JAMES GUNN, SUICIDE SQUAD & LEE MARVIN

James Gunn and Lee Marvin are not two names often associated with each other but surprisingly, recent news via a Google search has done just that. 
Director James Gunn, of Guardians of the Galaxy fame, is also the director of the new and highly anticipated Suicide Squad movie reboot for 2021. He recently tweeted that one film and one film only was the inspiration for the upcoming all-star comic book film and that film was another all-star production from a few decades earlier. That’s right. None other than The Dirty Dozen (1967).

Opening image I used for LEE MARVIN POINT BLANK is the actor’s performance of Major John Reisman in The DIRTY DOZEN, the film that helped make him the number one male box office star in the country.


Matter of fact, the news generated an online story, just a few days ago. I’m not a particular fan of comic book inspired films but I did grow loving comic books, especially D.C. superhero ones. Knowing that, the revelation involving The Dirty Dozen hardly came as a surprise. There were similiar titles even more effective, such as Marvel’s Sgt. Fury and The Howling Commandos. The same Sgt. Fury would later become Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., the only Marvel title I liked, as written and drawn by the great Jim Steranko. But I digress….
 Glad to see Marvin’s most well-known film getting it’s just respect. Of course, it’s influence is far more reaching that that. It proved to be the inspiration for several other films, as well. A short list would include:
• Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds (2009), which at one point was to include a character named ‘Babe’ Buchinsky to be played by Michael Madsen, as an homage to Dirty Dozen costar, Charles Bronson. 
• Joe Dante’s fantasy film Small Soldiers (1998), featuring voices of several original cast members.
• The original Italian version of Tarantino’s film with Bo Svenson and Fred WIlliamson, The Inglorious Bastards (1978). Note the spelling difference which Tarantino has never fully explained. 
• Even Roger Corman’s Secret Invasion (1964) used the same premise which predates the novel’s publication by a year. Makes you wonder if Corman knew something the author didn’t.
Kind of makes you wonder if perhaps the premise is based on fact. According to the original novel’s author, E.M. Nathanson: “This story is fiction. I have heard a legend that there might have been men like them, but nowhere in the archives of United States Government or in its military history did I find it recorded.”

Makes sense but then again just because it’s not recorded, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
– Dwayne Epstein

Share Button

CARGO (2018) & THE RESURRECTION OF RON THOMPSON

Cargo (2018) is an intense horror thriller that helped resurrect the career of veteran stage, film and TV actor Ron Thompson. The premise of the film is unique and underlines what can be done with limited means. Reminds me of what Roger Corman referred to as, “Brilliance on a budget.” From the first few seconds of the film to the very end, Thompson inside a cargo container is all you ever see as he desperately tries to raise the ransom of his kidnappers demand.

Poster art from CARGO in which the entire premise is explained in the tagline.

The other actors noted in the poster are simply well-cast audio voices and never seen. Doesn’t matter. The premise and Thompson’s enacting of it holds the viewer spellbound for an hour and a half. It shows what the medium is capable of when disbelief is suspended and imagination runs amok. Be prepared, however. Despite his sole presence, the film gets kind of gruesome ins some parts.
I mention all this simply because Ron is a friend of mine and I warily watched Cargo at his urging. I say warily because once he told me the premise I knew it would be a tough go as it’s not my preferred genre. I finally relented and I was NOT disappointed. It’s a paranoid-claustrophobic thriller of the first order and Ron is excellent in it!
By the way, you may know Ron best — as I do — from his dual performances in Ralph Bakshi’s underrated classic, American Pop (1981).

Poster art from AMERICAN POP with an inset of Ron Thompson today.

It’s an interesting thing in that he has had one of, if not THE most unorthodox career of any person that I’ve ever heard of. In fact, I had told him that because of his roller coaster career, I’d ask the publisher of Filmfax if they’d be interested in an interview with Ron but sadly, they passed on the idea. Damn shame as it’s a fascinating yarn and he’s a fascinating man.
I met Ron via Facebook, since he proved to be quite a Lee Marvin fan and graciously wrote a review of my book. The social media platform also helped resurrect his career. The contacts he’s made actually lead to his role in Cargo, and several other worthwhile projects. A few kudos then to Mark Zuckerberg, at least for that, and allowing Ron and I to hook up. It was a similar casual hook up with director James Dylan that got Ron the role. Once we kept in contact thru Facebook, Ron surprised me by showing up at my book signing for Lee Marvin Point Blank at Jeff Mantor’s bookstore, Larry Edmunds. I was not only pleasantly surprised to meet Ron in person, Ron was equally surprised to meet up with Mitch Ryan’s accomplice, Claudette Sutherland, whom Ron hadn’t seen since his school days!

(L-R) Yours truly, Ron Thompson, and Ron’s long lost school friend, Claudette Sutherland at Larry Edmunds Bookstore.

All told, such coincidences are pretty impressive some times so never underestimate them. As my father used to say, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” Take a shot. Brace yourself and watch Ron in Cargo for FREE at the link he sent me… If you dare!
– Dwayne Epstein.

Share Button

THE ARCHIVES: MY FILMFAX INTERVIEW W/ ROBERT J. GURNEY, JR

Anyone who knows me knows that with precious few exceptions, I am no fan of the science fiction genre. So, with that in mind, I’m the last writer wiling to research, interview, and write up a piece on an unsung Sci-Fi filmmaker. Enter Filmfax Magazine. You never know what you might learn and enjoy being a professional writer and writing for Filmfax is the best example of that. I had recieved a call from the magazine’s publisher, Mike Stein (terrific guy, by the way), telling me such an unsung filmmaker has made his presence known and wanted to speak with Filmfax. It concerned a recent book that had incorrectly stated that Invasion of the Saucer Men was not meant to be a comedy, despite the laughs it garnered from audiences upon its release.
I thought it over, and eventually figured, what the hell, might even be a little enlightening on some level. I was still very much researching  Lee Marvin Point Blank at the time but needed to keep my actually writing chops up. Besides, I needed to pad my resume’ as well as my bank account as best as I could. Keep in mind, this was back in 2002, and my ability to navigate the digital highway, was tenative at best. Any research was done the old-fashioned way, i.e. my local library. Not only had I not heard of Robert J. Gurney, Jr., neither had any of the stalwart genre fanatics I knew personally. The intrigue was rising.
Turns out, Gurney was living in Marina Del Rey and had a voice like a late-night FM  radio announcer with a Southern drawl. Upon meeting with him, I discovered he was a sweet, unassuming, older gentleman with a razor-sharp memory definitely worthy of Filmfax’s auspices, beyond what his valid complaint was. The complaint, by the way, was also a natural lead for the article. Better yet was discovering his life story included eye-opening personal anecdotes with the likes of Stanley Kubrick, Marlon Brando, Roger Corman, AIP’s exectuives Sam Arkoff & Jim Nicholson, a future mutli-Oscar winning cinematographer named Conrad Hall,  and the genesis of some groundbreaking films still in dire need of rediscovery. My favorite example being Gurney’s long-lost late 50s thriller, Edge of Fury. He had a print he had not seen since its release, and because I knew someone who could transfer it to VHS, we were able to watch this strange little thriller together as I took notes on his reactions. Those are the times I love my job. So, posted below, in its entirety, is my eye-opening interview with writer/director/producer and thought-provoking racontuer, Robert Gurney, Jr.
Oh, one more thing. According to Google, at the age of 92, Gurney is still with us, but my contact information for him is long gone. If anybody who reads this knows how to get back in touch with him, please let me know. In the mean time, I give you my cover story interview with Mr. Gurney from Filmfax, 2002. Enjoy…..

Artist Harley Brown rendered the cover art for the Oct/Nov 2002 issue of Filmfax featuring my interview with filmmaker Robert J. Gurney.

Artist Harley Brown rendered the cover art for the Oct/Nov 2002 issue of Filmfax featuring my interview with filmmaker Robert J. Gurney.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 1.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 1.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 2.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 2.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 3.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 3.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 4.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 4.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 5.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 5.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 6.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 6.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 7.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 7.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 8.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 8.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 9.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 9.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 10.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 10.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 11.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 11.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 12.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 12.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 13.

Robert Gurney Filmfax interview, page 13.

-Dwayne Epstein

 

 

Share Button