MY FAVORITE FILM FIGHT SCENES, PART 2 OF 5

As stated in the first installment, writing Lee Marvin Point Blank gave me a new appreciation for movie fight scenes. In this second installment of my favorite film fight scenes, the 1950s and early 1960s are rightfully represented….

6. IT’S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER -1955

(L-R) Gene Kelly, Dan Dailey & MIchael Kidd survery the damage they wreaked aftet their brawl on live TV.

(L-R) Gene Kelly, Dan Dailey & MIchael Kidd survery the damage they wreaked aftet their brawl on live TV.

Let’s be honest, You’re infinitely more likely to see somebody sing and dance down the street then you’ll ever see an intergalactic space battle. Yet the latter rules the current box-office while the former has been relegated to the dustbin of time as being phoney and unrealistic. That’s a shame for many reasons, not the least of which is the amount of talent and ingenuity being wasted by not producing any more original film musicals which was once the bread-and-butter of the industry.
One of the best and least appreciated of the genre was the atypical, It’s Always Fair Weather. Three war buddies vow to remain friends and meet 10 years later only to find they have absolutely nothing in common. Not the plot of a ‘How-are-we-going-to-get-the-show-on’ musical, but an interesting character study that also pokes satirical fun at Madison Ave, professional sports, and most of all that new stranger in the house, television. Gene Kelly had at first thought it would be a sequel to On The Town but opted instead for a dance extravaganza with atheletic Dan Dailey, leggy Cyd Charisse and bite-sized Michael Kidd. I could go on about the greatness of this forgotten classic (it’s the one in which the 3 leads dance with trash-can lids on their feet and Kelly solos on roller skates) but since this about fight scenes check out this movies’ amazing climax. Since all fight scenes are essentially choreographed, who better to show off their prowes in their field than 3 of the best dancers in movie history? Kidd especially shines with rapid movements in, out, down and around the fight but Kelly and Dailey are no slouches. Just watch it some time and see for yourself.

7. BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK-1955

Robert Ryan (left) sics his bulldog Ernest Borgnine (right) on poor one-armed Spencer Tracy (center).

Robert Ryan (left) sics his bulldog Ernest Borgnine (right) on poor one-armed Spencer Tracy (center).

Maybe not THE most, but certainly one of the most influential fight scenes in movie history. A brillian study on that all-American virtue known as bigotry, director John Sturges and writer Millard Kaufman slowly turn the screws of tension as middle-aged, one-armed, slightly paunchy Spencer Tracy gets shut out in his attempts to find out what happened to his war-time comrade, Komoko, in the sleepy desert town of Black Rock. The film is brimming with great moments (including several with lower-billed henchman Lee Marvin) but the highlight is without question what happens when bulldog-squeezed-into-a-pair-of-jeans Ernest Borgnine taunts Tracy into a fight.
How could Tracy possibly come out alive? As Steve Allen said to me when I interviewed him back in the 90s: “The moment when poor, one-armed Spencer Tracy finally lashed out as the good guy, elicited from a good neighborhood totally white audience the loudest ‘Yeah!’ I ever heard in my life in a movie. I mean you hear it at football games and such but I never heard a [movie] audience do that before.”

8.THE KENTUCKIAN 1955

Director and star Burt Lancaster (left) lays it on bad guy Walter Matthau (right) in Matthau's film debut.

Director and star Burt Lancaster (left) lays it on bad guy Walter Matthau (right) in Matthau’s film debut.

Burt Lancaster made his directorial debut with this film, and although rarely appreciated in his canon of work, it has one of my all-time favorite fight scenes. Walter Matthau made his film acting debut as Lancaster’s nemesis, taking him on with a whip as Lancaster battles bare-fisted. It’s a western, but unlike most westerns it takes place in the early 1800s, tells the tale of a traveling backwoods single father and his young son and, despite some overly talky scenes, has some phenomonally action scenes. It buils to a fight between Lancaster and Matthau, whom we’ve seen is an expert with a bullwhip while all Lancaster has is bare knuckles. Feel sorry for Matthau, who does make you think he has ol’ Burt out maneuvered….for a little while, anyway.
Becuause former acrobat Lancaster directed the film, he gave himself a rousing end scene in which he races through a pond without cutting away in order to stop his enemy from relaoding his flintlock. Must be seen to be believed.

9. WEST SIDE STORY-1961

Richard Beymer (left) as Tony scrambles to help Russ Tamblyn as RIff (center) against rival gang leader Bernardo (right) played by Geroge Chakiris.

Richard Beymer (left) as Tony scrambles to help Russ Tamblyn as RIff (center) against rival gang leader Bernardo (right) played by Geroge Chakiris.

Yeah, it’s a favorite and since there’s very little I can add about this classic that hasn’t been said already a million times, I’ll just go on about what it means to me personally. Oh, other than it’s another example of a movie still chided for being less beleviable than a superhero franchise simply because street gangs don’t go around dancing the mean streets of NYC. Right. But caped crusaders do. Please!
Anyway, when I was a kid and first saw the knife fight ballet, it scared the hell out of me! Seriously.  I bought into the film’s premise completely and since I was just a kid, I picked sides. Russ Tamblyn as Riff was a favorite since seeing him in Tom Thumb and then seeing the gymnasitc dancing he did made him even more a favorite. I still recall being on the edge of my seat during that knife fight and my pounding heart jumping into my throat at the outcome. I really didn’t expect it and watching it today, it still gets to me. Sure, they’re dancing in the fight but it makes it no less belevable to me. I recall George Chakiris once saying that Jerome Robbins taught him the difference in dancing between just movement in step and movement as character and geez, does it show in this sequence. Watch it again and you’ll see what I mean.
Oh, one more  afterthought:  Tamblyn and Chakiris have remained friends through the years and recently, Tamblyn underwent open heart surgery. Apparently it was touch-and-go but when they wheeled him out of post-op one of the people Tamblyn saw nervously awaiting the outcome, was Chakiris. They locked eyes and Tamblyn smiled, held up his hand and snapped his fingers. Is that cool or what? I guess Riff was right: “When you’re a Jet you’re a Jet all the way….”

10. THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE-1962

Henry Silva (left) as a VERY savvy houseboy and Frank Sinatra (right) do battle.

Henry Silva (left) as a VERY savvy houseboy and Frank Sinatra (right) do battle.

If a paranoid cold war thriller can be considered perfect, than this is the one.  Why they thought it neccessary to remake it 2004, is beyond me. Well, they didn’t ask me so there you go…..
Anyway, from the very first scene this one grabs you. The opening (suggested to director John Frankenheimer by Frank Sinatra) sets the tone for the unrelenting weirdness to come, all the way up to and including the amazing ending. In the midst of the strange doings, Korean War vet Frank Sinatra, frsutrated over the nightmares he’s experiencing, confronts one of the people in his nightmare, Korean houseboy Henry Silva (!?) Both being combat vets, they tangle in hand-to-hand-combat while Sinatra desperatley tries to extract needed information from Silva. It’s a fight scene that is filmed, edited, and performed in a highly stylized format for the early 60s and consequently, still packs a wallop. A true stand-out in films in general but especially for a film already brimming with stand outs.
I remember seeing an interview Barbara Walters did with Frank Sinatra late in his life in which they toured his Palm Springs home. They then settled in by the pool in which Walters noticed the giant Queen of Diamonds shimmering in the cement beneath the crystal clear water. She then asked Sinatra, “Is that a symbol from your Vegas Rat Pack days?” Sinatra smiled at her and said, “Actually, Barbara, it’s from a film I made years ago called The Machurian Candidate….”
I hate a journalist who doesn’t do their homework.

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RAINTREE COUNTY: RARE PIX AND QUOTES

Since TCM  will be airing Raintree County this weekend, it proved to be a perfect opportunity to post some rare images and quotes concerning the mammoth 1957 Civil War era production, but with a distinct emphasis on Lee Marvin’s contribution to it.

Based on the popular novel by Ross Lockridge, Jr., Raintree County was another one of the films Marvin thought would bring him wider recognition, espcially since he knew his performance was a standout. Unfortunately, the film’s failure made Marvin’s breakout status an impossiblity. Cast as Orville ‘Flash’ Perkins — The Fastest Man in Raintree County — Marvin practically stole the film as the brash, small-town braggart who matures into a war-hardened veteran.

Whenever Marvin would begin a role, he spent an inordinate amount of time just sitting and thinking about his character. Below, with his hair dyed red for the film, Marvin is shown doing just that on the porch of his California beach house….

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Still photographer Bob Willioughby was onset to capture the film’s production, such as this image of Marvin & co-star Montgomery Clift (pre-car accident) waiting on a soundstage to shoot the saloon scene….

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The film also had many locations throughout the southern United States and location shooting meant curious onlookers. When one such young lady brought her dog to watch the shooting, Marvin reacted approrpriately…

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Bob Willoughby also was there when the filming included this action-packed scene of Marvin (far right) capturing a Confederate officer played by future Star Trek stalwart DeForest Kelley (left, in uniform). The Willoughby images were part of his 1974 coffee table book, The Platinum Years, and is highly reccommended….

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As previously stated, Marvin’s portrayal of ‘Flash’ Perkins goes through a remarkable transformation during the course of the film as he weaves in and out of story. When first seen, he is brash and bold as a 19th century dandy…..

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Later in the film, he is a renegade Union soldier, a ‘Bummer’ whose expression goes a long to explain the character’s growth…..

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During the lengthy research of Lee Marvin Point Blank, I was extremely fortunate to  interview many of the important people involved in making Raintree County, including director Edward Dmytryk, screenwriter Millard Kaufman, costar Rod Taylor, and Terry Swindol, a Danville Kenutcky resident who witnessed the filming. All of what they related to me went into the book, but a few choice tidbits remained unsued for various reasons. What follows are several such anecdotes all concerning Lee Marvin:
Rod Taylor
The thing you had to appreciate about him was his sense of humor. He had a great sense of humor but it could be very caustic because it was based on total honesty. I used to work over at Revue and I would see him there because he did the show, what was it “M-Squad”? Revue became Four Star when David Niven built it. That’s where I made The Time Machine. There was a story you may have heard because it’s been around so long. Somebody, I think it was a casting director asked Lee Marvin, “What have you done lately?,” and Marvin responded immediately, “About what?” (laughs) That’s the  kind of sense of humor he had.

Millard Kaufman
He was extremely helpful. Let me tell you about one of the most brilliant things I’ve ever seen on screen that was all Lee. There’s a scene in the picture…First of all, I think it was not a very good picture. The casting was great. The direction was terrible and my script wasn’t very good. My script wasn’t very good because I fell in love with the book. It went over a 1,000 pages. I had too much of it in there. I did not follow what Somerset Maughm said: “Find your theme and stick to it it like grim death.” I went off in all directions. I had found grim death. Anyway…Well, one of the most brilliant things I’ve ever seen on screen is in that picture. There’s a scene of a foot race. Monty could not run ten feet without stumbling over his feet. He was so awkward and so uncoordinated most of the time. He used this sort of things on screen, the way he would weave and fool around. He looked like he was almost autistic at times. But, it worked for him. He was sympathetic and charming, in his own way. This time, which called for sheer athleticism…nothing! Lee faked running in such a way that made Monty not only win the race, but look good doing it. That was all Lee. You say in any sport you can’t teach speed. Well, it’s even harder tot teach someone slowing up, which is somehow what Lee did. There was no slow motion or anything. It was brilliant. It looked like a hell of a race….[Lee] had this tremendous lust for life which made him kind of larger than life, and I think that spilled over into everything he did. You got a feeling that this was a very big and powerful and important person, as an actor and a man.

Terry Swindol
All the people who met Lee Marvin said he was really “down to earth.” Apparently, he was one of those people who never met a stranger. A story I especially like tells that somewhere in Danville, Kentucky today is a coffee table with a chip off the corner. It has stayed in this home with the same family since Lee Marvin visited the home during the making of Raintree County. After dinner, he was acting out a story about a play he had done and his boot caught the coffee table and broke off the corner. He was so apologetic and told the family to buy a new coffee table and send him the bill. They never did, and they refuse to get rid of the broken one because of the pleasant memory of Marvin in their home.

Betty Marvin [Lee’s first wife, whose former employer had been Joan Crawford]
At the the premiere, Lee and I were lined up. Big joke in those days. So there we were, and who’s behind us? Joan Crawford. She, in her wonderful style, looks right through me. Because Lee was like the next big star on the horizon and on, and on…She wants him to co-star in her next film and would he please read the script and set up an appointment at MCA. She calls the next day. Talks right through me. “Is Lee there? Why don’t you come in. We’ll go over the script in my office and read it together.” He said, “Okay.” He left about one o’clock. You know, I was a young wife. It made me very uncomfortable. What’s going on here? The whole afternoon, it was difficult for me. When he came back, he was laughing. I said, “How did he go? Are you going to co-star with Joan Crawford?” He said, “Oh, hardly.” I asked if he read the script. He was a very slow reader, as I told you. He had went into a room with the script and she was waiting. After about two hours, she said, “Well?” He said, “Listen, it takes a long time to get through this crap.” (laughs) Once again, you know? He was like, “Give me a break.” Oh, she was livid! That was Lee’s lovely way. And I’m not saying out of respect for me. He didn’t like her crappy script because she was doing a lot of garbage. It was just interesting.

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LEE MARVIN’S PARENTS HELP PROMOTE BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK

1955 was a VERY busy cinematic year for Lee Marvin with no less than eight different movie appearances in theaters across America at the time. The first release was probably the most memorable, as January 7th saw the release of the now classic, Bad Day at Black Rock. The making of the film is explored rather extensively in LEE MARVIN POINT BLANK via exclusive interviews with screenwriter Millard Kaufman and costar John Ericson (pictured below on the far right).
Shown below is an extremely rare instance of Lee Marvin’s parents getting involved in their son’s film promotion, which is not something they often particpated in. The event likely involved their participation as they lived very close to Kingston in nearby Bearsville in upstate New York’s scenic Hudson River Valley. They may have even done it more often had they been asked, since they were both still only in their fifties and professionally well-versed in the realm of public relations. Courtenay’s writing for film and fashion magazines and Monte’s work in sales in both Florida and New York’s agricultural sales markets gave them creedence.
The caption on the back of the press photo reads as follows: “January 24, 1955, far left is Kingston NY mayor Frederick H. Stang and his wife, followed by Monte and Courtenay Marvin, parents of Bad Day at Black Rock costar Lee Marvin who are all on local radio to promote ‘Go to the Movies Month in Kingston.’ The film was the premiere of Kingston’s remodeled Broadway Theater of the Walter Reade Theater chain. John Ericson is pictured far right.”

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Lee Marvin’s parents, Monte & Courtenay Marvin, helping to promote Bad Day at Black Rock.

The question is, where was Lee? Probably filming one of the many films he made but had yet to still come out that year!

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