‘FEUD’S ROBERT ALDRICH, JOAN CRAWFORD & LEE MARVIN

From the NY Times, March 12, 2016: After a tough day shooting “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?,” director Robert Aldrich complains to his wife (Molly Price) that his two stars — Bette Davis and Joan Crawford — have ganged up on him, undermining his power on the set. He seethes that Jack Palance and Lee Marvin would never have resorted to such maneuvers. His wife replies flatly: “They don’t have to. They’re men.”

The original cast of “Feud” (L-R): Bette Davis, Jack Warner, Joan Crawford and Robert Aldrich.

That line is one of the points of this week’s episode of “Feud: Bette and Joan.” The show so far is at its best when it examines the different ways in which power operates, and the different ways in which power is perceived. As Aldrich’s wife observes, when men fight for something (or fight with one another), it’s perceived as business as usual. When women fight, they’re perceived as being difficult, petty, or “catty.”

I’ve been fascinated with this original cable series and the Lee Marvin reference in the second episode got me to thinking. In Lee Marvin Point Blank readers are fully aware of the connection between Lee Marvin and Robert Aldrich. He directed Lee in 3 different decades and the films Attack! (1956), The Dirty Dozen (1967) and Emperor of the North (1973) are fully explored. However, there’s one anecdote from Attack! costar Eddie Albert that shows a side of Aldrich not yet mentioned on the series that portrays him as rather dominated and put-upon. From my interview with the late, great Eddie Albert:

Director Robert Aldrich’s ATTACK! co-stars Lee Marvin and the ‘late’ William Smithers.

“I remember one thing about him. We were just starting Attack! We had rehearsed for a week. I think it was a Monday and we were all there. But the kid from New York, I’ve forgotten his name…he was a leading part. He played the main solider. …William Smithers! Anyway, he was about 15-20 minutes late and Aldrich didn’t say anything. Tuesday came and he was 20 minutes late again. Aldrich said, ‘I want to have a conference.’ He said, ‘Now, this is very difficult. We have problems. We have all got to work together…’ He went on very beautifully and then stopped, pointed to the actor and yelled, ‘Now you cocksuckers that come in late, I am going to kick the shit right out of you!’ I never heard him explode like that. The kid was never late again. ‘I’ll run your ass right out of this town…!’

To my knowledge, Marvin never encountered Jack Warner but he did almost work with Bette Davis on a film called Bunny O’ Hare (1971that was made instead with his frequent costar, Ernest Borgnine.
However, he did have a memorable run-in with Joan Crawford. According to Lee’s first wife, Betty Marvin, who had worked for Crawford as her nanny (the Mommie Dearest stories are true, by the way), the run-in took place at the premiere of Lee’s film, Raintree County (1957). In Betty’s own words:

“At the the premiere Lee and I were lined up. Big joke in those days. So there we were, and who’s behind us? Joan Crawford. She, in her wonderfull style, looks right through me… Because Lee was like the next big star on the horizon and on, and on..The next day, comes this script. I thought, “Oh isn’t this interesting.” She wants him to co-star in her next film and would he please read the script and set up an appointment at MCA. I said to myself, ‘Here we go.’ She calls. Talks right through me. ‘Is Lee there? Why don’t you come over. We’ll go over the script in my office and read it together.’ He said, ‘Okay.’ He left about one o’clock. You know, I was a young wife. It made me very uncomfortable.

Newlyweds Betty and Lee Marvin around the time Lee was offered a ‘role’ opposite Betty’s former employer, Joan Crawford.

What’s going on here? The whole afternoon, it was difficult for me. When he came back, he was laughing. I said, ‘How did he go? Are you going to co-star with Joan Crawford?’ He said, ‘Oh, hardly.’ I asked if he read the script. He was a very slow reader, as I told you. He had went into a room with the script and she was waiting. After about two hours, she said, ‘Well?’ He said, ‘Listen, it takes a long time to get through this crap.’ Once again, you know? He was like Give me a break.’ Oh she was livid! That was Lee’s lovely way. And I’m not saying out of respect for me. He didn’t like her crappy script because she was doing a lot of garbage.”

Share

FOR MEMORIAL DAY: MY INTERVIEW W/ EDDIE ALBERT ON ATTACK!

The tag lines aside, the powerful artwork spoke volumes for the film ATTACK!

The tag lines aside, the powerful artwork spoke volumes for the film ATTACK!

This being Memorial Day Weekend, I can think of no better way to honor it’s true meaning then to highlight a film in Lee Marvin’s canon of work that has been sadly overlooked for decades. I wrote about it, of course, in the pages of Lee Marvin Point Blank, but it could still use some more overdue attention. Based on the play “Fragile Fox” (the film’s working title, by the way) director/producer Robert Aldrich’s Attack! (1956) may be the first film to daringly question the abilities of American military commanders.
Not an easy movie to sit through, I grant you, but it’s certainly worth the effort. A stellar cast, led by Jack Palance (in a rare turn as a hero), the stand-out, Oscar-worthy performance really belongs to Eddie Albert in the thankless role of a cowardly officer. Albert was actually a hero in WWII but didn’t care to talk about it, understandably. Prior to his passing in 2005 (at the ripe old age of 99!) I was fortunate enough to interview him at his home back in 1997. Below is the unpublished portion of that interview in which he elaborates further on the experience of working on Aldrich’s Attack!….

Another great example of the ad campaign for ATTACK!

Another great example of the ad campaign for ATTACK!

Dwayne: Do you remember the Robert Aldrich film, Attack!?
Eddie: Oh yeah. Oh my god, he was so fucking wonderful. Geez, he was good. That was a few years later. He was … he should have gotten…well, we all should have gotten something for that.
D: You especially. You were great in that film. Let me show you something real quick. Sometimes seeing photos can bring back memories. This is a book that came about Robert Aldrich’s a few years ago [shows him pix]. Right there is you and the back of Marvin’s head…

The photo from the book "What Ever Happened to Robert Aldrich" I showed to Eddie Albert that jogged his memory.

The photo from the book “What Ever Happened to Robert Aldrich” I showed to Eddie Albert that jogged his memory.

E: [looking] Oh yeah. And that son-of-a-bitch, the other guy, he was a giant. Wasn’t he great?
D: Palance?
E: Yeah. God, he was good. He was kind of a new kid at the time. He came out of the mines of Pennsylvania somewhere. [Laughs] But man….I was sick the whole time because I had to…I had just come from the war and I had a bad time during the war….I had to talk myself into that I was a coward, which will make you sick. All day, like the master at that time..the other guy, what was his name?
D: Jack Palance?
E: Yeah, he was a master. He whipped himself to such a hatred against me. Really, he did.
D: That could be pretty frightening. So, it made you more of a coward in your part.
E: Yes, but he had no intention of holding his punch, either So, I’d put a foot out like that [demonstrates] because I was ready to move if he made the slightest move. I was going to get out of there. It was that close. I had nothing but admiration for that guy. I think he was one of the most individual actors that I have ever seen. Jack, I’m talking about. Now, going back to our friend Marvin here, he was totally in charge. He was always in charge. He had done his homework.
D: Do you remember the two big scenes you had with him in the movie?

Lee Marvin (left) goes over the attack plan with Eddie Albert (right).

Lee Marvin (left) goes over the attack plan with Eddie Albert (right).

E: I can’t think of anything special about that but every time I saw him, he had grown tremendously in charge of the peculiarities of acting. He had a wonderful voice. [looks at Aldrich book] I never saw this book about him. I did about four pictures with him. I loved him.
E: What was he like? What kind of man was he?

A rare photo from the film's pressbook showing director Aldrich (left) instructing actor Eddie Albert (right).

A rare photo from the film’s pressbook showing director Aldrich (left) instructing actor Eddie Albert (right).

E: He knew acting. He selected us [Marvin & Albert] all the time with several other guys he could count on…I forgot all the things I did with him. I remember one thing about him. We were just starting Attack! We had rehearsed for a week. I think it was a Monday and we were all there. But the kid from New York, I’ve forgotten his name…he was a leading part. He played the main soldier.
D: William Smithers?
E: That could be. Anyway, he was about 15-20 minutes late and Aldrich didn’t say anything. Tuesday came and he was 20 minutes late again. Aldrich said, “I want to have a conference.” He said to everyone gathered the importance of being on time. Then, looking right at Smithers, he said, “Now, this is very important: if you are ever late again, I’ll run your ass right out of this town…”
D: That’ll do it.

The presskit bio on Lee Marvin is added here as a bonus so readers can see just how much the actor embellished his acting career.

The presskit bio on Lee Marvin is added here as a bonus so readers can see just how much the actor embellished his acting career.

Also in the pressbook is this example of the studio taking advantage of the U.S. Military’s disdain for the film…

A pressbook item seeking to utilize the miliatry's dsidain for the film.

A pressbook item seeking to utilize the miliatry’s dsidain for the film.

Share

MY FAVORITE FIGHT SCENES, PART 4 OF 5

Presenting the pentultimate installment in my own choices of favorite movie fight scenes. I became even more aware of the distinct changes that took place thru the decades, due to researching Lee Marvin Point Blank and discovering Marvin’s important influence on screen violence. This time, the late 60s lead into to the early 70s, with both known and obscure choices. Nautrally, Lee Marvin is duly represented.

16. DARK OF THE SUN-1968

Rod Taylor unrelentingly takes on Peter Carsten for the murder of Jim Brown.

Rod Taylor (left) unrelentingly takes on Peter Carsten (right) for the murder of Jim Brown.

Unrelenting. That single word is the best way to describe Rod Taylor’s battle with his opponent in the underrated action opus Dark of the Sun. One of the 1960s many international productions, this one deals with mercenaries carrying out a mission in Africa to save both missionaries and a cache of diamonds…they are, after all mercenaries. The film contains plenty of action, incuding train battles, buzzsaws and such obligatory eye candy as Yvette Mimiuex.
But, the growing animosity between team leader Rod Taylor and former Nazi team member Peter Carsten, results in one of the most brtual and unrelenting fight scenes of its era. When Taylor leaves the team momentarily, Carsten kills Taylor’s comrade Jim Brown and attempts to abscond with the goods. When Taylor returns and discovers what transpired, no amount of common sense or cajoling can stem the tide of his anger. A rousing climax to a film that just made me a Rod Taylor fan all over again. I’ve read that his fight scene in Darker Than Amber (1970) with William Smith is even better but since I’ve yet to see it, this will have to suffice. Maybe if I revamp this list in a few years I’d have seen it and changed my mind. Until then, Dark of The Sun. Unrelenting.

17.THE SCALPHUNTERS-1968

Scalphunters

Burt Lancaster as Mountain man Joe Bass (right) tries to teach a lesson to runaway slave Joseph Lee (Ossie Davis, left) as the plot continues around them in The Scalphunters.

By the end of the 1960s, not only had the studio system and ancient production code bitten the dust, the but social upheaval of the times had permeated films of every genre, including the sacred western. No all such attempts at social relevance were successful but The Scalphunters certainly was. The simple plot of a mountain man trying to retreive his stolen pelts from a gang of merciless scalphunters is complicated by the presence of a runaway slave, a wily madam and a band of often drunken Indians.
Fans of star Burt Lancaster’s will recognize the film as a bit of a vanity project since it includes the likes of childhood friend and acrobat partner Nick Cravat as well as longtime stunt double Tony Epper as scalphunters, and ex-girlfriend Shelley Winters as the madam. Even former TV executive Telly Savalas, whom Lancaster successfully talked into giving acting a try, wonderfully chews the scenery as the lead villian. Probably the weakest link, at least in my opinion, is Ossie Davis as the runaway slave. He seemed miscast, as another black actor form the period, such as Al Freeman or Ivan Dixon, might have been better suited in the role.
Alll that aside, the climatic and lengthy battle between Lancaster & Davis through mud, sand, dirt, and crevasses, is wonderfully rendered as the remaining plot points go on without them even noticing! Lancaster was in his 50s when he made this but you’d never know it from his physical performance. The film doesn’t preach it’s point of view. It’s done in a style of rousing fun. REALLY worth a second look!

18. CHISUM -1970
Chisum
Why is this movie on the list, you may ask? Well, picture this: it’s the summer of 1970 and Tim Romero and I decide to go to the movies. Only decent thing playing for a couple of ten-year-old boys is this John Wayne programmer. So we go. Sit through the tedious plot (a largely fictiously tale about Billy the Kid, I later learned) and we are just about to leave out of sheer boredom when John Wayne turns to his buddy Ben Johnson and drawls, “Break out the Winchesters.” Johnsons smiles big and says, “Why sure.” Tim and I give out a hoot and we are in little boy heaven.
While a gun battle rages, John Wayne seeks out lead bad guy Forrest Tucker and proceeds to beat the holy hell out of him. Folks, it just doesn’t get any better than this for a little boy summer matinees. Not great movie making by any stretch of the imagination but I watched it again recently and felt like that little kid again. Nostalgia aside, I genuinely feel sorry for young film goers who think comic book films and their attended CGI effects are worth their time and energy. Unless you’ve felt that child-like adrelaline rush of hearing “Break out the Winchesters,” you are just plain missing out on a great childhood moment.

19. EMPEROR OF THE NORTH-1973

EmperorNorth

The real clash of the titans as hobo Lee Marvin challenges sadistic railroad man Ernest Borgnine in Robert Aldrich’s Emperor of the of the North.

This one could quite possibly earn the right to be called my favorite fight scene of all time as it has, in my opinion, never been equalled. The making of director Robert Aldrich’s violent, non-sentimental, Depression-era fable of non-conforming hobo Lee Marvin challenging the railroad establisment in the person of sadistic conductor Ernest Borgnine is covered in-depth in Lee Marvin Point Blank, of course. All I can add here is the fact that  the fight scene at film’s end may not be beleviable for some people from a realistic standpoint, as it’s been pointed out, but within the realm of the story, it is perfectly in keeping with the film’s style and overall theme. Axes, chains, and 2×4’s may not be worthy weapons in modern films but it certainly makes sense for the Depression!

20. MEAN STREETS– 1973

Robert DeNiro, with pool cue in hand, takes on all comers in Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets.

Robert DeNiro, with pool cue in hand, takes on all comers in Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets.


Once again, there is not a whole lot more I can add to anything that’s been said of Martin Scorsese’s and Robert DeNiro’s breakthrough film that has not been said a dozen times already. The modern day noir exploded on the screen in 1973 and rattled the minds of moviegoers in the process. There is so much to take in when viewing this masterpiece that several viewings is just not enough. Lasting images permeate every frame, drenched in overly saturated color and photographic stylings.
It’s inclusion here is for one such image. When Harvey Keitel and his buddies go to pick up an overdue loan at a pool hall, it isn’t long before all hell breaks lose. The most eye-popping aspect of the brawl is, without a doubt, DeNiro as Johnny Boy. He scrambles to the top of a pool table and plays ‘King of the Mountain’ to anyone who tries to get near him. He’s as crackling an explosive as the cherry bomb he drops in the mailbox in the film’s opening. Try to find a more beleviable street fighter in a movie than Johnny Boy. G’head, I dare ya!

Share