LEE MARVIN: IN COLD BLOOD

I recently watched the 1967 classic true-crime thriller In Cold Blood on TCM and it still packs one hell of a wallop. Writer/Director Richard Brooks was at the peak of his game in his stark tale of the horrific murders of the Clutter family at the hands of ex-con drifters Perry Smith (Robert Blake) and Dick Hickox (Scott Wilson). As readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank know, Marvin himself came pretty damned close to being in the film.
How close? From the IMDb: “Lee Marvin wanted the role of Alvin Dewey but director Richard Brooks gave it to John Forsythe instead. Brooks had worked with Marvin on the extremely successful, The Professionals.  but Marvin had proved to be a handful on the set.”

L-R: Veteran character actor James Flavin, Robert Blake, Gerald S. O’loughlin, John Forsythe (in the role Marvin was to play) & Scott Wilson in Richard Brooks’ true crime thriller, IN COLD BLOOD.

I’m not quite sure where the IMDb got its information from but I had interviewed stuntman Tony Epper, who had worked very closely with Brooks and Marvin on The Professionals. His version of why Marvin was not in the film was quite different. While it’s true Marvin and Brooks did not always get along, both men were well aware of each other’s  personality traits and it was Marvin, not Brooks, who did not want to work with the other. Marvin thought of Brooks as a martinet who may have been a military veteran, but having not seen actual combat, he considered Brooks a phony and a bully. Unfortunate really as it was another golden opportunity that Marvin missed in being a part of portraying the horror of violence on film as never seen before at that time.

Lee Marvin as Detective Frank Ballinger on M Squad, or, as I like to think of it, how he would have appeared in the John Forsythe role for IN COLD BLOOD.

Tony Epper: “I’ll tell you what Lee did. I came over and Lee said ‘Go get some of that good wine at the liquor store.’ It was a different label, that’s all. Other than that, after the third drink, you know. Anyway, I get a phone call. I lived down in the valley in those days. It’s Richard. I remember Tommy Shaw, who was the production manager, in those days. He was a good production manager. Anyway, Brooks wanted to get the script of In Cold Blood to Tommy. He had called Tommy and Tommy couldn’t come. I took it, because his wife had a liver problem. That’s where the money went. Anyway, I went over and that’s when Brooks was still with Jean Simmons. He and I were good friends. Nothing but good friends…Anyway, I go in the house and there’s Richard. He says, ‘I want you to do me a big favor.’ I said ‘Do you want me to kill somebody?’ (laughs) He gives me the script. Lots of seals all over it. I stopped by Lee’s with the script and the bottle he wanted. Anyway, this part was Lee’s idea. He saw the sealed script I was to deliver to Shaw, and since he knew Brooks was so paranoid about anybody reading his script, he came up with this idea. He said, ‘Let’s just break the seal before giving it to Shaw.’ I asked Lee if he wanted to read it first. We never read it, just broke the seal. Brooks, until the day he died, kept asking me if we had ever read the script to In Cold Blood. I think that’s why he changed his mind about offering the role to Lee.”
– Dwayne Epstein

IN COLD BLOOD writer/director Richard Brooks (behind the camera) and cinematographer Conrad Hall behinds Brooks.

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THE PROFESSIONALS (1966): ONE OF LEE MARVIN’S BEST

TCM will be airing writer/director Richard Brooks’ The Professionals(1966) today at 8pm EST (5pm PST), one of Lee Marvin’s best and over time, least appreciated films. Within the genre of action films it is without question one of the best of its kind, with several Oscar nominations to its credit to prove it. The dialogue is smart and witty, the plot filled with unexpected twists, the performances are all top notch and the efforts behind the camera are equally impressive. From Conrad Hall’s eye-filling photography to Maurice Jarre’s rousing score, everything clicks.
Readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank know the depth, challenges and ultimate rewards that went into the film’s production. I was fortunate enough to interview co-stars Woody Strode, Jack Palance, stuntman Tony Epper and production manager Phil Parslow, who have all since passed on. They’re exclsuive tales of making the classic are eye-opening and gvie no small amount of credit to Marvin himself. Whether taking it upon himself to keep the film’s guns clean in the unpredictable desert conditions, or ensuring co-star Woody Strode recieved proper credit, Marvin’s contribution can not be overestimated. So, in honor of its hopeful rediscovery, check out some of the rare graphics below…

(L-R) Title cast members Woody Strode, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan and Burt Lancaster watch unobtrusively as Jack Palance and his revolutioniaries attack a federal troop train.

(L-R) Title cast members Woody Strode, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan and Burt Lancaster watch unobtrusively as Jack Palance and his revolutioniaries attack a federal troop train.

Sweating it out on the film's location in Nevada's Valley of Fire.

Sweating it out on the film’s location in Nevada’s Valley of Fire.

Lee Marvin's opening scene in which, according to producer, Phil Parslow, was the only time he filmed a scene drunk in the entire movie, despite many stories to the contrary.

Lee Marvin’s opening scene in which, according to producer, Phil Parslow, was the only time he filmed a scene drunk in the entire movie, despite many stories to the contrary.

Back when movie theaters offered souvenir programs for certain films, the page highlighting Marvin's background stated in typical ballyhoo fashion that he decided to become an actor while convalescing from his war wounds. LEE MARVIN: POINT BLANK readers know better.

Back when movie theaters offered souvenir programs for certain films, the page highlighting Marvin’s background stated in typical ballyhoo fashion that he decided to become an actor while convalescing from his war wounds. LEE MARVIN: POINT BLANK readers know better.

Original print ad from the film's pressbook highlighting the film's critical response.

Original print ad from the film’s pressbook highlighting the film’s critical response.

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The PROFESSIONALS’ PHIL PARSLOW: THE TRUTH ABOUT LEE MARVIN’S DRINKING

In researching Lee Marvin: Point Blank, I quickly discovered how much misinformation and half-truths were still in existence concerning the actor’s life and work. One of the most persistent concerned his drinking. Yes, the man did indeed drink and several important interview sources were willing to go on the record about it. What he didn’t do, as has so often been incorrectly written, was imbibe a great deal while working. Not an uncommon phenomon for most alcoholics, by the way, as work is usally the last thing to suffer due to drinking.
Case in point is one of Marvin’s best films and performances, The Professionals (1966). Exisiting print data are overflowing with tales of Marvin’s drinking ruining the film, as quoted from such unreliable sources as Michele Triola, or cohorts of writer/director Richard Brooks. I was lucky enough to interview several key particpants of the film and each of them said the opposite. The fact that Marvin did not personally like Brooks because of the way he treated people, goes a long way in explaining the stretching of that particular misnomer. However, stuntman Tony Epper, costar Woody Strode and most important of all, production assistant, Phil Parslow, all attested to Marvin’s professionalism and the ridiculosuness of the rumors. I interviewed the late Phil Parslow in May of 1995 and found his anecdotes both honest and forthcoming.
Parslow Parlsow had many responsibilites on the film, both credited and not. Chiefly, it was up to him to make sure everyone required to work on a given a day made it to the set ready to work. As he told me at the time when I asked about the famous Robin Hood Party (pp.164-165, p. 218): “I was the only one from production to show up because Richard Brooks and (assitant director) Tom Shaw used to spike their phone so they could work on the script all night undisturbed. It was my job to handle any problems that came up.” Consequently, many of the tales concerning Marvin’s behavior proved more fiction than fact as neither Brooks nor Shaw were present for it. As Parslow said in this transcript of my talk on the specific question of Marvin’s drinking:
Dwayne: Was Lee’s drinking a problem?

Phil: Actually, Lee was great the entire time accept for the very last day of shooting. The last day he didn’t make the gate. We were doing the opening scene where he’s demonstrating the machine gun and we couldn’t find him anywhere. That was the only time he messed up. I couldn’t find him and then at noon he ambled on to the set drunk and embarrassed. We finally got the shot and he wa˛s really apologetic but that was the only time his drinking was a problem.

D: I’m finding out that was the typical way he worked which is not uncommon for a an alcoholic.

P: I know that’s true because both of my parents were alcoholics. I’d rather work with a drunk than a drug user any day. Drunks are very predictable and you know what to expect. Drug users forget it. You never knew what to expect. I’ll say this for Lee – He very seldom missed a line. He could do what we called ‘sight read’ which means read it once and have it down. I used to make bets with people about that and damned if everybody didn’t go up on their lines but Lee. He was amazing that way. He amazed everybody with that. He would drink all night and sipped all day but it never effected his work. He was always able to do the work.

 

Parslow also showed Marvin and Lancaster’s more generous side via this unused anecodote:

Parslow in The Professionals

 

Dwayne: What was the shoot like?

Phil: I’ll tell you a funny story about that. Brooks had an actor that was supposed to do a scene but he didn’t for some reason. I didn’t want to, but Richard wanted me as a last minute replacement. I was nervous about messing up in front off Brooks. The scene where Lancaster comes in shackled while he spoke to Marvin, I undid the shackles and was supposed to say, “You can have him.” Well, I fumbled with the lock and we had to do several takes. When Brooks started in on me about it, Marvin spoke up on my behalf first, saying it wasn’t my fault. Burt then did it by saying the lock was causing problems. They were god guys that way.

There you have it, as witnessed by those who were there, such as Phil Parslow’s previously unsued quotes and those even more meaningful quoted that did go in the book. Lee Marvin may not have been an angel but he was far from the devil.

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