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!

 

Share Button

MARTIN SCORSESE INCLUDES 2 LEE MARVIN FILMS

Martin Scorsese, the legendary director of legendary films has become associated with great gangster films as much as John Ford has been associated with great western films. He’s also a well-renowned film enthusiast so the combination of those two factors makes for the invetiable list of his all-time favorite gangster films. It was recently unveiled this week in an online British periodical that was culled from an interview Scorsese did in 2010 (The British article can be read here). The obvious question, stated with tongue firmly in cheek, becomes what took so long? 
The list is whittled down to a mere fifteen films, which is surprisingly short considering the breadth of Scorsese’s film knowledge and passion. I had known of his appreciation of Lee Marvin’s film work as I wrote about it in the last chapter of Lee Marvin Point Blank, citing Harvey Keitel’s great speech in Martin Scorsese’s first film, Who’s That Knocking At My Door (1968). I had also blogged about it previously

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


 I was naturally glad to see Marvin’s Point Blank on the list despite the rather strange definition Scorsese gives the film: “Lee Marvin is Walker, the man who may or may not be dreaming, but who is looking for vengeance on his old partner and his former wife. Like Burt Lancaster in the 1948 I Walk Alone, another favourite, he can’t get his money when he comes out of jail and enters a brave new corporate world.” Not quite accurate to say Walker ‘Comes out of jail,’ as if he was paroled the way Lancaster was in I Walk Alone. Just saying. 
 I was also pleasantly surprised to see Pete Kelly’s Blues (1955) on his list, another film in which Lee Marvin contributed. Not included was The Big Heat (1953) which was equally surprising. Not in a bad way, however, as it has been heralded by others quite a bit but Pete Kelly’s Blues is worthy of some new and more positive reconsideration.

Jack Webb (left) and Lee Marvin (right) blow some hot jazz in PETE KELLY’S BLUES,Webb’s tribute to the Roaring 20s.



So, there you have it. The great Martin Scorsese gives his thoughts on his favorite gangster films, with Lee Marvin making the count not once, but twice. By the way, to be fair, he made the list based on chronology and not in order of importance. If you can’t see it, the list is below and the choices are impressive. Thank you, Martin Scorsese.

  • The Public Enemy (1931)
  • Scarface (1932)
  • Blood Money (1933)
  • The Roaring Twenties (1939)
  • Force of Evil (1948)
  • White Heat (1949)
  • Night and the City (1950)
  • Touchez pas au Grisbi (1954)
  • The Phenix City Story (1955)
  • Pete Kelly’s Blues (1955)
  • Murder by Contract (1958)
  • Al Capone (1959)
  • Le Doulos (1962)
  • Mafioso (1962)
  • Point Blank (1967)

  • Dwayne Epstein
Share Button

JUDGE ROY BEAN STARRING…..LEE MARVIN?

Judge Roy Bean, a legend of the old west, was indeed a real person ((1825-1903) and has been immortalized on screen countless times. The larger-than-life character of Bean would seem like a natural for the likes of Lee Marvin, who specialized in larger-than life portrayals. Apparently at one point, he almost was “The hanging Judge west of the Pecos.” 

      According to a recently discovered documentary (Milius 2013), it was Marvin who was the intended star of the 1973 film, The Life & Times of Judge Roy Bean. I was amazed to only recently find this out as I would have included it in the appendix I did of nearly four dozen films Lee Marvin almost made as an exclusive extra in Lee Marvin Point Blank.

Renowned artist Richard Amsel’s poster for the 1973 theatrical release of THE LIFE & TIMES OF JUDGE ROY BEAN.


According to writer/director John Milius’s film school alum, George Lucas in talking about Milius and the project: “He got a job to write Judge Roy Bean. Judge Roy Bean was one of the most brilliant screenplays I ever read. It just was magnificent and polished and good and it just blew everybody away.” Martin Scorsese chimed in with, “The work reflected a stand that was impenetrable. You couldn’t change it. This guy really believed in what he was saying.”
For the full story as to what transpired, John Milius himself takes over the story in an interview conducted long before his debilitating stroke:

Writer/director John Milius.


“It was sent to Lee Marvin. And Lee Marvin got the script. His agent sent it. And he was reading it and he really liked it. He got drunk and left it on his chair and went off and passed out somewhere [laughs]. And Newman picked it up and started reading it and took it away. He called his people in Los Angeles and said, ‘Buy this script. I wanna do this.’ So, they came to me and said, ‘We wanna buy this script.’ I said, ‘Fine. I wanna direct it.’ They said, ‘No, no. That’s not possible.’ 
   See, there were two prices. One that was really cheap with me directing it. The one that kept going up and up without me [was the other price]. They finally paid the price without me. In 1972-73, that was a helluva lot money. There is no good movie without a good script.
   It wasn’t at all the same movie. Huston wasn’t the right person to direct it and Newman certainly wasn’t the right person to act in it and they’re all terrific people. Paul Newman is on of the nicest, most intelligent people in the world. I can’t say anything against him. He just wasn’t right for that movie.”

On the set of POCKET MONEY made the year before in which Newman may have read Marvin’s copy of the script.


And so, there you have it. Yet another, and probably one of the strangest examples, of a property Marvin would have been great in but due to unusual circumstances, was not meant to be. Pity, really in as much as I liked the quirky film, Marvin would have been terrific!
– Dwayne Epstein 

The real Judge Roy Bean.

Share Button