BRIAN DENNEHY: GORKY PARK COSTAR REMEMBERED

Brian Dennehy, the burly leading character actor, died April 15th of natural causes at the age of 81. Obits of course made mention mostly his well known and popular projects, such as First Blood (1982), Cocoon (1985), Tommy Boy (1995), etc. All great performances, I grant you, but I thought he was best in other roles. His role as the wise and friendly bartender in 10 (1979) was an early indication of what he was capable of beyond his bulky exterior. That role, in fact, resulted in his being cast as the tough New York City cop on the trail of his brother’s murderer in Gorky Park (1983).

Brian Dennehy as NYC cop, Kirwill, confronted by William Hurt’s Russian police officer, Arkady Renko, in GORKY PARK.

According to the film’s production notes, director Michael Apted did not consider Dennehy right for the role, at first. However, Dennehy persisted as doggedly as his character in the film and finally convinced Apted to change his mind. The result, according to the likes of Facebook friend, Matt Lamaj, “I remember when I first saw Gorky Park. I walked out of the theater and said ‘that sonofabitch, Dennehy, just stole the film from Lee Marvin and all those ham actors just by being real.'”
I would not necessarily agree that Dennehy stole the film from Marvin and the other members of the veteran cast, but he was indeed very real in the role.
There’s good reason for that, of course. Like Lee Marvin, he was a former high school athlete — a football lineman, whereas Marvin was a champion track star and swimmer — and was also a veteran Marine. He trained as an actor via different acting schools but, like Marvin, had something that could never be taught: mesmerizing presence.
I didn’t pursue an interview with Dennehy as he had no scenes with Marvin in the film. I did, however, interview director Michael Apted at length for Lee Marvin Point Blank, who told me some unknown aspects concerning Marvin and the production of the film that proved to be a revelation.

The simple yet powerful logo used for the presskit.

One unused quote from Apted concerned Brian Dennehy’s opinion of Lee Marvin: “I think Brian was very much in awe of Lee as I was. Brian was into that same kind of genre, as it was. Wanting to do action stuff, and here is one of the great action movie stars of all time.”
Glad to finally be able to use that quote in its proper context but saddened for the context at the same time. In other words, Dennehy’s admiration of Marvin was well-placed. I just wished both men had worked together and maybe remembered more for their lesser known performances.
If you want to see the greatness Dennehy was capable of exhibiting, the more popular projects listed above are good examples but there are others. Witness his mentoring Vietnam-era sergeant in the mini-series A Rumor of War (1980); his troubled yet benevolent police chief in Skokie (1981); and best of all was his father of a troubled son caught up in a religious cult in the largely forgotten Canadian film, Split Image (1982). He’s heartbreakingly good in the role worthy of rediscovery.

Brian Dennehy
1938-2020

It’s cliche of course to say we shall not see his like again but cliche’s are borne of truth. It could not be more true than in the example of Brian Dennehy. Hell, see all his work and admire a truly great actor who’s like we shall never see again.
– Dwayne Epstein

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GORKY PARK: MARVIN’S LATTER DAY BRILLIANCE

Gorky Park (1983), director Michel Apted’s adaptation of the popular Martin Cruz Smith thriller, was not well-recieved when first released but it may be worthy of re-evaluation. There are several reasons I say this but the main reason, is of course, Lee Marvin’s performance.

Lee Marvin as Jack Osborne in Michael Apted’s GORKY PARK.

It was not only one of the actor’s last films, it would be the last time he would play a classic villain, as he had earlier in his career. I don’t want to give a spoiler alert if you haven’t seen the film (which I highly recommend) so simply the premise will suffice here. It’s a complicated ‘whodunit’ in which Soviet-era police detective Arkady Renko (William Hurt) is tasked with finding who is responsible for the three mutilated bodies found in Gorky Park. There are several suspects and among them is shady American businessman, Jack Osborne (Marvin). To Marvin’s credit, as good as he looks in uniform, he looks even more impressive in the dapper expensive suits his character wears.  Watch the way he carries himself, as well. The brilliance mentioned are the touches the actor adds that are clearly not in the script. Dressing after a day at the sauna, he uses the back of his index fingers to straighten his collar and expensive tie he admires in the mirror. Then there’s the way he dallies the cat-and-mouse dialog with adversarial Hurt.

(L-R) Lee Marvin as Jack Osborne, William Hurt as Russian police detective Arkady Renko and Ian Bannen as Renko’s superior.

I genuinely believe it’s one of Marvin’s best performances that creates a through line of sorts to his career. Think of Paul Newman as the idealistic lawyer Anthony Lawrence of The Young Philadelphians (1959), and then the tragic alcoholic Frank Galvin of The Verdict (1982). There are other such examples to be made but I like to think that in Jack Osborne’s wilder youth he was not unlike the dapper yet violent Vince Stone of The Big Heat (1953). See Gorky Park and judge for yourself, of course.
As for the film, I was fortunate enough to interview British director Michael Apted for Lee Marvin Point Blank and his insights as to the films success and/or failure is on the money, as well as the fascinating anecdotes about its production. So check it out again wherever possible and give Lee Marvin’s performance a second look. I think you’ll pleasantly surprised.
– Dwayne Epstein

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FOR THE RECORD: ADDITIONAL LEE MARVIN VINYL SOUNDTRACKS

Since records are making such a comeback, I thought I’d post images of the remainder of my Lee Marvin vinyl soundtrack collection. First up, the four record set of The Iceman Cometh, the eventful filming of which is detailed in Lee Marvin Point Blank. The album consists of the entire audio of the film, a pamphlet about the play and this really impressive original cover art. Trying getting all that on CD!

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The Iceman Cometh Soundtrack cover

In 1976, Marvin made two films for drive-in fodder studio AIP as they attempted to class up their stable. Much money was spent on Shout at the Devil but the soundtrack was an inexplicable French release. …..

Maurice Jarre’s score for the film is melodic but certainly not on par with his more impressive work for David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia & Dr. Zhivago, or evern Richard Brooks’ The Professionals. The best reason for listening? Lee Marvin & The Barflies rendition of “Shagging O’Reilly’s Daughter.” It just has to heard to be believed…

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Shout at the Devil soundtrack cover

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Shout at the Devil soundtrack back cover

 

Lastly, James Horner’s score for Michael Apted’s Gorky Park, a decent film worthy of rediscovery, if only for Marvin’s wonderful performance as Jack Osborne and Horner’s haunting “Tubular Bells”-like main theme…..

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Gorky Park Soundtrack

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