RON SOBLE, LEE MARVIN & THE UNUSED ANECDOTE

Ron Soble, a veteran character actor of the 1950s and 60s, was one of the few people who worked with Lee Marvin who refused to go on the record for Lee Marvin Point Blank. A shame, really, as the brief story he told me was a good one.
I met Ron Soble back in the 1990’s at the Beverly Garland Hotel’s Hollywood Collector’s show where I would collect wonderful quotes and interviews en masse from those who worked with Marvin. When I asked Soble if he had ever worked with Marvin, he told me about the episode of The Virginian they were in together.

Lee Marvin in the “It Tolls For Thee” episode of The Virginian directed by Sam Fuller.

I was familiar with the episode but had not seen it at that point. Turns out that it, and another episode with Charles Bronson, were sloppily edited together to cash in on their late life fame and released theatrically as an embarrassing mess called, The Meanest Men in the West.
Soble gave me some background on the episode with Marvin and then told me what I considered to be a hilarious anecdote about the off-camera doings of this particular episode.

Network caption to previous photo explaining to newspapers the episode plot.

I should explain, Soble was a pretty trippy guy, kind of like the way Jack Palance was a pretty trippy guy. I remembered him best as the creepy gambler who challenged Steve McQueen in the beginning of The Cincinnati Kid and wound up with a rusty razor to his jugular. Trekkies may remember him from an episode on the original Star Trek series where he played Wyatt Earp. The clenched teeth way he spoke in his scenes was indeed the way he spoke in life. Strange man.

Ron Soble as part of Lee Marvin’s gang in The Virginian.

The story he told me had to do with a between-camera-set-ups moment he overheard between Lee Marvin and Lee J. Cobb. According to Soble, the cast was sitting around waiting to be called to the set as Lee Marvin did what he often did between takes, needle his co-stars. This time his target was Cobb, a legendary actor who originated the role of Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. The fact that the acting legend was now a regular on a TV western was the point of Marvin’s needle.

(L-R) Lee J. Cobb as Judge Garth & Lee Marvin as Kalig in The Virginian.

A voice was suddenly heard stating, “Lee! You’re wanted on the set.” Cobb rose to the call until Marvin asked him, “How do you know they’re calling you?” With sharp comic timing, Cobb responded, “Because I’m the Lee with the talent.”
Great little anecdote, right? Well I laughed until Soble said I couldn’t use it. When I asked why he just shrugged his shoulders. I persisted but he never changed his mind. I assumed he thought it would hurt somebody’s feeling but he never relented.
Well, I recently saw on the ‘net that Soble passed away back in 2002. His permission no longer needed, you’re now reading the anecdote here. Not much, I know,  but I would’ve put in the book if he let me. There are a few other tidbits I’ll write about in due time here but until then, there’s always Lee Marvin Point Blank and what IS in the book is just as good, if not better than what is not. Enjoy!
– Dwayne Epstein

The one with the talent?

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LEE MARVIN MOVIE QUOTES: THE EARLY YEARS

Marvin Movie Quotes
As many fans know by seeing his films and reading Lee Marvin: Point Blank, Marvin had a unique ability to make memorable lines of dialogue in a film eminently quotable. Even in the earliest stages of his career, his resonant voice and often sarcastic delivery made Marvin movie quotes stand out from the rest of the cast and even the basic premise of the film. Personal friends and associates noted the same thing when viewing his films.

Lee Marvin (“Meatball”) and Claude Akins (“Horrible”) in Edward Dymytrk’s The Caine Mutiny (1954).

Take for example his almost throw-away line in The Caine Mutiny uttered when he and fellow sailor Claude Akins are carrying some heavy equipment through a passageway on ship and want to clear the decks:

“Lady with a baby, coming through!”

Adolph Heckeroth, Marvin’s boss at Heckeroth’s Plumbing in Woodstock, had a son, Bill, who took over the company, and remembered the line (and his father’s former employee) so well, he said he repeated constantly at work whenever he needed to clear the area.

During a conversation with Marvin’s son, Christopher, another one of the great Marvin movie quotes came into play. I was helping him do some gardening when a weed seemed a little harder to remove than first thought. Automatically, we both uttered the same line his father said to one-armed Spencer Tracy when their two characters first met in Bad Day at a Black Rock:

Henchmen Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin watch as Spencer Tracy gets off the train and prepare to confront him in John Sturges’ Bad Day at a Black Rock (1955).

“You look like you could use a hand.”
The laughter and high-fives continued for some time after.

And then there’s his less than stellar film and performance in the all-star cast 3-D opus Gorilla at Large (1954). Marvin’s good friend from his Woodstock days, David Ballantine  told me with tongue planted firmly in cheek that he considered it Marvin’s greatest role. Ballantine told me that his friend’s role as Officer Shaunessey, charged with keeping an eye on the title character, remains his favorite because….well, you’ll have to read Lee Marvin Point Blank to find that out. In the mean time, there’s this memorable Marvin line of dialogue given the weighty dramatic delivery it deserves….

Lee Marvin utters his memorable line to Lee J. Cobb in Gorilla at Large (1954).

“They haven’t made a gorilla yet that can out smart, Shaunessey!”

Hey, any actor can do Shakespeare but let’s hear Olivier bellow out that beauty!
– Dwayne Epstein

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MY FAVORITE FILM FIGHT SCENES, PART 1OF 5

Favorite film fight scenes:
If working on Lee Marvin Point Blank has taught me anything, it’s shown me the value of a good fight scene. The medium is called motion pictures for a reason and outside of a good car chase, few things have had as lasting an impact on filmgoers as a well done fight scene. Like all film fans, I of course have my own favorites and for different reasons of each. So, in no special order of preference other than chronological, here are mine, some well known, some obscure, but all worthy of a second look….

1.  ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES1938

James Cagney (center) shows the Dead End Kids how to play basketball.....or else!

James Cagney (center) shows the Dead End Kids how to play basketball…..or else!

Thanks largely to my mother, I’ve been a film fan my enitre life and when it comes to classic films, Warner Brothers is my favorite studio, with James Cagney being my favorite actor in their stable. My being born in a Brooklyn tenement may have had something to do with it.
A dancer by training, Cagney was short, wiry, full of energy and, as contracted by the studio, constantly punching out taller actors in his films. They were often one punch altercations, which is why the basketball game in Angels With Dirty Faces remains one of his best fight scenes. Certainly not a fight scene in the traditional sense, but when you see the way he forces the Dead End Kids to play by the rules, it’s a well-choreographed example of a terrific one-man brawl.
Legend has it the Dead End Kids didn’t like most of their male co-stars and consequently played many tricks on the majority of them — Bogart and Reagan being prime examples. The rare exception was Cagney whom they all liked, as he did in return — with the exception of Leo Gorcey — and it certainly showed on screen. Just a great, timeless sequence in a wonderful film.

2. The Treasure of Sierra Madre – 1948
2Madre

When Lee Marvin was interviewed by Playboy Magazine in 1969 (quoted extensively in Lee Marvin: Point Blank) he spoke at length and with great knowledge on the extent of believable fight scenes in films. Topping his list was the barroom brawl in the beginning of The Treasure of Sierra Madre.
A film remembered mostly for its great performances, themes of greed, and oft-quoted dialogue (“We dun’t need any steenkin’ badges!,” “Fred C. Dobbs don’t say nuthin’ he don’t mean!”), it also contains one of the most brutal fight scenes ever. Tim Holt and Humphrey Bogart confront Barton MacLane about the money he cheated from them. The result is a lengthy, nasty fight, artistically filmed, in which no man is willing to give in, nor politely walk away until the bitter end. If you haven’t seen it, by all means do and you’ll see what I mean. If you have seen it, see it again and remember how remarkably rendered it is, even compared to anything seen today in movies.

3. Red River – 1948

Director Howard Hawks (center) works out the details of REd RIVER'S climatic fight with John Wayne (left) and Montgomery Clift (right).

Director Howard Hawks (center) works out the details of RED RIVER’S climatic fight with John Wayne (left) and Montgomery Clift (right).


John Wayne probably did more fight scenes than any other actor and a personal standout was the climax in Red River, which remains so for several reasons. I am indeed a fan of his films, and although entertaining, many of his fights scenes are either too long & comical for their own good  such as The Quiet Man & McLintock!, or wildly uneven to really be believable as in The Cowboys & The Sons of Katie Elder.
   The fight scene climaxing Red River, is the exception that works wonderfully for a myriad of reasons. The film’s story line — a sort of western version of Mutiny on the Bounty — had the fight building from the start, and when adopted son Montgomery Clift and Wayne finally square off, it looks to be a one-punch duel.
Wayne was the very image of macho male dominance, while the closeted Clift would come to symbolize the vulnerable and sensitve rebel of the 1950s. It was a grduge match of seperate agendas which by definition seemed to doom Clift. Early in the fight Wayne even says to Clift, “Won’t anything make a man out of you?!” After Wayne’s first few punches, the audience is amazed to see Clift not only get up, but knock Wayne on his equally surprised ass. It’s a great moment (despite the film’s ridiculous summation) that we’ve been waiting and hoping for and when it happens, it’s worthy of whoops and hollers!

4. The Adventures of Don Juan – 1949

Errol Flynn (or most likely his stunt double) leaps to adversary Robert Dougas in the thrilling climax of the sword fight THE ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN.

Errol Flynn (or most likely his stunt double) leaps to adversary Robert Dougas in the thrilling climax of the sword fight THE ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN.

Few actors can actually be said to be synonomous with a given genre, but in the case of Errol Flynn, he owned the once popular genre of swashsbucklers. Attempts to revive the genre over the years have not faired well simply because there are no Errol Flynns left in the world. He had style, panache, a devilish grin and a manly physique that was perfectly suited for period costumes. I was a huge fan of most of his films that have aged better than the actor’s reputation. All are worth viewing but a personal favorite for me was his last great attempt at the genre, The Adventures of Don Juan. He makes fun of his public image throughout the film but when it came to the expected sword fight finale he is unparalled. Not a trained fencer but a naturaly gifted athelete, even in the twilight of his greatness, Flynn delivers with such memorable dialog as “The sword is too good for a traitor. You die by the knife!” The expansive sets, Oscar-winning costumes and eye-popping color would distract from the viewing in the hands of lesser actors  –Stewart Granger and Cornel Wilde come to mind — but to the underrated Flynn, he fits in and towers over the proceedings as no one else ever did. When it came to actually delivering the goods, he proved to be downrigth vicious! Along with Robin Hood it is undoubtedly his best work.
5. On The Waterfront1954

Marlon Brando as ex-pug Terry Malloy (left) taunts Lee J. Cobb's crooked union boss John Friendly (right) into a fight into a nasty street brawl.

Marlon Brando as ex-pug Terry Malloy (left) taunts Lee J. Cobb’s crooked union boss John Friendly (right)  into a nasty street brawl.

The repressive 1950s were marked by several social phenomona, not the least of which was the notorious blacklisting of suspected Communists in the film industry. Volumes have been written about it as well as the way in which On the Waterfront played a role in the dark proceedings. Director Elia Kazen had named names before thr House Un-American Activities Commitee and rumored to have made Waterfront partly as an explanation for his testimony. To bring praise upon the informant, in this case Marlon Brando’s character of Terry Malloy,  the supposedly once close relationship between the two men was forever shattered by the blacklist as Brando never spoke to Kazan during the film unless he had to. Whether any of those things are true is still speculative. What remains is the effect of this documentary-style film.
The film climaxes with a brutal fight between Brando’s Terry Malloy and Lee J. Cobb’s John Friendly, which is equal parts symbolism and realism. Why is it on this list? Brando, arguably the greatest actor who ever lived, is impressive, but that’s not the reason. It’s all about Lee J. Cobb. A primal force of nature, Cobb never got his worthy due as an actor, other than essaying the original stage role of Willy Loman in Death of Salesman. Self-conscious about both his size and non-existent hairline, the bewigged Cobb seems to be angry at Brando’s character in the film but even more bitter over his role in cinema’s pecking order. He bites, kicks, punches and scratches Brando in the scene. When Terry Malloy fights back, John Friendly sends in his goons to finish the job.
In short, it isn’t the beating Brando withstands that makes the scene a favorite. It’s the astonishing brutatlity of Cobb that puts the classic film on my favorites list. Besides, Brando gets beaten up all the time but Cobb, he’s the stand out!
Next installment, a few surprises!

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