ROBERT SHAW & THE ILL-FATED AVALANCHE EXPRESS

Robert Shaw would have been 91 years-old last Thursday, August 9th. Sadly, he never lived beyond the age 51, dying shortly after completing principal photography on Avalanche Express, his sole costarring credit with Lee Marvin.

Old style advertising artwork for AVALANCHE EXPRESS, which was infinitely better than the film.

The old-fashioned Cold War spy thriller left Robert Ludlum and John LeCarre nothing to worry about.  Shaw played a Russian master spy defecting to the west with KGB chief Maximillan Schell hot on his trail. Shaw’s defection is arranged through the auspices of American spy master Lee Marvin who plans to use Shaw as bait to ferret out some old KGB adversaries. Mike Connors, Linda Evans, Horst Bucholtz and even Joe Namath join in on the title train’s cliche’d yarn.

AVALANCHE EXPRESS production stills from the film’s pressbook.

Readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank are well aware of the film’s bedeviled production. For example, veteran director Mark Robson died suddenly, June 20, 1978 as principal photography was near completion, followed two months later by Shaw’s untimely passing from a massive heart attack near his home in Ireland. Producers were left in a quandary about what to do about it as some footage was actually still needed, or in some cases, reshot. Enter maverick filmmaker Monte Hellman, who took over the production in ways only Lee Marvin Point Blank readers know about thanks to an exclusive interview he gave me.

The great Al Hirschfeld’s drawing of the AVALANCHE EXPRESS costars. Can you spot all 3 Ninas?

It proved to be the great Robert Shaw’s last screen appearance as the actor was coming more and more into his own following the success of Jaws (In the role Marvin turned down) and The Sting.
It isn’t widely known but he had actually wanted to be remembered more for his writing than his acting. His play, The Man in the Glass Booth earned him a Tony Award and an Oscar nomination for the performance of his Avalanche Express costar, Maximilian Schell. The loss of Shaw’s talent can never be fully measured.
As for Lee Marvin, he had not made a film in 3 years but came out of semi-retirment just to work with Shaw. He was not disappointed as the two men got along wonderfully, making Shaw’s passing even more tragic for Marvin. He was in Ireland shooting scenes for The Big Red One when he got the news. He said at the time: “In leaving Ireland I am leaving a piece of my heart with Robert Shaw and his family.”
-Dwayne Epstein

Share

ROBERT ALDRICH: A 100TH ANNIVERSARY TRIBUTE

Robert Aldrich was born one hundred years ago today and we classic movie fans are all the richer for it! Lee Marvin Point Bank readers are familiar with Marvin’s and Aldrich’s working relationship as they made a great film together in almost every decade of Marvin’s career: Attack!, 1956; The Dirty Dozen,1967; Emperor of the North, 1973. In fact, it was almost more than that as Marvin wanted Aldrich to direct Death Hunt (1983), which would have completed the last decade of Marvin’s career.

(L-R) Director Robert Aldrich and costars Lee Marvin & Ernest Borgnine at the initial script conference for THE DIRTY DOZEN.

Probably the most remembered of both of their careers was indeed The Dirty Dozen.
The success of that film catapulted both the actor and the director to rarified heights of fame and success.

Aldrich demonstrates to Lee Marvin how to kick John Cassavetes in THE DIRTY DOZEN.

Marvin got a million dollar paycheck from then on and was a top ten box office sensation for the next decade. Aldrich continued to direct & produce films that may have defied description, but maintained his high level of quality. His signature style, which included a love of characters bordering on the grotesque (Whatever to Baby Jane?, The Grissom Gang, The Choir Boys) and a distinct brilliance at mounting suspense through editing and character anticipation, put him in league with some of the greatest directors of all time.

Case in point: The powerful climax to one of my favorites of his, Flight of the Phoenix, compares perfectly to the scene in which Lee Marvin goads Clint Walker into a knife fight in The Dirty Dozen. Watch the way Aldrich mounts the suspense in Phoenix by building to quicker cuts, showing the stranded characters’ apprehension in hopes of the resurrected airplane’s ability to start up just one more time. Rosaries are prayed on, sweat builds on the nearly dehydrated men, some of whom begin to jump up and down as the audience’s anticipation reaches a pitch. In Dozen, he does the same with mounting edits, sidelong characters laughing and goading the giant Walker to stab Marvin, as M.P. Richard Jaeckel is shown reaching for his sidearm. Both scenes are signatories of Aldrich’s unique style of cinema and it’s a style that is sorely missed in this day of computerized technology.
Aldrich himself may have had the best last word about such things. When Marvin visited Aldrich in the hospital as he lay dying of cancer, Marvin asked him, “Can I get you anything?” The wizened director commented, “Yeah, a better script.”

Robert Aldrich: August 9th, 1918 – December 5th, 1983.

I think that’s something we could all use now.
-Dwayne Epstein

Share

LEE MARVIN MOVIE QUOTES: THE EARLY YEARS, PART II

Lee Marvin Movie Quotes
Writing and researching Lee Marvin Point Blank allowed me good reason to watch ALL of his films and on occasion, he proved to be the best thing to watch. Take for example his official film debut, You’re in the Navy Now (1951) with legendary actor, Gary Cooper.  Readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank know how he got the handful of lines he spoke in the movie and its a pretty amusing story, thanks to the chutzpah of his acquired agent, Meyer Mishkin. The very fact that he spoke on screen for the first time makes it worthy of some memorable Lee Marvin movie quotes.

Top image shows Marvin waiting to go on camera while bottom image shows hm with costars Gary Cooper and Jack Webb.

Director Henry Hathaway cast Marvin initially as an extra, allowing him to appear throughout the film as a crew member, in this case, the radio operator. Marvin later claimed him he did the voices of 5 other characters offscreen n which he actually talked to himself! Other actors also made their debut in the film, including future Marvin costar, Charles Bronson. Bronson had a bigger role in the flop later retitled USS Teakettle. Marvin’s first words on camera? “Sorry, captain. I can’t get a rise out of them.”

Another example of Marvin’s early, albeit small contribution to film was in the all-star comedy We’re Not Married (1952). Played out like an episode of Love, American Style, it told the tale of 5 different marriages discovering that the clergyman (Victor Moore) who married them was not ordained. The film boasted the likes of Ginger Rogers, Fred Allen, Eve Arden, Paul Douglas, Louis Calhern, Eva Gabor, and a young Marilyn Monroe married to David Wayne(!). The last segment starred Eddie Bracken married to Mitzi Gaynor, who is pregnant with his child but Bracken is going overseas with his Army unit. It being the 1950s, the dilemma of Bracken’s offspring not being legitimate is a major crisis. Since it is the 50s, Bracken’s buddy, Lee Marvin, informs the C.O. that, “He don’t want his kid to be no oddball.”

Marvin & Bracken in the final segment of WE’RE NOT MARRIED.

Don’t you just love that 1950s euphemism for bastard? It’s one of my personal favorite Lee Marvin movie quotes.

And then there’s The Wild One.

Marlon Brando as Johnny and Lee Marvin as Chino in the world’s 1st biker movie, THE WILD ONE (That’s cult legend Tim Carey smiling behind Marvin).

Marvin comes in the middle of the film and commits grand larceny in his scenes with then red hot 50s icon, Marlon Brando. Everything Marvin says and does in the classic is memorable, from his entrance (waving like the prom queen on his chopper as he and his gang ride into town) to his final scene sneaking out of jail when no one is looking. I was lucky to find a letter he wrote his brother before the film was cast and his take on the project is reprinted in its entirety in Lee Marvin Point Blank. Hard to pick a favorite line of his as they’re all delivered brilliantly (“Call my old lady and tell her I’m in the can! Oh, the shame of it all!”) But the one I like best is the one with cultural resonance. When Marvin tells Brando: “We miss ya, Johnny. All the Beetles miss ya.” Apparently another ‘Johnny’ liked that line, too. Any guesses?
– Dwayne Epstein

 

Share