The Oscar track is upon us since the nominations were announced last month, as shown here. I use the term “The Oscar track” as it’s the appropriate term used by Lee Marvin when he was interviewed by TIME Magazine’s Stefan Kanfer in the 1970s. Kanfer had the audacity to tell the actor he didn’t think his Oscar-winning performance in Cat Ballou was even close to his best performance. The writer was amazed to hear Marvin agree with him. Adding, “But y’know, you run this track, and that’s the track that the racers are on; it’s the Oscar track. It really isn’t based on skill as much as it’s based on luck and popularity.” Kanfer’s remembrance of the interview — along with his assistant, future Oscar-nominated screenwriter, Jay Cocks — is hysterically recounted in Lee Marvin Point Blank.
Lee Marvin in POCKET MONEY and as he probably appeared when interviewed by Stefan Kanfer.
As to the Oscar track, Marvin’s point is well taken. Now, normally this time of the month I’d be blogging about any upcoming Lee Marvin-related films on TCM but since the network is broadcasting “31 Days of Oscar” all month there’s a dearth of Marvin-related films. The sole exception is Ship of Fools, which is a shame since he made other films that were indeed on the Oscar track in one way or another: The Professionals (1966), and The Dirty Dozen (1967) received such recognition but truth be told, I think a few of his films SHOULD have been on The Oscar track and were not. On the technical side, the innovations apparent in Point Blank (1967), such as the editing and the sound advancements (first film in which the actors were individually ‘miked’) and Conrad Hall’s breathtaking cinematography of Hell in the Pacific (1968) were certainly worthy. They may have ran out of the money since they were both directed by the very British John Boorman and both films did poorly when first released. I don’t know if either factor is the case but it’s a pretty safe bet. I can say, for the purposes of this blog entry, two of Lee Marvin’s performances overlooked by the Academy were certainly worthy: Monte Walsh (1970), remains an overlooked classic for which Marvin gave one of his most poignant performances.
Monte Walsh, 1970
As cited in detail in Lee Marvin Point Blank, several critics at the time of its release said the same and thought an Oscar nomination for Best Actor was practically a foregone conclusion. Sadly, It never happened.
The Big Red One (1980): Sam Fuller’s semi-autobiographical yarn of his experiences in Europe during WWII allowed Marvin to give one of his best performances of his career, running a gamut of emotions from badass to empathy as a nameless sergeant pushing his young charges on a rifle squad to the poignancy of caring for a young boy in a liberated concentration camp.
The Big Red One, 1980.
It’s a pity both of these performances were overlooked and the reasons they were are as speculative as they are varied. Too bad there’s no such thing as a retro Oscar track. If there were, Marvin would win it in a walk.
Tom Hanks, America’s most beloved star, makes great movies and often makes his TV talk show appearances worth staying up for. He’s charming, funny and extremely well-spoken. However, he can also be as wrong as anybody else, apparently. Case in point, a recent appearance Tom Hanks made in January on “A Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”
Screen grab of Stephen Colbert’s recent interview with Tom Hanks.
I’m a big fan of Colbert’s show and watch it whenever I can. Granted, he’s no David Letterman, but who is? What he is in reality is a very talented man who is infinitely funnier than his rivals Jimmy Fallon or Jimmy Kimmel. I mention this merely as an introduction to what transpired. Colbert was trying out a new bit with a humorous intro, followed by his guest, Mr. Hanks. They are very comfortable with each other, obviously, and both being Baby Boomers, they make several appropriate generational references. So, along the way, they bring up a Lee Marvin appearance on the old Dick Cavett Show, circa 1970. By the way, that interview can be viewed in its entirety here.
Now, here’s the thing. Colbert is mistaken in saying Marvin was there to promote The Dirty Dozen(1967). It’s more likely that he’s there to promote Monte Walsh (1970). Minor faux paux, I grant you. Especially compared to what Tom Hanks states. He even goes so far as to say he saw Marvin recount the tale on the old Johnny Carson Show, which many people like to do as a way to provide greater authenticity. I’m speaking of course about the old urban legend concerning Lee Marvin and Captain Kangaroo (aka Bob Keeshan, not Keesham, as Hanks pronounced it). You would think that the guy who starred brilliantly in Saving Private Ryan (1998), and co-produced Band of Brothers(2001) would know better! Personally, I can’t begin to tell you the amount of times I get asked about this and why I didn’t mention it in Lee Marvin Point Blank. Some things refuse to go gently into that good night.
Oh, well, as I said, anybody can make a mistake. Hanks does redeem himself when Colbert asked him what his favorite action film is and for that I’ll always be a fan. So, take about 11 minutes to watch the clip and see for yourself at the following link.
Until next time, don’t believe everything Tom Hanks or anybody else says. ALWAYS find out the facts for yourself. – Dwayne Epstein
Spoiler alerts are not necessarily a new phenomenon as they have existed in all forms of media for some time, whether movies, TV, plays or books. However, the very existence of spoiler alerts, usually accompanied by an obligatory disclaimer, are a major pet peeve. Why? Because if any entity states a spoiler alert is forthcoming and then proceeds to give away an important plot element or worse, the twist finale, they have not done their job. In other words, a film critic who cannot review a film without giving away the ending, should be fired on general principle. Seems harsh, perhaps, but I stand by it. Such individuals should and can work just a little harder to make their point without ruining a given project for others. Believe me, I know as I’ve been faced with that conflict myself. Case in point: My interview with Mitch Ryan concerning his performance in Monte Walsh(1970).
(L-R) Lee Marvin, Mitch Ryan and Jack Palance in MONTE WALSH.
He was not an easy person to get to agree to an interview as he initially turned me down, several times. Luckily, he eventually relented and I am eternally grateful. His exclusive input was invaluable. All of what he told me concerning his friendship with Lee Marvin and the making of Monte Walsh went into Lee Marvin: Point Blank….well, except one anecdote. I mulled it over for some time about its inclusion, as it gave away the end of the film. No spoiler alerts here as ultimately, I did NOT include it, no matter how much I wanted to since it was a wonderful example of Marvin’s creative thinking as an actor. He had suggested something to Ryan that Ryan actually did in the scene and it was a brilliant touch. You’ll just have to see the film and possibly figure it out for yourself. – Dwayne Epstein