MEAN STREETS….TO THE RESCUE

Mean Streets to the rescue? Yes, believe it or not.

The poster for an upcoming film on the right as shown in Scorsese’s MEAN STREETS.


Once upon a time, in a strange time and place known as 1980s New Jersey, I was attending a film history/appreciation class at Mercer County Community College while working as a waiter near Princeton. The class textbook was “An Introduction to American Movies” by Steven C. Early and the instructor’s name escapes me. Good thing, too, because if he’s still alive and has access to the internet,he certainly WON’T like this blog entry. 
  What made me think of this particular incident was a result of some online research I’ve been doing for Killin’ Generals. It’ll make sense in a minute. I actually liked the class, being able to watch some classic cinema and write essays about it was my idea of fun. The teacher? Not so much. He was a stodgy stick-in-the-mind so set in his ways about cinema that if you moved his chair two inches in any direction, he’d fall on his ass. Example: The class final consisted of writing an essay on a given genre, choose a film to write about that proves its importance to the genre, as described in class. Well, I chose Film Noir as a genre and Scorsese’s Mean Streets as the film, with lots of info to back it up. I got an ‘F’ because the teacher said color films outside of the time period of 1941-1958 was NOT genre. I fumed, argued but ultimately got a ‘C’ in the class. Yours truly was not pleased. 
   Okay, flash forward a few years later to the mid-90s. PBS was showing a 6-part documentary series on American Cinema with one segment entitled….

Screen grab of PBS series devoted to American Cinema.




I enjoyed the show when it aired but more than anything else, the last 15 minutes of the show was pure redemption. The show, narrated by the great Richard Widmark, came to a point in which film ‘scholars’ decided when and why noir ended. However — and this is an important however — Widmark then intoned the following statement: “Some say that was the end of Film Noir. But I don’t see it that way. Film Noir was a look, a tone, a feel. The shadows are still deadly. Murder still stalks the streets. Love and violence still share the same bed. Fate could still put the finger on you for no good reason at all. Life doesn’t change… because people don’t change.”
 And then, the downbeat to the Ronettes ‘Be My Baby’ and the opening of…Mean Streets
 That’s what I call redemption! Or, as Scorsese himself says later in the program: “Mean Streets became a very clear attempt to do a Film Noir in color. What I was trying to do was blend what I knew as a reality, with that style….I think of it as Noir because I love Noir films. As much as possible, it’s my version of a Noir. But in reality, I was trying to get as much as possible, to my experience…My intention was, why not really show it?” 

 So there you have it.Thank you, Mr. Scorsese. I sometimes wonder if that instructor ever saw that episode. He probably retired with tenure and didn’t care any more. As for the ‘C’ average student? Well, he went on to write the NY Times Bestseller Lee Marvin Point Blank which has a more than few things to say about modern Film Noir. 
– Dwayne Epstein

P.S. If interested, the PBS show runs about an hour (with a terrific a opening montage) and can be seen on YouTube by clicking below.  Enjoy!

 

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KILLIN’ GENERALS UPDATE

Killin’ Generals update indeed! I had previously mentioned on this blog that my latest project concerns the making of The Dirty Dozen (1967) and as promised, here’s some great news about its progress.

Montage of images from the one, the only, the original, THE DIRTY DOZEN.


As many of you know since The Dirty Dozen came out over 50 years ago, not many of those involved in the production are still around. However, I did get an interview and some rare photos with the film’s 94 year old producer Ken Hyman. Also I spoke with actress Dora Reisser (she played the fraulein Telly Savalas killed) who was very insightful about her role in the film. I’ve also spoken with several of the adult children of cast members who shared there own exclusive memories of their father’s work on the film.

Telly Savalas & Dora Reisser as they appeared in THE DIRTY DOZEN.



Best of all (drum roll), as of this week, 87-year-old Donald Sutherland responded to my interview request with some wonderful and exclusive anecdotes. Great news, doncha think?
 The best part is I have in my archival research interviews conducted with several others involved in the film who are no longer with us. They include the likes of Clint Walker and Bob Phillips. Phillips had an extraordinary history besides playing the role of Cpl. Morgan. Best of all, he was hired to ‘babysit’ Lee Marvin during production and although some of what he told me can be read in my bio Lee Marvin Point Blank, the majority of what he stated remains exclusively untold …..until now! Publication is Father’s Day, 2023.
 There’s still more to come in terms of the exclusive research I have been gathering, but for this Killin’ Generals update should suffice for now. So, until the next time, happy Easter and happy Passover to one and all. Or, As Dirty Dozen director Robert Aldrich used to say, “Onward and upward!”
– Dwayne Epstein

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THE LIVES OF ROBERT RYAN

The Lives of Robert Ryan, by author J.R. Jones, is one of many sources sought out by yours truly in my research effort of Killin’ Generals. In so doing, I came across this little tidbit concerning the making of The Iceman Cometh (1973)….

Lee Marvin (Hickey), Robert Ryan (Slade) and Tom Pedi (Rocky) watch as Fredric March takes his first walk outside in years among the new-fangled automobiles.


As he [Cheyney Ryan, p.272] later told author Dwayne Epstein, Marvin showed up one day at 8 AM with a case of beer and proceed to get hammered. “He got into a thing about what a big star he was,” Cheyney recalled. “It was really unpleasant…He said, “Your father’s not a big star anymore. I’m a big star. He used to be a big star and now I’m the big star.” This went on and on and on.” [Director John] Frankenheimer took Marvin aside later and read him the riot act about his drinking...
   Yes, Cheyney Ryan did tell me that, but he also told me that the next day Marvin apologized profusely and stayed sober as he worked with the cast whether he was needed or not. This important factor was left out by author Jones.

Marvin and Ryan, men of a certain age and time, in The Professionals.


In an earlier section of The Lives of Robert Ryan, author J.R. Jones recounts the tale of ‘Vegas Vic’ while filming Richard Brooks’ The Professionals (1966) in Nevada. Unfortunately he tells the version Woody Strode explained in his memoir, Goal Dust, which is vastly different than what Strode told me in person. I was also fortunate enough to interview fellow culprit and stunt double Tony Epper and his memory of that night is not only impeccable but utterly believable. Want to know what really happened? Read Lee Marvin Point Blank. Until then, in the immortal words of Robert Aldrich: “Onward!”

The Lives of Robert Ryan by J.R. Jones.


– Dwayne Epstein

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