THE EPSTEIN BROTHERS: A VETERANS DAY TRIBUTE

The Epstein brothers, consisting of my dad Morris (“Moishe” to family and friends) and his two older brothers, Hank and Dave, emigrated from Poland in the late 1930s just in time to avoid the Nazis and the Warsaw Ghetto. All three of them proudly served in the U.S. military during WWII, hence this Veterans Day tribute to all of them.

My father (cute little guy in the front), his older brother Hank (right), his oldest brother Dave (behind my dad), their mother Lillian (right) and unidentified relative (left) pictured a few years before emigrating to America.

Probably seems odd at the very least, or out of the place at the worst in a blog devoted mostly to Lee Marvin Point Blank, but since I’ve posted so much about the Marvins and their service to their country in previous posts, I though it only fair to dedicate this post to the Epstein brothers for this Veterans Day.

My uncle Dave’s passport photo.

My uncle Hank’s passport photo.

Not quite Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, but all three Epstein brothers did their part as Polish Jews fighting back the Nazi threat. I heard fascinating stories from all of them growing up but my cousin Alan, my uncle Dave’s son, recently gave me permission to recount what I consider the most interesting details of his father’s service, as well as mentioning my uncle Hank and my father:

My uncle Dave shortly after being inducted just before the start of WWII, hence the WWI surplus uniform.

“He was one of the first batch to get drafted, they all were issued WW1 uniforms and equipment. He was stateside for awhile and then shipped out to Iceland to relieve the US Marines (for duty in the South Pacific) and English soldiers who went back to England expecting an invasion. Eventually he was sent to England for the buildup of troops and supplies for the Invasion of France. He was in the 3rd armored division (assigned to a Half-Track), this was attached the 1st army under General Hodges.
He landed at Omaha beach, Normandy in June 1944 and went on past the secured beach and into the area up from the beach called “Hedgerow” country, very heavy undergrowth, French called it “the Bocage region”, the greenery dates from Roman times. The bushes and trees were impenetrable and filled with Germans after they were pushed off the beach…. snipers, tanks and any weapon available. … After they broke out of this fighting they continued through France …the 1st army was then ordered to Bastogne, Belgium immediately by Patton, to rescue the trapped 101st airborne division.
This was the so called “Battle of the Bulge”, they were counterattacked by the Germans who pushed through. On a map it looked like a bulge. The Germans were beaten back but the fighting in The Ardennes forest around Bastogne was awful, also the coldest European winter in 50 years and the largest ground battle in American history. When the German Panzer tanks rolled in early in the morning, they ran over the the tents with sleeping GI’s, as told by my dad. 
Sorry about all the words but it HAS BEEN OVER SEVENTY YEARS and I wanted to do at least this!”

My Uncle Hank (wearing a cap and kneeling bottom left) with other members of the flight crew of his plane, Shoo-Shoo Baby.

My father’s brothers were involved too. Hank was a gunner on a B24 Liberator based in Foggia, Italy. Cerignola was a nearby city which housed another bomber squadron, one of the pilots was George McGovern, they sometimes did missions together and always requested the “Homestead Grays,” the all-black Mustang fighter escort, “Tuskegee airmen.”

My father, pfc. Morris Epstein of the U.S. Constabulary Force on his way home from Europe.

(L-R): Hank Epstein, Goldie Epstein (my uncle Dave’s wife) and Dave Epstein, pose on the roof of their Brooklyn apt. as they were both on leave during the war.

His kid brother Moishe [my dad] was a tank driver and MP, one of the white helmeted MPs at the Nuremburg trials. My mom’s brother Sid was part of the occupation army in Japan.

My cousin Alan, following in his father’s footsteps in the early 1970s. His skill as a medical sketch artist kept him from being shipped overseas to Vietnam just before his unit shipped out. Talk about timing!

I thank my cousin Alan for permission to use what he wrote and most of all, I thank my father and his brothers for their service to their country on this Veterans Day. I’m sure most families have similar tales and are equally proud, so I’m just sharing a little of the Epstein brothers’ dedication and patriotism on this important day. Not much but I think worth sharing. To one and all I just want to add happy Veterans Day!
– Dwayne Epstein

The male legacy of my dad and his brothers:
(L-R) Me, my uncle Hank’s son Steve, and my uncle Dave’s son, Alan, reunited at Tribeca 92nd St Y for a Lee Marvin Point Blank book signing about six years ago. Or, as Alan said of this photo, “look at the three old farts in glasses.”

Share

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD….THERE WAS ALSO LEE MARVIN

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the latest opus from favorite contemporary filmmaker, Quentin Tarantino, was anxiously awaited by yours truly like a kid awaits the end of the school year and the start of summer vacation. Seriously. Everything I had read and seen about it had me practically drooling in anticipation. Then I watched it.

(L-R) Brad Pitt as Cliff Booth and Leonardo DiCaprio as Rick Dalton leaning against the facade of Hollywood’s famed Egyptian Theater.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad picture, at all. It’s just that I guess my anticipation of it, had me expecting  more.
There’s also much to recommend. My family and I moved to California from New York in 1968 so I’m familiar with what the southern California scene of 1969 was like in those days. Tarantino’s re-creation of that time and place is something to marvel at throughout the film. Whether it’s the bus benches advertising Hobo Kelly, or the brief TV moment showing late night L.A. horror host Seymour, it brought back nostalgic childhood memories for yours truly.
Most of the performances in Once Upon a Time In Hollywood are also uniformly excellent. A true standout is Brad Pitt as the laconic stunt double and gopher to Leonardo DiCaprio’s fading TV star.
I say ‘most’ performances as some of them are downright strange. The film is peppered with cameos of real-life individuals and some are just strange. An actor playing Bruce Lee challenges Pitt to a fight in one of my favorite scenes and one of the most controversial in its portrayal of the legendary martial artist.
In another sequence, British Actor Damian Lewis makes a brief appearance as Steve McQueen at a party at the Playboy Mansion in a performance that can best be described as bizarre. While there is a resemblance, in speaking with McQueen biographer Marshall Terrill, we both agreed that the speech pattern Lewis invokes is just plain weird. He may have been trying to mask his British accent but the result is nothing like McQueen. Bizarre.
So, what is it about the film that received a six minute standing ovation when it premiered at the Cannes Film festival that I have a problem saying that it’s truly great? Simply put, the main character played by DiCaprio is just not worthy of much sympathy and being the central focus of the film, it’s the key factor keeping me from loving the film. Hate to say it but it’s true.
I won’t give away any more as I hate when writers do that sort of thing. Suffice to say, I’ll probably see it on DVD, if only to see again my Lee Marvin Point Blank interview subject, Clu Gulager as an aging Westwood bookstore owner. Until then, I wonder why such a big Lee Marvin fan as Tarantino left Lee Marvin out of the film when he was big box office in 1969. How big?  Check out Lee Marvin Point Blank to find that out. In the mean time….
-Dwayne Epstein

Share

POSSIBLE LEE MARVIN BIOPIC DIRECTORS? PART II

Once again we delve into the realm of possible Lee Marvin biopic directors. I had some interesting suggestions from Part I of this blog that not only took me by surprise, but impressed me with how knowledgeable some film fans are when it comes to contemporary directors. Some were posted in the comment section — where I prefer to see such suggestions — others were posted on social media.
One such example was Alejandro González Iñárritu, of Birdman and Revenant fame. As Facebook friend Michael Knight put it, “He can handle suffering, internal demons, get a real performance out of whoever the actor will be.” I had not thought of him as a one of the possible Lee Marvin biopic directors but he’s a fascinating prospect to consider, nontheless. The other choices on my list are below and I’m sure they’ll infuriate some as well come as no surprise to others. As the author of Lee Marvin Point Blank, your picks, ideas and suggestions may differ but they are certainly welcome. So, when it comes to possible Lee Marvin biopic directors…..

Jim McBride:

Director Jim McBride shown on set during the filming of 1987's THE BIG EASY.

Director Jim McBride shown on set during the filming of 1987’s THE BIG EASY.

Not as widely known or lauded as some other directors, I happen to think he’s one of the best and has been sadly neglected for too long. If you don’t believe me just rent or watch some of his work, such as his remake of Breathless in which Richard Gere has NEVER been better. Then there’s his films with Dennis Quaid, both The Big Easy, and the amazing style exhibited in his bizarre Jerry Lee Lewis biopic, Great Balls of Fire. McBride has a terrific rock & roll sensibility in these films but can also ratchet up the tension when he has to do it. I don’t know if he’d even be interested in such a project but I for one would love it if he was!

Robert Rodriguez:

Robert Rodriguez is no longer a Rebel Without a Crew, as he titled his autobiography, but a a multi-talented filmmaker and musician who recently launched his own cable network, El Rey!

Robert Rodriguez is no longer a Rebel Without a Crew, as he titled his autobiography, but a a multi-talented filmmaker and musician who recently launched his own cable network, El Rey!

He may seem an odd choice on the surface but after recently watching Desperado again, as well as El Mariachi and even Once Upon a Time in Mexico (can you tell I’m a fan?) I think he would be a wonderful choice. As pretty much every director on this list is proof of, Rodriguez has his own visual style and is a visionary of sorts when it comes to storytelling technique. They themselves may say otherwise, but the best directors never just tell their tale straight out. Whether through flashbacks, circular narratives, camera tricks, or what-have-you, great directors have a picture in their head they plan to see put on screen that they hope the audience will connect with and ultimately appreciate, especially on a visceral level. There may be no better example of that than Rodriguez. Granted, his quirky subject matter and personal background may not seem suitable to a Lee Marvin biopic, but then again, neither did John Ford’s. After all, what right does a a first generation Irish, New Hampshire sailor, have making the greatest westerns of all time? Put that way, I think Rodriguez would be perfect.

 

Zack Snyder:

A very young looking 50-year-old Zack Snyder happily at work.

A very young looking 50-year-old Zack Snyder happily at work.

No on is more surprised to see Snyder’s name on this list than I am. Especially true in lieu of the fact that I constantly rail against the  blockbuster comic book movie epidemic. Snyder, as producer and/or director, has been and will be over the next few years, responsible (or to blame) for the film versions of my favorite DC characters from childhood. Reason enough to hate him, of course, excpet for one redeeming project that puts him on this list. Back in the 80s, I briefly resurrected my fervor for comic books due mostly to Frank Miller’s Dark Knight and Gibbons & Moore’s The Watchmen. The film stealing the title Dark Knight, directed by Christopher Nolan, bore no resemblance to Miller’s opus. The Watchmen, however, was a different story. Not only was it surprisingly faithful to the source material (more so in fact than most film adaptions), it was a very well done and engrossing film with its own merits. I for one was more than pleasantly surprised. Even the opening was not only faithful (and amazingly brutual), for all of its onscreen fight scene wizardry, I could follow the events as they unfolded! The controversy surrounding Snyder’s recent efforts aside, I think he would be perfect candidate to take on the challenge of a Lee Marvin biopic. May have to start another franchise: Hollywood biopics, by the numbers.
I kid.

Steven Spielberg:

Guess who. Oh, and his Lee Marvin connection? Besides unsuccessfully begging him to costar in JAWS, his biggest flop film, 1941, included a small role for Marvin cohort Sam Fuller and a sleazy hollywood agent named..wait for it....Meyer Mishkin.

Guess who.
Oh, and his Lee Marvin connection? Besides unsuccessfully begging him to costar in JAWS, his biggest flop film, 1941, included a small role for Marvin cohort Sam Fuller and a sleazy hollywood agent named..wait for it….Meyer Mishkin.

Yeah, I know. He is the most successful filmmaker in history, and as I always said, became such on the backs of successful films made for 14 year old boys. If that sounded cheap and sleazy, then so be it. For most of my movie going life I not only was not a fan of his films I truly reviled him. Then an interesting metamorphis took place as he seemed to pass thru his late life puberty. He and his films discovered some late life adult themes. Beginning with The Color Purple, and coming into full flower with Schindler’s List, Spielberg miraculously got on an obvious soapbox of decrying man’s inhumanity to man, albeit, with blatant manipulations on full display. Seriously, was the curtian call of cast members and survivors really needed at the end of Schindler’s List? Was he that insecure in his ability to let the story speak for itself? Geez! Okay, I digressed a bit far from the subject. The point is, having spouted all that vitriol the obvious question becomes why is Spielberg on this list? Three little words changed the ball game for me:  Saving Private Ryan. In the immortal words of Stan Lee, “‘Nuff said!”

Quentin Tarantino:

Quentin Tarantino, quite possibly the most equally beloved and despised director working in films today.

Quentin Tarantino, quite possibly the most equally beloved and despised director working in films today.

If you haven’t noticed yet, I’ve been leaning toward a certain kind of director when it comes to the idea of a Lee Marvin biopic. The director I speak of would be telling the tale from not only a certain persepective but an emphasis on a certain aspect of Marvin’s life.  Let me put it another way. I have been lucky enough to have my book praised by several highly respected people in the industry and two of the best writers working, in both film and television, have told me the same thing. They were both impressed with the book and told me individually that if a film were to be made of it, the most marketable aspect would be the palimony suit. They believe it’s what Marvin is most remebered for. I respect their opinion, obviously, but as far as I’m concerned he SHOULD be remembered for creating the modern American cinema of violence. Enter Quentin Tarantino. Love him or hate him — and there are many in both camps — he owes a sizeable debt to Marvin’s cinematic labors and what better way to pay it back then with a well-made Marvin biopic? After all, “I bet your a big Lee Marvin fan, aren’t you? Me too. I love that guy.”

Kathryn Bigelow:

Kathryn Bigelow, the first woman to win a Best Director Oscar, a well-deserved win for THE HURT LOCKER (2010).

Kathryn Bigelow, the first woman to win a Best Director Oscar, a well-deserved win for THE HURT LOCKER (2010).

And, to make it a baker’s Dirty Dozen, I include Ms. Bigelow. No, it’s not because she’s a woman and I’m pandering to tokenism. Far from it. Nor is it because she brilliantly directed such recent hits as The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. Well, maybe that’s part of it. Okay, truth be told it’s a big part of it. She totally understands the mindset of the soldier in combat and much more importantly, as a filmmaker, she is able to convey that mindset to the audience. She does it without a soapbox or the  obvious condenscension one might expect. To put in the proper persective, when I was researching the effects of PTSD for my Lee Marvin bio, I came across an interview Bigelow did while promoting The Hurt Locker. In it, she made this statement: “War’s dirty little secret is that some men love it. I’m trying to unpack why, to look at what it means to be a hero in the context of 21st-century combat.” I was so impressed with that comment I temporarily named a pivotal chapter “A Dirty Little Secret” while the book was still being researched. In other words, she gets it, quite possibly even better than most, but she definitely gets it.  I think even Marvin himself would be impressed. After all, despite his bad ass screen image he had no problem being directed by a woman, in his case it was pioneering Actress/Director Ida Lupino.

Okay, all that said, I believe anyone kind enough to have taken the time to have read this blog entry, probably has their own opinon of a Lee Marvin biopic and who should direct it. If that’s the case, let me hear it. Enquiring minds want to know….

Share