THE OSCAR TRACK

The Oscar track is upon us since the nominations were announced last month, as shown here. I use the term “The Oscar track” as it’s the appropriate term used by Lee Marvin when he was interviewed by TIME Magazine’s Stefan Kanfer in the 1970s. Kanfer had the audacity to tell the actor he didn’t think his Oscar-winning performance in Cat Ballou was even close to his best performance. The writer was amazed to hear Marvin agree with him. Adding, “But y’know, you run this track, and that’s the track that the racers are on; it’s the Oscar track. It really isn’t based on skill as much as it’s based on luck and popularity.” Kanfer’s remembrance of the interview — along with his assistant, future Oscar-nominated screenwriter, Jay Cocks — is hysterically recounted in Lee Marvin Point Blank.

Lee Marvin in POCKET MONEY and as he probably appeared when interviewed by Stefan Kanfer.


 As to the Oscar track, Marvin’s point is well taken. Now, normally this time of the month I’d be blogging about any upcoming Lee Marvin-related films on TCM but since the network is broadcasting “31 Days of Oscar” all month there’s a dearth of Marvin-related films. The sole exception is Ship of Fools, which is a shame since he made other films that were indeed on the Oscar track in one way or another: The Professionals (1966), and The Dirty Dozen (1967) received such recognition but truth be told, I think a few of his films SHOULD have been on The Oscar track and were not. 
 On the technical side, the innovations apparent in Point Blank (1967), such as the editing and the sound advancements (first film in which the actors were individually ‘miked’) and Conrad Hall’s breathtaking cinematography of Hell in the Pacific (1968) were certainly worthy. They may have ran out of the money since they were both directed by the very British John Boorman and both films did poorly when first released. I don’t know if either factor is the case but it’s a pretty safe bet. 
 I can say, for the purposes of this blog entry, two of Lee Marvin’s performances overlooked by the Academy were certainly worthy:
Monte Walsh (1970), remains an overlooked classic for which Marvin gave one of his most poignant performances.

Monte Walsh, 1970


As cited in detail in Lee Marvin Point Blank, several critics at the time of its release said the same and thought an Oscar nomination for Best Actor was practically a foregone conclusion. Sadly, It never happened. 

The Big Red One (1980): Sam Fuller’s semi-autobiographical yarn of his experiences in Europe during WWII allowed Marvin to give one of his best performances of his career, running a gamut of emotions from badass to empathy as a nameless sergeant pushing his young charges on a rifle squad to the poignancy of caring for a young boy in a liberated concentration camp. 

The Big Red One, 1980.

It’s a pity both of these performances were overlooked and the reasons they were are as speculative as they are varied. Too bad there’s no such thing as a retro Oscar track. If there were, Marvin would win it in a walk.

– Dwayne Epstein

 

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MARCH 2021 ON TCM

March 2021 is upon us and with it comes some Lee Marvin goodies from TCM. Readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank may see the connections to the choices and those who don’t, read on!
Below are the films, the reasons chosen and the airdates. Check local listings for time in your zone….

The Big Leaguer (1953), Saturday, March 6th:

(L-R) Director Robert Aldrich and costars Lee Marvin & Ernest Borgnine at the initial script conference for THE DIRTY DOZEN.


Since March is the start of the major league baseball season (although who knows with the pandemic upon us!), TCM has decided to air this interesting little gem. Edward G. Robinson stars in one of his final lead roles as the coach of the then New York Giants and what he must go through in scouting, training and choosing his young talent. It was the first film of the man who directed Lee Marvin in Attack!, The Dirty Dozen and Emperor of the North, one Robert Aldrich. It even has frequent Aldrich cast member Richard Jaeckel in it. Watch and see if you can detect Aldrich’s future talent. Oh, and speaking of the great Robinson, Lee Marvin recounts a terrific anecdote about meeting him at a Hollywood party that’s a favorite in Lee Marvin Point Blank

I Shot Jesse James (1949), Monday, March 8th:

(L-R) Director John Boorman is visited by Sam Fuller & Lee Marvin while filming THE BIG RED ONE in Ireland.


Speaking of Lee Marvin directors making their debut, this little programmer has the distinction of being the first film directed by maverick legend Sam Fuller. Fuller’s gut punch style of filmmaking is on full display here with the underrated John Ireland as the title character. I always liked what Scorsese said of Fuller’s style: “If you don’t like Sam’s movies, you just don’t like movies.” I got to know Sam at the end of his life and agree with Scorsese’s opinion. Marvin waited decades to work with Fuller (almost did a few times) but finally did in the underrated WWII-era film, The Big Red One.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), Saturday, March 20th:

The mostly male cast of BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK: (L-R) Dean Jagger, Walter Sande, Lee, Walter Brennan, Russell Collins, Robert Ryan and Spencer Tracy.


Celebrate the first day of Spring this March 2021 with this classic modern western thriller. Mysterious one-armed Spencer Tracy heads an all-star cast in this taut suspense film with plenty of action thrown in along the way. It set the standard for such productions and Lee Marvin, in a minor role more than holds his own against such heavyweights as Robert Ryan, Walter Brennan, Ernest Borgnine and Tracy himself. I was fortunate to interview costar John Ericson and the film’s Oscar-nominated screenwriter Millard Kaufman who became a good friend of Marvin’s over the years. The tales that were told are all in the book. 

The Caine Mutiny (1954), Sunday March 21st: 

Lee Marvin (“Meatball”) and Claude Akins (“Horrible”) in Edward Dymytrk’s THE CAINE MUTINY (1954).

Marvin was fortunate enough to work with some of the most legendary male stars in cinema throughout his lengthy apprenticeship. In fact, with the possible exception of Clark Gable, he worked in support of practically all of them! The impressive list includes Tyrone Power, Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, the aforementioned Spencer Tracy, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Paul Newman, John Cassavetes, Anthony Quinn, Randolph Scott and more! Here he is lending comic support to the great Humphrey Bogart in one of Bogart’s last and best performances. Bogart is the paranoid Captain Queeg of the U.S.S. Caine and few actors could portray mental illness as well as Bogie. Contrary to rumor, Marvin was not an uncredited technical advisor on the film, mainly because he had been a Marine and not a sailor, which Bogart was in real life. I interviewed the film’s director, Edward Dymytrk at the legendary Musso & Frank’s, and the anecdotes, as with others I spoke with, were put in my book. 

Stylishly filmed, this fight scene with Bogie and Tim Holt vs. Barton McLane in THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE is a classic.

The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1949), Saturday, March 27th: 

This classic is of course not a Lee Marvin film but he is on record as calling it one of his favorites, and for good reason. As he had in The Caine Mutiny, Bogart again shows his mastery in exploring a growing paranoia but this time its in the midst of a gold strike in the mountains of Mexico. Director John Huston guided his father Walter to a worthy Best Supporting Actor Oscar with Tim Holt along for the ride. Why did Marvin consider this film a favorite? The fight scene toward the beginning is the main reason. I completely agree with his reasoning and said as much in a previous blog entry. It’s considered a classic for a reason. 

So there you have it: March 2021 on TCM for Lee Marvin fans. By the way, there some other non-Lee Marvin related personal favorites being aired on TCM for March 2021 to also look out for:
Sweet Smell of Success (March 3rd); Boy Meets Girl (March 4th); Brute Force (March 5th); A Face in The Crowd (March 6th); Lust For Life & The Great Train Robbery (March 6th); Red River (March 8th); The Adventures of Robin Hood (March 9th); Fool’s Parade (March 10th); Straight Time (March 11th); Inherit the Wind (March 13th); The Quiet Man (March 17th); Ice Station Zebra (March 18th); Anatomy of A Murder (March 20th); My Favorite Year & Oliver! March 21st) Bugsy Malone (March 23rd); The Marrying Kind & Charade (March 28th); Mickey One (March 30th); The Candidate (March 31st). 

Thank the classic movie gods for TCM!

– Dwayne Epstein

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JAMES DEAN IS BACK! COULD LEE MARVIN BE NEXT?

James Dean, the cult actor who died over 60 years ago, is back thanks to the auspices of CGI. At least that’s the case according to recent articles in both Variety.com and The Hollywood Reporter. I first heard about this on the local news radio station, KNX-FM, news radio.

It isn’t widely remembered but James Dean made more than the celebrated 3 films he’s know for. Pictured here is his film debut, 1951’s Korean War film FIXED BAYONETS, written & directed by none other than Lee Marvin’s good buddy, Sam Fuller.

Another early Dean film appearance was the Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis comedy, SAILOR BEWARE! in which Dean (far left) played the second to the boxer Jerry was supposed to fight.

This comment from the Hollywood Reporter article by Dean’s estate agent is what gave me pause: “This opens up a whole new opportunity for many of our clients who are no longer with us,” said Mark Roesler, CEO of CMG Worldwide, which represents Dean’s family alongside more than 1,700 entertainment, sports, music and historical personalities, including the likes of Burt Reynolds, Christopher Reeve, Ingrid Bergman, Neil Armstrong, Bette Davis and Jack Lemmon.”
Apparently there has also been major back lash from such fans as varied as Chris Evans and Elijah Wood. The producers remain unfazed and are moving ahead with the planned project. Can you see why, as a classic movie fan, such an idea gave me pause?
Here’s the thing. When I first decided to research and write Lee Marvin Point Blank, my friend and fellow biographer Marshall Terrill suggested I create an appendix of films Marvin almost made but didn’t, as he did for his Steve McQueen biography. I took his advice and then decided to go one step further. I created an appendix of films made since Marvin’s passing that the actor could have made if he was still with us. It never occurred to me that another appendix could be included: Lee Marvin coming back in films that have not even been made yet! The mind reels.
Oh, and those appendices I mentioned? They can only be found in….

Cover of LEE MARVIN POINT BLANK.

– Dwayne Epstein

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