SERGEANT RYKER: WHAT YOU PROBABLY DIDN’T KNOW

Sergeant Ryker was a 1968 theatrical release for Lee Marvin but if you think it looks like it was made a few years earlier, you would be right. It’s just one of several aspects of this strangely intriguing, yet at the same time, run-of-the-mill production.

Cover art for SERGEANT RYKER’s VHS release, borrowed from the theatrical release.

Why does it ‘look’ like it was made earlier? The original production was a 1963 two-part TV episode pilot of the Kraft Theatre originally titled The Case Against Paul Ryker, which is an infinitely more apt title than the theatrical title or the poster above. By 1968, Marvin was already grayer, craggier, and an Oscar-winning superstar. Making a film with such a macho sounding title sounded like a sure bet at the box-office. Only problem was it was a court-room drama, NOT a macho war movie.
To be fair, it’s TV-movie trapping aside, it’s a well done story. Marvin is Ryker, already found guilty of conspiring with the enemy  — in this case the North Koreans — and is awaiting the hangman. New evidence may prove his claim of being on a secret mission behind enemy lines to be true, but the only officer who knew of the mission has died. A new trial is ordered and the truth may or may not finally come out. It begs the question, is Ryker an unrecognized hero or an undeniable traitor?  Cool premise, huh?
The production boasts a terrific ensemble for its day, including Vera Miles as Ryker’s wife, the criminally underrated Bradford Dillman as Ryker’s lawyer, Peter Graves as the prosecutor, Murray Hamilton as a sleazy associate, venerable Lloyd Nolan as Dillman’s commanding officer and the always less than cheerful Norman Fell as a put-upon corporal.
Those are the plusses. On the minus side of the ledger, the production values are strictly from hunger. Even as a 1963 TV show it looks pretty bad. I can’t imagine what it must have looked like on the big screen. It’s style is so nondescript, costar Norman Fell didn’t even remember being in it when I asked him about it back in the 90s.
He did, however, remember a similar project that was made for TV but later released theatrically. He worked with Marvin in The Killers and he is quoted extensively about it in Lee Marvin Point Blank, THAT was a much memorable experience, as far as he was concerned.
Pity the poor moviegoer of 1968 who wanted to see Lee Marvin in a ‘new’ release with a typical rock-em-sock-em sounding title like Sergeant Ryker, only to be treated to a TV courtroom drama (!)

A page from the SERGEANT RYKER pressbook in which Universal attempted to promote the project cinematically.

 

There is one other interesting aspect to the film if one ever gets around to watching it. Veteran director Buzz Kulik told me a great anecdote concerning Lee Marvin and the filming of the project. It didn’t make the cut as far as my book was concerned, but was brought to life on the pages of this blog a while ago.

Screen capture of Lee Marvin (head on desk) with Bradford DIllman from that ‘moment” Buzz Kulik described.

The advent of home video, cable TV, and now other digital media platforms, makes the likelihood of such a phenomenon near impossible today, thankfully. However, the sense of being ripped-off by Hollywood on occasion may never go away. I point to the plethora of superhero moves being cranked out as a prime example.
Want to know about some other less than savory doings that took place behind the scenes during the 1960s and 1970? There’s the time the time Lee Marvin was duped by a gay producer for starters. For that read Lee Marvin Point Blank.

Share

150 YEARS AFTER THE REAL RAID AT ST. ALBANS

October 18th 2014 (through the 21st), marks the 150th anniversary of a strange, largely forgotten event of The Civil War that was the basis of one of Lee Marvin’s earliest film roles. The 1954 film The Raid headlined Van Heflin, Anne Bancroft, Richard Boone, Peter Graves and a 4th billed Lee Marvin in the true story of events of St. Albans, Vermont. Advertised with the following posters, the Hollywood filmmakers clearly emphasized action over reality….

One of two ads from the pressbook for THE RAID with Lee Marvin depicted in the bottom left corner.

One of two ads from the pressbook for THE RAID with Lee Marvin depicted in the bottom left corner.

 

A second and much more descriptive ad from THE RAID pressbook.

A second and much more descriptive ad from THE RAID pressbook.

 

 

A point of authenticty emphasized in THE RAID's advertising

A point of authenticty emphasized in THE RAID’s advertising

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

According to St. Albans website, “The story of the attack on St. Albans starts in Kentucky, birthplace of both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. Kentucky did not secede and tried to remain neutral, but thousands chose sides. John Morgan, together with his five brothers, organized Morgan’s Raiders which made lightning strikes against Union depots and supply lines. Many of the raiders were captured, imprisoned at Camp Douglas at Chicago, some escaping into Canada.

These Morgan’s Raiders were given a warm welcome at the Confederate headquarters in Montreal. What could they do now to advance the rebel cause? They decided to attack northern cities, hoping to boost Southern morale, cause panic in the North, draw Yankee troops to the Canadian border, avenge destruction inflicted by Union armies, help defeat Lincoln as he sought re-election a few weeks later, create tension between Great Britain and the Union, and rob banks.
Bennett Young, 21, emerged as the group’s leader, the charismatic son of a wealthy Kentucky milliner who also owned a plantation with dozens of slaves. Young checked out St. Albans before deciding that this would be the first target. When he noted the busy railroad shop and foundry downtown, he knew that their getaway had to be fast.
Young then chose those who would accompany him on the raid. Twenty others infiltrated into St. Albans in groups of two and three, most arriving by train, representing themselves as vacationers, sportsmen, and horse traders. Each had been supplied with a concealed pistol, then registered at one of the three hotels and awaited Tuesday, Oct. 18, to attack. The schedule was changed after they discovered that Tuesday was market day, when people from the area flocked into the city.
That Wednesday, at 3 p.m., Confederates invaded the three banks as others rounded up horses or forced pedestrians onto the city’s green. The local people were stunned. They must be robbers, some assumed. How could rebels be so far north? One bank clerk was compelled to raise his right hand and swear allegiance to the Confederate States of America. In another bank two employees were locked in the vault after the raiders had boasted that they would soon burn the city down. The banks yielded a total of $208,000.
The commotion on Main Street came to the attention of the workmen nearby. As the raiders rode away on stolen horses they tossed “Greek fire” incendiaries at the stores, most of which did not ignite. A posse was soon in pursuit, helped by a trail of bank notes that fell from one of the money bags. The raiders managed to cross back into Canada where most of them, including Young, were rounded up. A lengthy legal battle followed in Montreal until the war ended and the case was dropped. Young went on to become a lawyer, author, railroad executive, and honorary general of the Confederate War Veterans. He was a featured speaker at the Gettysburg Reunion on its 50th anniversary.”

The actual perpetrators of the raid on the city of St. Albans, Vermont.

The actual perpetrators of the raid on the city of St. Albans, Vermont.

 

Pressbook summary of the plot of THE RAID.

Pressbook summary of the plot of THE RAID.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The "Greek Fire" depicted in the film that the pressbook touted for its historical accuracy.

The “Greek Fire” depicted in the film that the pressbook touted for its historical accuracy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As for the real events in the town of St. Albans, they marked it with the following sign at the bottom of this post…..

Commerative marker in the town of St. Albans, Vermont.

Commerative marker in the town of St. Albans, Vermont.

Share