WHO COULD DIRECT A LEE MARVIN BIOPIC? PART I

A while back I raised the hypothetical of who could play Lee Marvin in a biopic based on my book, Lee Marvin Point Blank. Those previous posts can be found here, by the way: Part I and Part II. Since the response was so very positive, now I’d like to pose yet another hypothetical:  Which director, working today, has a style and vision that best suits the kind of film a Marvin biopic would be? I’d appreciate the thoughts of any reader interested in chiming in. As for myself, I have a couple of possibilties, a dirty dozen if you will of more than appropriate contenders. Truth be told, I do indeed have my favorites. So, the order, to avoid the appearance of favoritism, is strictly alphabetical…..

Guillermo Del Toro:

Director Guillermo Del Toro on the set of HELLBOY.

Director Guillermo Del Toro on the set of HELLBOY.

The Pan’s Labrynith director is on record in conversation with Robert Rodriguez as being a very big fan of Lee Marvin’s films. He told Rodriguez in a 2015 interview: “When I was a kid, my favorite movie, was a Lee Marvin movie. Lee Marvin, James Coburn, these were guys who were not handsome. They had real faces. Tough guys. One of my favorite movies was Emperor of the North [directed by] Robert Aldrich with Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin. The fight at the end with the axe and the chain, it’s an amzing movie. I want that on the screen. I’m not interested in young people’s movies.” As a visionary director, the imagery he could lend to a film about Marvin is indeed intriguing.

James Gunn:

Young upstart director, James Gunn.

Young upstart director, James Gunn.

The young upstart director of the surprise blockbuster, Guardians of the Galaxy has also stated his appreciation of Lee Marvin and that can only be a plus to what he might add to the mix. Okay, I admit I haven’t personally seen the film as I’m not the world’s biggest fan of the plethora of comic book-based movies that has infected the market of late. But, the fact that he had a surprise hit with the subject based mostly on his interpretation of the source material — at least from what I read, anyway — makes me optimisitc. The St. Louis native is a Troma Films alumni and didn’t make it into mainstream filmmaking until mainstream filmmaking became a little quirkier than it had been previously. Sort of like the way Lee Marvin didn’t become a leading man until the mid-sixites, when Hollywood morphed into the culture’s changing tastes. I like that.

Walter Hill:

Legendary action film director, Walter Hill.

Legendary action film director, Walter Hill.

This once prominent director (48 Hours, Streets of Fire, The Long Riders) and screenwriter (The Getaway, The Drowning Pool, Hickey & Boggs), might be considered less than up to the task as he is now in his 70s and has not had a mainstream hit in some time. I, however think otherwise. The director of Charles Bronson’s best vehicle, Hard Times, as well as several other gritty, muscular films, he’s on record as stating Point Blank was an inspiration for him in terms of its spare style and writing. Heavily influenced by European and Asian action films, Hill has said recently, “I hadn’t had a good-sized hit in quite a while. And, frankly, I went through a couple of experiences that left me pretty disgusted with it all, and I was thinking the time had passed. I was just sitting at home reading magazines and looking out the window….” A Lee Marvin biopic might be just the tonic.

Ron Howard:

Oscar winning director and former actor Ron Howard (left) as he appeared in an ad for Monte Walsh starring Lee Marvin (right).

Oscar winning director and former actor Ron Howard (left) as he appeared in an ad for Monte Walsh starring Lee Marvin (right).

We all know the Oscar-winning director started out as an actor — from The Andy Griffith Show to Happy Days — but do you know his connection to Lee Marvin? He costarred with him in the 1974 film, Spikes Gang, along with Gary Grimes and Charlie Martin Smith as Marvin’s young gang of neophyte bank robbers. Even more impressive, Howard, a gifted storyteller when it comes to film making, is on record as stating that Lee Marvin’s The Dirty Dozen turned him into a huge movie fan: “It was perfect. I was twelve, thirteen years old; going through puberty. Here was this totally macho rock ’em-sock ’em, heroic action movie — one of the best ‘mission’ movies ever made,…Everything about it, top to bottom, was cool. And it turned me on to the movies. In a lot of ways, it made me want to go to the movies every single week to try and have the kind of experience that would just take you away.” As far as I’m concerned, such enthusiasm can only enhance a Lee Marvin biopic.

Jim Jarmusch:

Sons of Lee Marvin founder and stubbornly independent film maker, Jim Jarmusch.

Sons of Lee Marvin founder and stubbornly independent film maker, Jim Jarmusch.

The mastermind behind the Sons of Lee Marvin, director Jim Jarmusch has not been shy about his admiration for Marvin. Granted, the organization he founded with fellow Marvin fans Tom Waits, Nick Cave, etc. may be more fictional than fact (Readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank no what I mean), but the admiration is undeniabe. As a filmmaker his work seems to drag at times, but a subject such as Marvin’s life & times may possibly change that. His New York underground ‘indie’ roots are still on display in his work but who knows? That may be a good thing. Ether way. he is defintely in the running.

Christopher Nolan:

Stylized Britsh director of American action films, Chrstopher Nolan.

Stylized Britsh director of American action films, Chrstopher Nolan.

Best known for resurrecting the Batman franchise with Christian Bale, this British filmmaker has also made some wonderfully intense and thoughtful thrillers, such as Memento and Insomnia that are head and shoulders above the Batman films. Although I grew up loving the original DC Comic (Jim Aparo & Neal Adams’ renderings being my favorites) I for one am not a fan of the rebooted franchise(s). I think Bale and many others were miscast . Nolan’s direction of the action scenes are so muddled that it’s almost impossible to keep track of who is pounding who. My thinking is that Nolan’s take on a Marvin biopic would be (hopefully) less like Batman and more like Insomnia.

In Part II the possibilites are continued with some less the obvious surprises. Stay tuned!

 

 

 

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REMEMBERING LEE MARVIN’S SPIKES GANG, RELEASED 5/1/74

Next week will mark the 41st anniversary of the release of Spikes Gang, one of Lee Marvin’s forgotten gems from the 70s. The film did not fare well when released with audiences or most critics, which is a pity as it does have some pretty initeresting things worthy of re-evaluation. Based on the book The Bank Robber, by Giles Tippett, Marvin played Harry Spikes, a bank robber in the old west who recruits 3 young men into a life of crime (Gary Grimes, Ron Howard, and Charlie Martin Smith). Directed by the criminally underrated Richard Fleischer (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Boston Strangler, Soylent Green), the late director agreed to talk with me back in 1998. He shared his memories of working with Marvin, first on Violent Saturday and later, on Spikes Gang. The story of how he convinced Lee Marvin to take on the role, as well as Marvin’s reaction to the finished film, are two of my favorites that are detailed in the pages of Lee Marvin: Point Blank. Below are a few more comments from Fleischer about Spikes Gang not included in the book. Enjoy!

Lee Marvin as Harry Spikes in 1974's Spikes Gang.

Lee Marvin as Harry Spikes in 1974’s Spikes Gang.

Dwayne: So, tell me about working with Lee Marvin on Spikes Gang.
Richard Fleischer: Yeah, I thought he was just great in that film.
Dwayne: I think he and the film are kind of underrated.
Richard: It’s a wonderful performance all the way through and again, that humor shining through all the time… Well, he was kind of misbehaving on the movie, a bit. But he had some very interesting things about him, his personality and his relationship to the work he wa doing. He was kind of a devilish guy. I remember…I learned from the first picture [Violent Saturday-1955] that you need a firm hand with Lee. I think he was a Marine. I was in the army but before that, I was in military academy. So, I had military training, military background and Lee used to test me. I remember one very amusing incident when we were on location. I’m a nut about certain things. One of them is trash around the set, pieces of paper and the like. I insist that it’s picked up immediately. That kind of amused Lee. I remember on location, I was talking to another actor and Lee crossed my eye line. We were standing in a path through a field. While I was talking to another actor, Lee, who was maybe 30-40 feet away, crossed the path and he crossed so that I could see him. As he was crossing the path, he threw a gum wrapper down on the path. I reacted immediately. It was very funny because it was a natural thing for me. Knowing his background and training I said “Marvin!” He stopped, and I said, “Pick it up!” He turned around like a mechanical doll, walked right straight back, picked it up without breaking step and kept on walking in the opposite direction. It was very funny. I never forgot that.
Dwayne: His body language was often hysterical. what you’re saying is important to know because there’s a legacy of him being unprofessional but what you say changes all that…
Richard: Yes, he would be there just to watch. He would show up early in the morning when we were arriving on the set. The picture was shot on location in Spain. Lee would arrive with the crew in the morning and he’d have a cup of brandy with the Spanish crew first thing and he’d hang around. The thing that really got to me was that in the areas, the scenes where he wasn’t playing, he would hide on the set. I would learn, people would point him out to me. He’d be hiding under a desk or a chair and he would watch the scene. He just wanted to be there. He just wanted to be on the set.

A page from Spikes Gang pressbook.

A page from Spikes Gang pressbook.

Dwayne: Yeah, he had moments like that.
Richard: We had one moment…. big scene in the picture, his big speech after he’s been shot and he’s sitting on the bed and has this long rambling speech about his background, his life, his relationship with his father…It was the only time I had trouble [with him] that way. I don’t know why he did it but he really got loaded.
Dwayne: was he able to work?
Richard: Well, I shot the scene with him but I couldn’t understand what he was saying. Lee tends to mumble anyhow. I really couldn’t understand what he was saying and he was in a very kind of ugly mood. I knew if I quit and didn’t finish the scene, I’d have a lot of trouble with him. He’d be insulted, hurt and angry. So, I let him finish the scene. The next day we came back to the set and I shot the scene [chuckles] We started shooting and he said, “Now, wait a minute. Didn’t we do this yesterday?” I said, “Yes we did.” He asked “Why are you doing it again?” I said, “Well Lee, I really couldn’t understand what you were saying yesterday. Could you do it again and clear up some of the pronunciation?” He reluctantly did it but I must say[chuckles], he really wasn’t much different than when he was mumbling it.
Dwayne: He mumbled again?
Richard: Yes, but it was clearer.
Dwayne: You were straightforward about telling him that was the reason?
Richard: Yeah.
Dwayne: Did he have a second thought about doing it?
Richard: No, he went ahead and did it but was kind of reluctant. He did it and he did it very well.
Dwayne: How did he interact with the younger actors?
Richard: He was great them. He really was. He loved working with those kids. They were all very good so he had good actors to work against. He enjoyed the experience, as far as I could tell. He was very, very friendly and very good with the boys.

(L-R) Lee Marvin, stepdaughter Kerry, and director Richard Fleischer on the set of Spikes Gang in Almeria, Spain.

(L-R) Lee Marvin, stepdaughter Kerry, and director Richard Fleischer on the set of Spikes Gang in Almeria, Spain.

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JAPANESE PROGRAMS OF LEE MARVIN FILMS

Japanese Programs
Lee Marvin’s popularity in the 60s and 70s was not limited simply to the U.S. but drew worldwide acclaim. Consequently, it’s no secret that the Japanese populace loves American pop culture. If any proof were needed, check out the extremely rare Japanese Program covers to several Lee Marvin film programs distributed at the time of the film’s release (all of the films are detailed in Lee Marvin Point Blank)….
professionalscvrFollowing The Professionals (written and directed by Oscar-nominated Richard Brooks), pictured above, is the equally rare Japanese program for Marvin’s underrated 1970 western Monte Walsh….
montecvrClearly, Japanese filmgoers enjoyed the American western and may even have seen allegories to their own samurai mythology, such as the way director John Sturges had by turning Kurasowa’s Seven Samurai into the Magnificent Seven or Sergio Leone turning Kurasowa’s Yojimbo into A Fistful of Dollars. Marvin’s 1974 failed western, The Spike’s Gang could have easily been done in a samurai-stye. By the way, check out the pre-Ocar Ron Howard….
spikescvrSpeaking of allegorical films, few were done as well as Marvin’s 1973 opus, Emperor of the North, pitting his rugged individualist hobo against Ernest Borgnine’s sadistic establisment railroad man. AT the time of it’s release it flopped for a myriad of reasons but luckily, through DVDs and cable, it’s find a new life….
emperorcvr

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