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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MOVIE MAN WAVE ON ITS WAY…AND IT’S NOT THE FIRST TIME

Movie man wave? Whatever it is, it’s on its way, according to an article in Deadline Hollywood. I’m assuming the writer is trying to come up with a new, hip phrase along the lines of “Bro-mance,” or some other term in these days of viral social media. Based on the comment section he appears to be taking his lumps for it, too. Personally, I think ‘movie man wave’ is a terrible term but the movies he’s referring to all sound like winners. From Ford Vs. Ferrari to The Irishman and more, it’s looking to be a great end of the year movie season. Of course, nothing in Hollywood happens as a stand alone as Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood started the current trend last summer.
Truth be told, it’s a trend that actually started as far aback as silent movies, with the likes of What Price Glory? (1926). Some of the best early ones co-starred the likes of James Cagney and Pat O’Brien, or Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy. When I was growing up such films were called ‘Buddy Movies,’ which made more sense than ‘Bro-mance or ‘Man Wave.’

Paul Newman and Lee Marvin may have lacked chemistry in POCKET MONEY but the film did allow for this wonderful candid image of Marvin that remains my favorite.

The actor who made more films in this realm? Probably Lee Marvin, whether as friends, rivals, or downright enemies, he worked with all the other major male stars in that capacity. It’s an impressive list that includes the likes of Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, John Wayne, Charles Bronson, Toshiro Mifune, Jack Palance, Paul Newman, Gene Hackman, Robert Shaw, Richard Burton, Oliver Reed, practically the entire spectrum of male movie stars. The final result often varied in quality but the star power certainly didn’t. And what did Marvin think of this various and divergent list of co-stars? That answer can only be found in detail within the pages of Lee Marvin Point Blank.
– Dwayne Epstein

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WRITER/DIRECTOR RICHARD BROOKS: THE NIGHT WE MET

Writer/director Richard Brooks has not been as historically lauded as many other directors but he’s always been a personal favorite of mine. I’ve been an admirer of many of his films long before I began researching Lee Marvin Point Blank and unfortunately, he passed away before I really started that research. A shame really as I would have liked to have gotten his take on working with Marvin on one of the best films either of them ever made: The Professionals (1966).

(L-R) Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster, Richard Brooks and Woody Strode discuss a scene for THE PROFESSIONALS.

As an aside, I recently found out that one of Brooks last and highly underrated films, Bite The Bullet (1975), was originally going to be a prequel of sorts to The Professionals, with Gene Hackman and James Coburn playing the characters Lee Marvin and Burt Lancaster played in The Professionals. By the way, if you haven’t seen Bite The Bullet, I highly recommend it.

Writer/director Richard Brooks pictured in Maureen Lambray’s photo book, AMERICAN FILM DIRECTORS and as he looked at the time I met him.

One night, back in the early 1980s, a friend and I went to the Nuart in Santa Monica to see a Brooks double feature of Elmer Gantry (1960) and The Professionals, in which Brooks did a Q&A following both films. Knowing that the Oscar-winning writer/director had a penchant for adapting successful books and plays, I asked him about that, which allowed for the following exchange in the crowded theater:

Me: Knowing that in the stage version of Sweet Bird of Youth Paul Newman’s character is castrated, what did you think of the criticism the film got when you changed it to Newman getting beat up?
Brooks: What do I think of the castration of Paul Newman? Oh, I’m all for it!

The crowded theater roared with laughter followed by applause. It didn’t bother me that he avoided answering my query. I was glad to be able to feed him such a well used straight line. A group of us followed him out to the parking lot to continue the discussion when a little red sports car convertible came screeching in front of him. The female driver emphatically asked Brooks, “How can I get in touch with Burt Lancaster? HE IS SO HOT!” Everyone laughed and Brooks chuckled, “Sorry, dear. I haven’t seen or heard from Burt in years.”

The program from the double feature retrospective honoring writer/director Richard Brooks that he graciously signed for me.

….And then there was the time I got Robert Altman mad at me….oy!
– Dwayne Epstein

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