MY FAVORITE FILM FIGHT SCENES: PART 3 OF 5

Continuing on into the groundbreaking decade of the 1960s, below is the next five films in my list of personal favorite movie fight scenes……

11. SOLDIER IN THE RAIN-1963
Rarely scene and hardly liked by most Steve McQueen fans, Soldier in the Rain was made fresh off his blistering success of The Great Escape. It may seem like an odd choice to most McQueen fans as it’s an odd film to begin with but along with Baby, The Rain Must Fall it is in dire need of rediscovering. Based on a novel by the prolific WIlliam Goldman,and directed by the criminally underrated Ralph Nelson the offbeat tale is mostly a comedy about the peace-time shennigans of Supply Sgt. Eustis Clay (McQueen) and Master Sgt. Maxwell Slaughter (Jackie Gleason) and their unlikely yet beleviable friendship. The moody tone of the latter half of the film is hinted at during the opening credits via Henry Mancini’s meloncholy main theme. Tuesday Weld heads up the equally offbeat supporting cast of Ed Nelson, Lew Gallo, Tony Bill, Adam West, Tom Poston and Rockne Tarkington.

Jackie Gleason takes Ed Nelson for a spin.

Jackie Gleason takes Ed Nelson for a spin.

The black and white film is shot bright and sunny throughout most of the proceedings but once the film’s mood changes, so too does the lighting, to a darker tone that is neither inappropriate nor jarring. It all works, and brilliantly at that, especailly during the barroom brawl that remains a favorite if spooky reminder of how great this film is. The viewer is right in the thick of it as McQueen and Gleason versus Gallo and Nelson reaches a most beleviable conclusion, as does the film itself in which all loose plot developments are poignantly tied up. The pairing of Gleason and McQueen in an early ‘Buddy Film’ may seem odd at first glance but the chemistry between them is there and quite touching at times.

Steve McQueen (right) consoles Jackie Gleason (left) following their barrom brawl.

Steve McQueen (right) consoles Jackie Gleason (left) following their barrom brawl.

In a moment that sounds like a scene right out of the film, rumor has it that Gleason gave McQueen a pair of cufflinks depicting one of his own favorite recreations, playing golf. Supposedly, McQueen thanked him for the gesture but told The Great One he didn’t wear cufflinks when indulging in his favorite recreation: riding motorcycles.

12. DONOVAN’S REEF-1963

When I interviewed Betty Marvin for Lee Marvin Point Blank she was not only forthcoming in her memories of her ex-husband, she proved to be extremely insightful of his screen persona. In comparing Marvin to frequent costar John Wayne, she used a wonderful metaphor, describing Wayne as a big lumbering, yet to her mind, loveable bear. Lee, on the other hand was a panther, sleek, muscular and ready to pounce at a moment’s notice. No where is that anaology more true than in Donovan’s Reef, which opens with a wonderful comic brawl between the two that makes almost the entire remainder of the fllm anti-climatic by comparison.

Marvin and Wayne temporarily abide by Jack Warden's orders to heed their annual birthday brawl in Donavan's Reef.

Marvin and Wayne temporarily abide by Jack Warden’s orders to heed their annual birthday brawl in Donavan’s Reef.

13. WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS-1966
Why is a Toho monster film on this list? I say, why not? Besides, when I was a kid I LOVED this movie. Watching it now it commands an amazing amount of camp value that rivals anything Ed Wood ever did! The premise is simple enough. Two incredibly ugly behemoth brothers battle it out over bragging rights to destroy Japan, while destroying Japan in the process. You want camp? Try this, when a lounge singer warbles out the film’s love song  on a crusie ship (“The Words Get Stuck in My Throat”), a Gargantua, skilled in music criticism, promptly picks her up, eats her, and spits out her clothes like a sunflower seed shell.
The Brown Gargantua is ‘the good one’ and the Green is ‘the bad.’ Naturally, I was rooting for the green. Along for the ride is a slumming Russ Tamblyn as a hip talking scientist. All in all one of the best — albeit longest — fight scenes in movie history. Their faces and body language alone is worth the price of admission!

No it's not Whoopi Goldberg and Sharon Osborne. It's the title characers of WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS in mid-brawl.

No it’s not Whoopi Goldberg and Sharon Osborne. It’s the title characers of WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS in mid-brawl.

14. THE SAND PEBBLES – 1966
As a 1960s roadshow engagement film and the only time Steve McQueen ever got an Oscar nomination, the overblown production of The Sand Pebbles is dying for rediscovery, if only for the bizarre fight scene between diminutive Mako and Slovenly giant Simon Oakland.  The film revolves around a U.S. gunboat mired in the quagmire of 1920s China’s political upheaval. The many analogies to Vietnam become a little annoying afte a while but the relationships of the characters, especially the crew of the San Pablo, is the heart of the film. The battle between Oakland and Mako is a standout as the viewer doesn’t think there’s any way Mako can possibly triumph. He’s a ship’s Coolie fighting for his right to stay on the ship in a bet made by McQueen’s Jake Holman character (who incidentally proves he  can take Oakland himself by a couple of quick body blows). Oakland is fighting for the right to break in a virginal Chinese prostitute. What unfolds in the sequence is not only good ol’ fashion underdog heroics, but a rousing yet beleviable climax of events.
One little known footnote: When Francis Ford Coppola was filming Apocalypse, Now! he had his cast & crew watch The Sand Pebbles first in order to see what kind of superior filmmaking can emerge in the midst of difficult location shooting. Robert Wise’s The Sand Pebbles proved to influence films more than he ever realized.

Slovenly Simn Oakland seems destined to pummel minute Mako in The Sand Pebbles. Viewers of the film know better....

Slovenly Simon Oakland seems destined to pummel minute Mako in The Sand Pebbles. Viewers of the film know better….

15. POINT BLANK– 1967
“Taut thriller, ignored in 1967, but now regarded as a top film of the mid-60s,” is how film historian Leonard Maltin aptly described director John Boorman’s ‘arthouse action film,’ Point Blank. How could I possibly write about my favorite fight scenes and not include this Lee Marvin movie? There are of course several to choose from, but I chose the battle between Marvin’s Walker and a couple of thugs hired to beat him up behind the movie screen of Angie Dickinson’s posh strip club, covered by the wailing of on stage soul singer. Why was it chosen? This film is chockful innovations: the first film shot at Alcatraz after it was shut down; the first film in which the actors were each individually miked for sound; the  stylized jump cuts, camera angles visual effects; but more than anything it’s the fight scene. Speaking of firsts, witnessing Marvin grab stuntman Jerry Catron by the crotch –the way someone would grab an opponent’s lapels to punch him in the face, and then doing just that, to his CROTCH — is an innovation in itself, for better or for worse. I defy any man to watch that moment and not reflexively bend over, cross his legs and wince after witnessing it!

Lee Marvin's Walker surprises mob goon Jerry Catron with a beer bottle to the kisser, and that's just for starters!

Lee Marvin’s Walker surprises mob goon Jerry Catron with a beer bottle to the kisser, and that’s just for starters!

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MY FAVORITE FILM FIGHT SCENES, PART 2 OF 5

As stated in the first installment, writing Lee Marvin Point Blank gave me a new appreciation for movie fight scenes. In this second installment of my favorite film fight scenes, the 1950s and early 1960s are rightfully represented….

6. IT’S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER -1955

(L-R) Gene Kelly, Dan Dailey & MIchael Kidd survery the damage they wreaked aftet their brawl on live TV.

(L-R) Gene Kelly, Dan Dailey & MIchael Kidd survery the damage they wreaked aftet their brawl on live TV.

Let’s be honest, You’re infinitely more likely to see somebody sing and dance down the street then you’ll ever see an intergalactic space battle. Yet the latter rules the current box-office while the former has been relegated to the dustbin of time as being phoney and unrealistic. That’s a shame for many reasons, not the least of which is the amount of talent and ingenuity being wasted by not producing any more original film musicals which was once the bread-and-butter of the industry.
One of the best and least appreciated of the genre was the atypical, It’s Always Fair Weather. Three war buddies vow to remain friends and meet 10 years later only to find they have absolutely nothing in common. Not the plot of a ‘How-are-we-going-to-get-the-show-on’ musical, but an interesting character study that also pokes satirical fun at Madison Ave, professional sports, and most of all that new stranger in the house, television. Gene Kelly had at first thought it would be a sequel to On The Town but opted instead for a dance extravaganza with atheletic Dan Dailey, leggy Cyd Charisse and bite-sized Michael Kidd. I could go on about the greatness of this forgotten classic (it’s the one in which the 3 leads dance with trash-can lids on their feet and Kelly solos on roller skates) but since this about fight scenes check out this movies’ amazing climax. Since all fight scenes are essentially choreographed, who better to show off their prowes in their field than 3 of the best dancers in movie history? Kidd especially shines with rapid movements in, out, down and around the fight but Kelly and Dailey are no slouches. Just watch it some time and see for yourself.

7. BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK-1955

Robert Ryan (left) sics his bulldog Ernest Borgnine (right) on poor one-armed Spencer Tracy (center).

Robert Ryan (left) sics his bulldog Ernest Borgnine (right) on poor one-armed Spencer Tracy (center).

Maybe not THE most, but certainly one of the most influential fight scenes in movie history. A brillian study on that all-American virtue known as bigotry, director John Sturges and writer Millard Kaufman slowly turn the screws of tension as middle-aged, one-armed, slightly paunchy Spencer Tracy gets shut out in his attempts to find out what happened to his war-time comrade, Komoko, in the sleepy desert town of Black Rock. The film is brimming with great moments (including several with lower-billed henchman Lee Marvin) but the highlight is without question what happens when bulldog-squeezed-into-a-pair-of-jeans Ernest Borgnine taunts Tracy into a fight.
How could Tracy possibly come out alive? As Steve Allen said to me when I interviewed him back in the 90s: “The moment when poor, one-armed Spencer Tracy finally lashed out as the good guy, elicited from a good neighborhood totally white audience the loudest ‘Yeah!’ I ever heard in my life in a movie. I mean you hear it at football games and such but I never heard a [movie] audience do that before.”

8.THE KENTUCKIAN 1955

Director and star Burt Lancaster (left) lays it on bad guy Walter Matthau (right) in Matthau's film debut.

Director and star Burt Lancaster (left) lays it on bad guy Walter Matthau (right) in Matthau’s film debut.

Burt Lancaster made his directorial debut with this film, and although rarely appreciated in his canon of work, it has one of my all-time favorite fight scenes. Walter Matthau made his film acting debut as Lancaster’s nemesis, taking him on with a whip as Lancaster battles bare-fisted. It’s a western, but unlike most westerns it takes place in the early 1800s, tells the tale of a traveling backwoods single father and his young son and, despite some overly talky scenes, has some phenomonally action scenes. It buils to a fight between Lancaster and Matthau, whom we’ve seen is an expert with a bullwhip while all Lancaster has is bare knuckles. Feel sorry for Matthau, who does make you think he has ol’ Burt out maneuvered….for a little while, anyway.
Becuause former acrobat Lancaster directed the film, he gave himself a rousing end scene in which he races through a pond without cutting away in order to stop his enemy from relaoding his flintlock. Must be seen to be believed.

9. WEST SIDE STORY-1961

Richard Beymer (left) as Tony scrambles to help Russ Tamblyn as RIff (center) against rival gang leader Bernardo (right) played by Geroge Chakiris.

Richard Beymer (left) as Tony scrambles to help Russ Tamblyn as RIff (center) against rival gang leader Bernardo (right) played by Geroge Chakiris.

Yeah, it’s a favorite and since there’s very little I can add about this classic that hasn’t been said already a million times, I’ll just go on about what it means to me personally. Oh, other than it’s another example of a movie still chided for being less beleviable than a superhero franchise simply because street gangs don’t go around dancing the mean streets of NYC. Right. But caped crusaders do. Please!
Anyway, when I was a kid and first saw the knife fight ballet, it scared the hell out of me! Seriously.  I bought into the film’s premise completely and since I was just a kid, I picked sides. Russ Tamblyn as Riff was a favorite since seeing him in Tom Thumb and then seeing the gymnasitc dancing he did made him even more a favorite. I still recall being on the edge of my seat during that knife fight and my pounding heart jumping into my throat at the outcome. I really didn’t expect it and watching it today, it still gets to me. Sure, they’re dancing in the fight but it makes it no less belevable to me. I recall George Chakiris once saying that Jerome Robbins taught him the difference in dancing between just movement in step and movement as character and geez, does it show in this sequence. Watch it again and you’ll see what I mean.
Oh, one more  afterthought:  Tamblyn and Chakiris have remained friends through the years and recently, Tamblyn underwent open heart surgery. Apparently it was touch-and-go but when they wheeled him out of post-op one of the people Tamblyn saw nervously awaiting the outcome, was Chakiris. They locked eyes and Tamblyn smiled, held up his hand and snapped his fingers. Is that cool or what? I guess Riff was right: “When you’re a Jet you’re a Jet all the way….”

10. THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE-1962

Henry Silva (left) as a VERY savvy houseboy and Frank Sinatra (right) do battle.

Henry Silva (left) as a VERY savvy houseboy and Frank Sinatra (right) do battle.

If a paranoid cold war thriller can be considered perfect, than this is the one.  Why they thought it neccessary to remake it 2004, is beyond me. Well, they didn’t ask me so there you go…..
Anyway, from the very first scene this one grabs you. The opening (suggested to director John Frankenheimer by Frank Sinatra) sets the tone for the unrelenting weirdness to come, all the way up to and including the amazing ending. In the midst of the strange doings, Korean War vet Frank Sinatra, frsutrated over the nightmares he’s experiencing, confronts one of the people in his nightmare, Korean houseboy Henry Silva (!?) Both being combat vets, they tangle in hand-to-hand-combat while Sinatra desperatley tries to extract needed information from Silva. It’s a fight scene that is filmed, edited, and performed in a highly stylized format for the early 60s and consequently, still packs a wallop. A true stand-out in films in general but especially for a film already brimming with stand outs.
I remember seeing an interview Barbara Walters did with Frank Sinatra late in his life in which they toured his Palm Springs home. They then settled in by the pool in which Walters noticed the giant Queen of Diamonds shimmering in the cement beneath the crystal clear water. She then asked Sinatra, “Is that a symbol from your Vegas Rat Pack days?” Sinatra smiled at her and said, “Actually, Barbara, it’s from a film I made years ago called The Machurian Candidate….”
I hate a journalist who doesn’t do their homework.

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