actor embellished his acting career.

The presskit bio on Lee Marvin is added here as a bonus so readers can see just how much the actor embellished his acting career.

Also in the pressbook is this example of the studio taking advantage of the U.S. Military’s disdain for the film…

A pressbook item seeking to utilize the miliatry's dsidain for the film.

A pressbook item seeking to utilize the miliatry’s dsidain for the film.

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