JOHNNY MANDEL: POINT BLANK’S COMPOSER

Johnny Mandel, the veteran composer of many a film score, passed last Monday, June, 29th at the ripe old age of 94. His obituary is a fascinating read in terms of how prolific he was for decades in both film and the music industry.
As the obit states, he was probably best remembered for his score to M*A*S*H (1970), as well as the Taylor/Burton vehicle, The Sandpiper (1965), and their accompanying title songs. Beyond that, his heavily jazz-influenced music remained largely in the background of most films and not nearly as memorable as say the scores of John Williams or Jerry Goldsmith. In the long run, that’s probably a good thing as film scores are meant to enhance the mood of a film, not necessarily stand out and distract from it.
Fortunately, one of his scores that actually did both, enhance AND standout, was his score for John Boorman’s Point Blank (1967). I was not a fan of the film the first time I saw it as I felt it was pretentious in its obvious ‘arti-ness.’ But, like most great films, it grew on me with every successive viewing. In fact, by the time I first came to write about it and later research and write Lee Marvin Point Blank,  I was enthused enough about it to create some interesting perspectives on the production.
One aspect I think is clearly overlooked is the moody score Mandel created. I am a huge fan of film music but not knowledgeable enough about it to write with any discernable skill. Luckily, a limited release CD of the score was put out by the good folks at Turner Classic Movies in conjunction with Film Score Monthly. The results included some great and detailed liner notes I believe was penned by the late, great Nick Redman. So, below is his detailed description, scene by scene, of Johnny Mandel’s haunting score.
SPOILER ALERT: The details are so exact, that if you have yet to see the film, be forewarned as the film’s entirety is given away in the notes. If you have seen it, then enjoy this belated tribute to a Johnny Mandel score ripe for rediscovery. Rest in Peace, Mr. Mandel, your work will not be forgotten.
– Dwayne Epstein

POINT BLANK CD cover.

1st page of POINT BLANK liner notes.

2nd pages of POINT BLANK liner notes.

3rd pages of POINT BLANK liner notes.

4th pages of POINT BLANK liner notes.

concluding page of POINT BLANK liner notes (Johnny Mandel pictured).

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POINT BLANK REMAKE? NOT EVEN CLOSE!

“POINT BLANK REMAKE” blared the headline in Variety.    Of course, my initial reaction to the headline itself was one of mixed emotions. While glad to see attention was being paid to Lee Marvin’s neo-noir classic — which could enliven his work to a wider audience — I bemoaned the lack of originality constantly being shown by Hollywood bigwigs. After all, Even Point Blank itself, was not the first version of Richard Stark’s (aka Donald Westlake) mysterious character….

Liner notes from the POINT BLANK soundtrack CD describes the films genesis, as well as a graph of its many incarnations.  The only one missing since the CD’s release is Taylor Hackford’s PARKER (2013), starring Jason Statham.

Then I actually read the article. Never heard of a 2010 version of the same title with a completely different premise. Never heard of Fred Cavaye. Never even heard of Frank Grillo. How in god’s name did they get away with naming a non-related film Point Blank...and then make an announcement to remake it? Bizarre!
By the way, readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank are well aware of Lee Marvin’s complete immersion in the John Boorman original, as well as the films evolution to the screen and its current well-earned cult status. Those who haven’t read it are in for an eye-opener!

Original ad art for two of several versions of Richard Stark’s original tale that would make a great double feature.

About the only positive thing I can possibly take away from the Variety article is the prominence of Anthony Mackie in the project. Unlike Frank Grillo, I am quite familiar with Mackie’s film work, having been impressed with him in both Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby (2005), and even more so in Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker (2008). As Sergeant JT Sanborn, Mackie is a standout in the now classic film in which he draws an interminably long bead on an enemy Iraqi soldier…

Actor Anthony Mackie drawing a bead on the enemy in Kathryn Bigelow’s THE HURT LOCKER.

That point may seem off topic, but in truth it is definitely worthy of a mention in a Lee Marvin-themed blog. No one can really tell for sure but it’s a pretty safe bet Lee Marvin himself would have been impressed with both Mackie’s performance and the film itself. It’s dealing with the current veteran’s trauma of PTSD and Bigelow’s unflinching detail of it would definitely be in Marvin’s wheelhouse.
With such films possible, why a Point Blank remake….that isn’t even a Point Blank remake? Boggles the mind. Better yet, how about a biopic on the man who put Point Blank on the map…and endured a lifetime of grappling with PTSD? Just a thought.
– Dwayne Epstein

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HAPPY HEAVENLY BIRTHDAY, TOSHIRO MIFUNE

The first of April is known to most folks as April Fool’s Day (or Easter this year!) but to some observant film fans it also the birthday of Lee Marvin’s favorite co-star, Toshiro Mifune. Lee Marvin Point Blank readers are well aware of Marvin’s feelings for Mifune.

Original release ad for HELL IN THE PACIFIC, Marvin & Mifune’s only film together.

Marvin’s affection for Mifune was rare for a man of his generation and despite the difficult circumstances during their one project together, their friendship grew and lasted until Marvin death in 1987.
Mifune was a legend in the Japanese film industry, due largely to his collaboration with director Akira Kurosawa. He achieved the rarely seen success of international celebrity in the burgeoning film market of the postwar years, including a handful of American films despite his inability to speak English. It did not matter as his appeal required no words. As Lee Marvin famously said of Mifune: “This guy hypnotizes you with his genius. Those eyes! The battered samurai warrior standing alone, not wanting outside help.”

(L-R) Toshiro Mifune, Lee Marvin, Michele Triola and Mifune’s wife, Sachiko Yoshimine.

Of the one film they made together, Hell in the Pacific is given it’s just due in Lee Marvin Point Blank. Other sources for its production are detailed in director John Boorman’s memoir, Adventures of a Suburban Boy and Stuart Galbraith’s IV mammoth tome, The Emperor and the Wolf: The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune.  Personally, I found it to be a noble failure as both allegory and filmmaking. Upon the heavily edited version released to theaters at the time, Marvin himself felt the same way but, despite it’s reception,  it remained on of his personal favorite films. It’s not without its merits, chief among them being the two actors’ presence and the eye-popping cinematography of Conrad Hall.

(L-R) Cinematographer Conrad Hall (seated), Lee Marvin, director John Boorman and Toshiro Mifune on location during HELL IN THE PACIFIC (1968).

While Galbraith and Boorman give wonderful accounts of the rigorous production, both seem to lack insight into the one element that seems to accompany any Lee Marvin project, and that is humor. Thanks to exclusive interviews with Lee’s first wife, Betty Marvin and his career-long agent, Meyer Mishkin, I was able to secure several hilarious anecdotes to put in my book that would have been lost to time had they not agreed to open up to me.
Still in all, Hell in the Pacific is worth viewing, if only for the powerful presence of both Marvin and Mifune, two actors at the top of their game in a film personal and important to them both. Watch it again for the great Mifune’s heavenly birthday and when Marvin shouts out “Come and get it!” raise a sakazuki in the great man’s honor.
– Dwayne Epstein

Director John Boorman’s 2003 memoir, Adventures of a Suburban Boy.

Author/Historian Stuart Galbraith’s massive 2001 tome, The Emperor and the Wolf: The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune.

 

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