DIRTY WHISPERS

Dirty whispers, for lack of a better term, is a rather lascivious device used in some films to set the stage for an eventual brutal showdown. There are of course several memorable examples but this being a blog dedicated to the life and career of Lee Marvin, I can think of no better example to start with than the man himself. 
 In researching Lee Marvin Point Blank, I discovered that he attempted this device in The Killers (1964) but ran into conflict with costar, Ronald Reagan, who hated the idea. Instead, he let it be known to the audience what he intended when he gets in the face of frightened costar Angie Dickinson and angrily whispers, “Lady, you tell us what we want to know or so help me god you’re going out that window.” 
  A few years later, he was able to use the device to much better effect when he collaborated with British director John Boorman on Point Blank (1967).

Lynn (Sharon Acker) warms up to a drunken Walker (Lee Marvin) as they circle each other on the Santa Monica pier in POINT BLANK.


In the opening prologue, in which Marvin as Walker confronts his estranged wife, played by Sharon Acker, an ingenious montage is utilized  to give the films’s back story to the viewer, as narrated by Acker. Costar Angie Dickinson told me how Marvin and Boorman would themselves whisper on set about how they would do a scene without letting the other actors in on it to maintain the film’s freshness. The opening montage is one example. Acker’s narration of course explains what’s going on for us, but in the scene itself, no words are heard but we do see Walker saying something to her (of probably the most lascivious nature) ,as they circle each other amid the other drunken denizens of the pier. 
   Later in the film, as Walker confronts his adversaries up the chain of command in an effort to get what he believes he is owed from the organization, he employs the device again to even greater effect as Marvin wanted to do in The Killers

Walker (Lee Marvin) uses a dirty whisper on a reception in POINT BLANK. Note the placement of his gun barrel.

Bursting into the outer office of kingpin Lloyd Bochner, he confronts the receptionist before she can even react to his entry, and while he scares her to near death with whatever dirty whispers we can’t hear, he uses his oversized Oxford to smash the secret alarm hidden under her desk. It’s a brilliantly realized moment in a film spilling over with brilliant moments way ahead of its time for audiences and film critics alike. 
   One can only imagine not only what Marvin was saying but what he must have sounded like, as his voice, whether booming loud or frighteningly whispered, was one of the actor’s greatest attributes.

 Film history has provided some other noteworthy examples of dirty whispers. Chronologically, to my mind, one of the first and still best is Edward G. Robinson terrorizing Lauren Bacall in Key Largo (1948). It’s amazing to think Robinson was never Oscar nominated for any of the memorable performances he gave throughout his lengthy career as this should have been one of them. 

Lauren Bacall reacts accordingly to Edward G. Robinson’s lascivious dirty whispers in KEY LARGO.


The scene induces shivers in the way Robinson gleefully does it, as much as the way Bacall reacts to it. It’s one of many stand out moments Robinson has in the film as over-the-hill Prohibition-era gangster Johnny Rocco hiding out in a Florida Hotel besieged by a hurricane. The greatness of his menacing performance has faded in moviegoer memory, since the film is largely remembered for the well-known sparks that flew and ignited between Bacall and toplined star, Humphrey Bogart. Pity, really, as Robinson was amazing in it.

The memorable near fight scene in From Here to Eternity (1952) that leads to a an even more memorable confrontation is not remembered as such but it’s initiated by another dirty whisper.

Ernest Borgnine (center) drools over the photo he snatched from Frank Sinatra (right) in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY as Montgomery Clift (left) prepares to respond.


As Frank Sinatra as Maggio shows off a photo of his big Italian family to his buddies in the bar, stocky and vicious Ernest Borgnine as “Fatso” Judson ambles into the bar. He snatches the photo, sees the image of Sinatra’s sister, kisses it, smiles menacingly, then leans over to Prewitt, played by Montgomery Clift, to whisper what has to be an undoubtedly filthy suggestion. Clift rises to the challenge but is pushed out of the way by the more maligned Sinatra who proceeds to smash Borgnine with a bar stool. All looks lost until Burt Lancaster steps in with a broken beer bottle. Damn exciting stuff, again the result of a probably forgotten dirty whisper.  
 Last but not least is possibly the best example of a dirty whisper and its aftermath. In The Hustler (1961), the great Piper Laurie plays Sarah Packard, the tragic and crippled girlfriend of the title character, ‘Fast Eddie Felson, played by Paul Newman.

(L-R) Paul Newman, Piper Laurie & George C. Scott enjoy Louisville’s Derby Day party in THE HUSTLER.


Celebrating the Kentucky Derby at a Jazz party, Felson’s manager Bert Gordon, played by George C. Scott, sees how vulnerable Ms. Laurie’s character is and proceeds to take advantage of it. While a Dixieland band blares in the background, he sidles up to the fragile woman, out of ear shot of everyone (especially Newman) and whispers something so devastating to her, she breaks down in tears and eventually does the unthinkable.
   What was said? Well, we may never know for sure what is said in such emotional scenes, but there is one interesting anecdote. According to Piper Laurie in her autobiography, “I finally asked him [Scott] what he had whispered into my ear in the big party scene in The Hustler that elicits a violent response from me. We shot it perhaps three or four times, and I could never figure out what he was saying: it sounded something like ‘isha-pa-pish-po.’ He told me he chose to use just gibberish, knowing he could never invent words or phrases as powerful as what my imagination could summon up. Probably true.” 
 Whether a result of avoiding the censor or the fertile imagination of gifted actors and actresses, such moments remain dramatic and powerful in their own right. Anybody remember any others?

  • Dwayne Epstein
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AUTHOR JPS BROWN DIES

Author JPS Brown has passed away at the age of 90, according to this obit in the Arizona Daily Star. Author JPS Brown was the author of the autobiographical novel, Jim Kane, which was later made into the film, Pocket Money (1972). My interview with him was quite enlightening in terms of the film’s failure and it’s effect on him personally, which went into the pages of Lee Marvin Point Blank. Below is the remainder of that fascinating interview…..

(L-R) Paul Newman as Jim Kane & Lee Marvin as Leonard in the buddy film, POCKET MONEY.




Dwayne: You said you had some thoughts on Lee Marvin. What were they?
JPS Brown: Well, Lee and I met in Tucson, before he started on Pocket Money. We got along well. During Pocket Money, I went out to the set one day. He and I and Paul Newman were sitting and talking and Lee went to sleep. [both laugh] We were sitting in those canvas chairs on the set. Lee was talking away. All of a sudden, we looked over and Lee was sound asleep in his chair [I laugh]….He was always a lot of fun to be around. He always bragged that I was the wildest son-of-a-bitch he ever knew.
D: [laugh] Wow, that’s quite a compliment, coming from him.
J: Coming from him, yeah. He had a lot of fun in his life, Lee did. They let him do everything on Pocket Money that they wouldn’t let him do on Cat Ballou.
D: Such as what?
J: Well, he just kind of over-caricatured himself, I think. He just was having fun. He wasn’t really very serious about the part, I don’t think, or he just had another idea. See the part was for a big Mexican.
D: I’m glad you said that since I haven’t read Jim Kane. What changes were made from the book to the film?
J: I have friends that are fans of the book that saw Pocket Money and never realized it was taken from the book.
D: That’s pretty different. You said Lee Marvin’s character was Mexican?
J: Yeah he was El Gato Canyes, “The Big Cat.” He was my partner for many years. I found out I needed a certain kind of cattle for rodeo and he was down in that rodeo country. He was from northern Sonora. He had helped me a lot down there buying horses and cattle. I hadn’t been down there for awhile and I lost track of him. I got a hold of his family and they told me he was down in the southern end of Sonora. So, I got a hold of him there and met with him down there. He’s the character they tried to base Lee Marvin’s character on. They called him Leonard. I called him The Lion in Jim Kane. So they got Leonard from that. A lot of imagination there, don’t you think? He [Marvin] could have been played a Mexican. He’d done it before….They wanted him to play a white Anglo. They just let him do anything he wanted to he didn’t do on Cat Ballou and he got the Academy Award for Cat Ballou.
D: Did Lee talk to you at all about the character?
J: No, I didn’t want to talk about it. I had taken them all through Mexico looking for locations and we didn’t part friends after we finished that location hunting trip.
D: When you say ‘not part friends,’ are you talking about everybody involved in the film?
J: All the production people.
D: Does that include Lee Marvin?
J: No, no, that didn’t include Lee. Didn’t include Paul Newman, either.
D: Okay. Did you get along with Mr. Newman?
J: Oh, got along very well with him. Very, very well.
D: Wasn’t he who was interested in the property in the first place?
J: That’s right, he and John Foreman. I was on “The Today Show” in New York on the publication date, February 1st, 1970. They were in NY that day. That day they bought the property. They got a hold of my publisher who was Dial Press, and bought it and didn’t tell me about it. I didn’t know about it until 8 months later. John Foreman — it was Newman-Foreman then — John Foreman called me and wanted to know how I was and everything. I said, ‘What’s this about?’ I didn’t know him at all. He said, ‘Well, it’s about your book, Jim Kane.’ I said, ‘What about it?’ He said, ‘We bought it. We own the movie rights to it.’ I said, ‘Well, that’s news to me.’” 
D: [Laughs] How come nobody told you about it?
J: I don’t ..they got to use that money for 6 months, that’s why. The publishers. I have no use for publishers and never have had since then. I continued to sell my books to them but I’ve never seen a cent of earned money. All I’ve ever seen is the advances. I published probably 16 books in New York, 2nd editions and 1st editions and never saw a cent of earned money.
D: That’s a life lesson I’ll keep in mind myself.
J: I’ve completely severed all ties with New York. I’m not even trying to sell anything there anymore.
D: Since the screenplay was credited to Terence Malick, did you have any contact with him?
J: Not one bit. They told me about it later that…you know, John Gay was the first screenwriter. They invited me to the Inn in Booth Bay, Oregon. They were doing Sometimes a Great Notion (1971) and they invited me over there to talk about the script. We had a very nice meeting in the afternoon. I went and took the script with me to my room and they were so wrong. The script was so bad, so wrong and it made me so mad that I kicked the chair and crippled myself for a month [laughs]. He [Gay] never got it and then they fooled with it and they kept fooling with it. I went on several script conferences with them in Hollywood. They never did get in. They’d have production manager [there] who was Paul’s brother, Arthur Newman. He was always there. They had Tammy Larson who was the art director. Both of them had been on the trip to Mexico. They had the stunt coordinator, Jim Arnett….
D: Was Marvin there for any of the story conferences?
J: No, he wasn’t there. Paul didn’t attend the meetings, either. He always sat right within earshot in another room. John Gay was always there, of course. Everybody in the world had something to say, some change they wanted to make in the script everyday. John Gay would have to go home and work all night to get it ready for the next day, and the next day it would be the same thing. None of them had any idea what that book was about. They handed Terry Malick the script when they finally got about halfway through. They handed him a copy of the book, Jim Kane. He said, “Oh no, keep that. I don’t need that. I don’t want it to influence me.” That’s the story that I was told.

Atop a moving freight train, Marvin & Newman have their own conference.


D: Wow, that’s unfortunate. This took place before they started filming, or had filming began? J
: They were making changes while they were filming all the time.
D: I read that Newman/ Marvin had a falling out since Marvin thought it would be more equal but as the film went along, it became more about Newman than Marvin. Is that correct?
J: Well, I didn’t think it did. I never knew anything about anything like that. After they started shooting here in the states, I only went to visit them a couple of times. They called me down. Paul wanted me down there a couple of times and I went down. I never saw anything wrong between them.
D: This may have come out mostly after the film came out. It was Marvin’s take on it.
J: Marvin did the worst job of anybody. He didn’t play the part. He played Lee Marvin.
D: You didn’t care for his characterization?
J: No, I didn’t. I didn’t care for it all. There’s only one Gato Canyes in the world. There’s a wonderful character and nothing about his character…A man that knew the name of every plant, every weed, every grass, every rock. He knew the medicinal capabilities of everything on the range. He knew the mountains like..he lived there in those mountains on horseback. He was a real man. In Pocket Money, here’s the two big gringos on great big stout horses and all the little Mexicans walk to a park like country. Well, up in the mountains in Mexico, everybody goes afoot because the horses and mules can’t go off the trails to get the cattle. The cattle stray off the trail when they’re driving them, they can’t get them back on the trails. They can’t ride off those steep trails. That was the reasons for them being afoot. Here they had them in Pocket Money in a big park like environment with the green grass, you could see a 100 miles in every direction. They’re afoot and the two Anglos are up on big stout horses.
D: Interesting. Because of what you said about the character being Mexican, who did you envision playing the part?
J: Gatos Canyes was just a great, big, course-looking Anthony Quinn. Really. And Anthony Quinn really liked the book. He also liked my book The Forests of the Night.
D: Had you spoken to him about doing Jim Kane?
J: No, but he told friends of mine about it.
D: That would have made a lot of sense…
J: Well, there’s a lot of difference between Anthony Quinn and Lee Marvin but Lee Marvin could have done it.
D: Why do you think he didn’t?
J: Because nobody told him. There wasn’t anybody there to advise him on the part.
D: Do you know if he read the book or not?
J: No I don’t. I never did know and I never asked him.
D: How many days were you there for the filming?
J: Just two days. Once and one evening another time. I saw Lee at a little bar on River Road from time to time. He’d just be there.
D: After the movie, you mean?
J: Yeah. He’d be down there all the time. A cowboy friend of mine lived at his place. He gave a cowboy friend of mine a room in his house.
D: What’s his name?
J: His name’s Bud Stout. He died a few years ago. He knew Lee better than anybody, of us cowpunchers. Bud was the number one cowboy. We partnered a lot.
D: Did you think of Lee for other projects. I don’t know if any other books were made into films so was it just Jim Kane?
J: It was just Jim Kane that made it.
D: Was there talk of other books being made into a film?
J: Oh yeah, my book The Outfit was optioned 5 times. It was optioned by James Garner, optioned by Frank Pierson, optioned by a bunch of Wyoming ranchers, once. The last one was Sam Elliott. He had an option on The Outfit for 22 years.
D: Do you know if Lee drinking during Pocket Money?
J: I didn’t see him drinking, no. That’s what I heard but I didn’t see him doing any of that. D: It’s not uncommon since I read that when Marvin was unhappy with a project or things weren’t going well, that’s usually what he would do…
J: I think I had heard everybody said he was drunk all the time and I didn’t see him drunk. D: There are more stories of him drinking than was actually known. 
J: He acted like he was drunk. Acting crazy all the time on the picture. He acted kind of like a caricature of himself but I don’t think that he was drinking.
D: Did he talk to you about the character he was playing?
J: No, he never did talk about that.
D: What was the conversation you had with him & Newman when Lee fell asleep?
J: They were just asking me about certain things. Mostly it was just small talk. Just sitting there enjoying telling jokes and stuff. We didn’t get into discussion about….I didn’t have anything to with it [the movie]. Paul was always yelling “Get the author, out here! Get the author!” I was long gone from there. I didn’t want any part of it. I had all I wanted when I took them to Mexico.

Marvin & Newman working the cattle in POCKET MONEY.


D: Why were you so fed up & disgusted? Was it because of the way the film turned out or was it the way the film was turning out?
J: I was mostly fed up and disgusted with them by the way they acted when I took them to Mexico. I don’t want to get into it but it was pretty lurid.
D: Are you talking about Marvin & Newman or everybody else?
J: No, no, no. Marvin & Newman didn’t go to Mexico. The production crew. Marty Ritt was the first director chosen. He was the one who went on the Mexican trip.
D: I didn’t know that. Wasn’t it ultimately directed by Stuart Rosenberg?
J: Stuart Rosenberg was the last surviving director
D: How many directors did they go through?
J: I heard Malick also did some directing on it. That’s what I heard. I don’t know if it’s true.
D: Did Ritt quit or get fired?
J: I don’t know. The next thing I knew that had somebody…They didn’t have a director for a while, after Marty. Marty couldn’t have done it. He didn’t get it either, at all.
D: Who was directing it until they got a director? Was it Paul Newman?
J: I think when they finally started, I think Stuart Rosenberg. In preproduction it was a different guy [Ritt].
D: You don’t know why Martin Ritt left?
J: No, not at all. I’m glad he did. Then again maybe he couldn’t have done any worse than it was done.
D: [laughs] Well, he might have done better. He did direct Hud (1963) and a couple of others.
J: He was a good director but he didn’t get it. We were down in Sonora, 400 miles south of the border and we’re driving down a street, a car full of Hollywoods. Marty says, “Joe, what percentage of these people speak Spanish?” I said, “Well, all of them.” Then another time he says, “Joe, we’re going to put real life into your book.” I said, “You’re not going to do anything to my book. My book’s done.” That’s how Marty didn’t get it.
D: Did you meet with Rosenberg?
J: Never. Never met him. I met John Huston on the set of Pocket Money.
D: What was he doing there?
J: I don’t know what he was doing there. They always had a lot of guests. They had Shirley MacLaine when I spent 2 weeks with them up in Oregon when they were shooting Sometimes A Great Notion with Henry Fonda. They always had a lot of guests visiting the set. Shirley MacLaine was there. Sander Vanocur, who had interviewed me on “The Today Show” in New York.
D: Maybe Huston was there because he later directed Newman in Judge Roy Bean.
J: Yeah. I enjoyed him [Huston]. I had a chance to visit with him. Good guy. Just a real regular guy. Very soft-spoken and just himself.
D: Did you run into Marvin in Tucson after the movie?
J: Yeah, at the little bar I told you about. It was on River Road right close to his house. I’d go in there with Bud Stout and visit with him.
D: What was he like in those days?
J: He was a great guy. I thought he was, he was a Marine like I was. We had a lot to talk about.
D: Did he talk to you about his Marine days?
J: Yes he did. I don’t repeat that kind of stuff. There really was not much to repeat because neither one of us did much bragging on that. D: Were you in the war?
J: I was there for the last part of the Korean War, to the Demilitarized Zone in Korea.
D: Wow, that’s some pretty heavy stuff. Did you know Lee’s wife, Pam?
J: I never did meet her. She never was there when I went to his house.
D: You’ve been to his house?
J: Yeah it was close to this little bar.
D: Anything stand out in your mind that Lee Marvin said in conversation?
J: No, not really. It was all just small talk. nothing deep.
D: Did Lee ever talk about his movies?
J: No.
D: What about fishing?
J: No.
D: Is there anything you’d like to add in your thoughts on Lee Marvin?
J: I just thought he was a very regular guy. Somebody that anybody would want as a friend. I believe he was a very loyal friend. Once he liked you, he would always like you. He was not somebody that changed overnight, or by the hour, or anything. What you saw was what you got all the time. He never changed.
D: That’s good to hear. Thanks for your time.
J: Well, you‘re welcome. Hold fast. 

Author JPS Brown. May he rest in peace.

  • Dwayne Epstein
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PAUL NEWMAN IN THE VERDICT: FROM THE ARCHIVES

Paul Newman, a recognized film legend made many a great film but in my opinion his best performance was in The Verdict (1983). Going through my archives recently I rediscovered the review I wrote for the film when I was critic on a paper in southern California. In rereading the review what struck my me most was my use of Newman’s career as a theme within the film and his performance. Pretty impressive for a pretentious young punk, if I do say so myself.
As a matter of fact, the concept of a successful film actor creating a through line of sorts in his canon of work remained in the back of mind for a while and came in handy when working on Lee Marvin Point Blank. Seriously.

Lee as Charlie Strom in THE KILLERS.

As Walker in POINT BLANK.

As Jack Osborne in GORKY PARK.

One need only do a cursory glance at the films and characters in Lee Marvin’s career to see a through line that extends for decades. From Charlie Strom in The Killers to Walker in Point Blank to Jack Osborne in Gorky Park and several others as well, Lee Marvin’s choice of roles has created an impressive link and theme to his work that has lasted to this day. One need only look at the career of any successful actor to see such a link and doing so has always fascinated yours truly. Name an actor with a highly successful film career and there will undoubtedly be a link from their youth to their golden years, if they’ve been lucky enough to have such a lengthy career.
In the case of Paul Newman, I was very proud to see the connection between his character of Tony Lawrence in The Young Philadelphians (1959) and decades later as Frank Galvin in The Verdict. To my mind, it’s the same person just three decades apart. It certainly makes sense since a successful actor is the one who fortunate enough to choose the role he plays based on his interest and personal experience. In the case of actors like Paul Newman and Lee Marvin, those choices clicked with audiences, too, which is what makes them legends.

Poster of Paul Newman’s THE YOUNG PHILADELPHIANS.

Paul Newman in poster for THE VERDICT.

My 1983 review for THE VERDICT.

Following the graphics I chose for this blog is a copy of the review for The Verdict that I rediscovered. Think it holds up with my theory? Be interested in your thoughts.
– Dwayne Epstein

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