LEE MARVIN IN ‘THE RACK’….OH, AND PAUL NEWMAN, TOO!

One of the main purposes of this blog is to supplement Lee Marvin Point Blank, as well as shed light on some of the actor’s lesser known work, and a perfect example of that is the 1956 Paul Newman vehicle, The Rack. Based on a teleplay by Rod Serling with an expanded screenplay by Stewart Stern, the film was based on the high number of U.S. soldiers that collaborated with the enemy during the Korean War. At the time of the film’s release that number was more than three thousand.
To shed light on the problem, Serling and then Stern fashioned this tale of how one solider (Paul Newman) broke under pressure as a P.O.W. and the effect it has on his martinet father (Walter Pidgeon), widowed sister-in-law (Anne Francis), and his court-martial that takes up the bulk of the film. The lawyers battling the case are prosecutor Wendell Corey and defense attorney Edmond O’Brien.

Original ad campaign for THE RACK (1956).

See any mention above of Lee Marvin in that summation? Well, there’s a reason for that…..

Herald sent to theaters to help promote THE RACK focused on one promotional aspect of the film.

Marvin’s contribution to the film is important enough to rate the billing he received but not enough to be included in the advertising. Why is that? Mainly due to the fact that he has only two short scenes in the film, but they are two of the best the film has to offer. He plays a fellow P.O.W. who early on sets the tone of the films’s seriousness when he commits an act of symbolic assault on Newman….

As Capt. John R. Miller, Lee Marvin perpetrates an ambush on fellow P.O.W. Paul Newman that sets the tone of the film.

Later, during the extensive court-martial sequence, Marvin’s character gives testimony that proves that not every soldier who endured torture at the hands of their captors broke under pressure…..

An ad highlighting Marvin’s testimony scene during the court-martial.

Despite his limited screen time, Marvin added that necessary realism to the proceedings the overwrought melodrama desperately needed. Newman and company were up to their task but it’s Marvin’s character, based on a real P.O.W. screenwriter Stewart Stern read about, that gives the film it’s all-important ‘other-side-of the coin’ point of view. Stern had learned of some of the incredibly inhumane  torture this particular soldier had gone through, but it was far too intense for studios and audiences of the 1950s.  For example, as he told Roger Ebert in a late life interview: “The Marvin character was partly based on that prisoner I’d read about. The Chinese had done everything they could in terms of physical torture. They tossed Army helmets full of urine in his face, they put cigarettes out on his skin…and when this didn’t work they peeled the skin from his penis and tossed him into solitary confinement in a tiny shed with corrugated iron across the top. And he still wouldn’t talk. There was a nail-hole in the corrugated iron, and every day at the same time, a tiny ray of sunlight would shine through the nail-hole, and he would hold his penis up into that tiny ray of sunlight so it would heal faster. The Chinese never broke him, and that was one of the reasons they turned to psychological abuse as a means of torture.”
Naturally the above horrors could not be depicted in 1956 so another way of emotionally affecting the viewers were used and Marvin was more than up to the task. The scene still packs a wallop but will not be described here as it must be seen intact for its full emotional effect. Besides, I loathe spoilers!
Did Marvin know of what Stern had researched? Probably not. Did he see his own version of war’s horror inflicted on humanity? Absolutely, which is why his performance, although brief, is ALWAYS worth watching.
– Dwayne Epstein

 

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POCKET MONEY: MARVIN & NEWMAN’S MISMATCHED BUDDY MOVIE

Lee Marvin’s 1972 film, Pocket Money, has been largely dismissed almost since the day it was released. Rather unfortunate, I think, as the film really isn’t all that bad and actually has some things to recommend it.

Lee Marvin as Leonard in 1972’s POCKET MONEY.

The botched production is covered exclusively in Lee Marvin Point Blank via a rare interview with the novel’s original author, JPS Brown. Not mentioned, however, is how Marvin and his famous costar, Paul Newman, got along during and after production. According to Marvin’s son, Christopher, who was on set for the film’s production, there was simply no chemistry between the two men. As he related to me in 1995: “When I was living with my dad later on Pocket Money, Paul Newman came over one day. He had a coffee can full of red wine that he was holding. He was like [drunk voice] ‘You’re old man here?’ I said, ‘Yeah, man.’ He came in and they were just talking AT each other drunk for like two hours [bangs fists together]. Oh god, no repore whatsoever. It was funny.”

After it was completed and Marvin was asked what the film was about, He’d snarkily, respond, “Paul Newman.” If pressed, he would add, “It never worked out. It was Paul Newman’s production company. By the time they cut the footage, Newman was the star. I dunno. I guess the old ego got the best of him. What can you do?”

Terry O’Neill’s iconci photo used for the poster of POCKET MONEY.

Later, when Paul Newman was told that Marvin claimed he was ‘finessed’ out of the picture, he told Rolling Stone: “I finessed him? I never even looked at the picture. Well, no, now I made some recommendations about the ending — two voice-overs that the two of us — but that was the only comment I made. Did he really say that? Well, it’s absolutely not true. I mean, Redford and I have got operational egos, but you never see that in terms of performance. Pocket Money didn’t make it, for sure, but I was delighted to play the character, the adolescent. I think the picture was too repetitious in terms of the humor, and it didn’t really know where it was going. It was fey and artificial.”
To his credit, Marvin made every effort to keep the sad production watchable. He used every trick in the book, while Newman spent the film looking bewildered and dumbfounded. Playing two not-too-bright cattlemen, in a script by novice filmmaker Terence Malick, just never seemed to jell, other than watching Marvin’s hijinks. Carole King contributed a catchy tune and the first half the film is interesting but it just rambles into incoherence. Well, the saving grace may just be something entirely incidental. Terry O’Neill photographed Marvin in what consider the best picture of the actor I’ve ever seen. I’d have made it the cover of my book if the rights were not so cost prohibitive. What do you think?

Terry O’Neill’s iconic photo of Lee Marvin onset during POCKET MONEY.

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TOP TEN LIST OF THINGS YOU CAN LEARN IN LEE MARVIN POINT BLANK

"Alright, dude, are you man enough for Lee Marvin: PointBlank?"

“Alright, dude, are you man enough for Lee Marvin: PointBlank?”

Top Ten List:
What are the top ten things (at the very least) you can learn about Lee Marvin by reading Lee Marvin: Point Blank? This particular Top Ten list, partial at best, is below. The answers, in narrative form, are in the book, which naturally you are MOST encouraged to check out…..

1. DESPITE A POPULAR URBAN LEGEND, LEE MARVIN AND BOB (CAPTAIN KANGAROO) KEESHAN IN NO WAY, SHAPE, OR FORM KNEW EACH OTHER IN THE USMC DURING WWII….OR MR. ROGERS, EITHER.

2. THE ACTUAL OUTCOME OF THE INFAMOUS PALIMONY CASE THAT IS STILL MISUNDERSTOOD TO THIS DAY. READERS ARE OFTEN SURPRISED NOT ONLY BY THE OUTCOME BUT WHAT HAPPENED TO MICHELE TRIOLA THE DAY THE VERDICT WAS HANDED DOWN.

3. LEE MARVIN’S LIFE-LONG LOVE AFFAIR WITH A PARTICULAR KIND OF MUSIC YOU WOULD NOT HAVE GUESSED IN A MILLION YEARS! I KNOW I DIDN’T BUT IT WAS CONFIRMED BY HIS WIFE, SON, FRIENDS AND CO-WORKERS. STORIES ABOUND BOTH FUNNY AND POIGNANT AS TO WHY AND HOW HE LOVED THIS PARTICULAR GENRE.

4. IN SPITE OF THE TYPE OF FILMS HE MADE, THE PERSONAL POLITICS OF LEE MARVIN IS OFTEN A BIG SURPRISE TO MANY OF HIS FANS.

5. HE WAS TRAINED IN SHAKESPEARE AND WOULD QUOTE THE BARD WHENEVER THE MOOD STRUCK HIM.

6. HIS LIFE IN WOODSTOCK AFTER THE WAR LONG BEFORE THE FAMOUS CONCERT AND THE TRUE STORY OF HOW HE GOT HIS ACTING START THERE. UNLIKE CONTEMPORARY ACTION STARS, HIS TRAINING EVENTUALLY GOT HIM TO THE BROADWAY STAGE.

7. HIS EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT OF HIS EXPERIENCE IN WWII AS IT HAPPENED THRU NEVER-BEFORE-SEEN LETTERS HE WROTE HOME TO FAMILY & FRIENDS AT THE TIME!

8. WAS NOT ASKED TO LEAVE ST. LEO ACADEMY FOR BOYS IN FLORIDA, AND, WAS IN FACT, GIVEN AN HONORAY DEGREE IN 1969 BY HIS MENTOR AND TEACHER.

9. THE ACTUAL FATE OF HIS GREAT UNCLE ROSS MARVIN, WHO DIED DURING THE PEARY EXPEDITION TO THE NORTH POLE THAT EVEN LEE MARVIN HIMSELF NEVER KNEW.

10. WHAT HE REALLY THOUGHT OF SUCH FAMOUS COSTARS AS RONALD REAGAN, CHARLES BRONSON, MARLON BRANDO, BURT LANCASTER, PAUL NEWMAN AND MORE!

11. HOW HE CREATED THE MODERN AMERICAN CINEMA OF VIOLENCE
Okay so there’s 11 instead of ten. There’s actually a WHOLE lot more exclusive info from my nearly 20 years of research on Lee Marvin’s life and career. Just wanted to see if you were paying attention!
Lee Marvin: Point Blank by Dwayne Epstein (cover)

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