LEE MARVIN’S LUMP-IN-THE-THROAT MOMENTS, PART 1

A recent thread on Facebook gave me the idea for this blog entry concerning ‘lump-in-the-throat’ moments. Due to the kind of films Lee Marvin made that kind of emotional impact on audiences were not always readily apparent. However, in researching Lee Marvin Point Blank, it did indeed become apparent when having to happily watch and/or rewatch all of his performances. He actually had several such lump-in-the-throat moments in his career and to my mind, there are a couple on both film and television, even within the realm of such genres as war film and westerns. Go figure. First up, on screen….

The look in Jeanne Moreau’s eyes as she gazes into Lee Marvin’s speaks volumes in this scene from Monte Walsh.

Although he was disappointed with the way the studio tampered with director William Fraker’s final cut, Marvin has said that the elegiac western Monte Walsh remains one of his favorite films. Probably because the film’s poignant message of an aging cowboy with nowhere to go still packs a punch. The message is quietly stated by costar Jack Palance, who tells Marvin, “Nobody gets to be a cowboy forever, Monte.”
A personal relationship with costar Jeanne Moreau may be another reason the film resonated for Marvin. In one scene in particular, without giving away the ending, he had never been more touching. He simply absorbs the moment and allows us to feel what he is feeling and it works every time. The film then quickly shifts moods into a thrilling climax involving Mitch Ryan but again, no spoilers here. See it for yourself and you be the judge.

The poignant climax to The Big Red One with Lee Marvin as the unnamed sergeant and a frail, young concentration camp survivor.

Sam Fuller’s The Big Red One, an epic and episodic WWII memoir remains one of Lee Marvin’s best performances and for my money, should really have been his cinematic swan song. He’s a wizened, old war horse throughout the film but a powerful and amazing climax involving a liberated concentration camp culminates with the most impressive, stoic performance that Marvin has ever given. Once again, no spoilers. Simply see it for yourself and make your own judgment. I dare you not to be moved by it.

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ADVENTURES IN AUTHORING: ANSWERING NEGATIVE CRITICISM

A while back I was having dinner with my publisher, Tim Schaffner, when the subject of negative criticism of Lee Marvin Point Blank came up.
Don’t get me wrong, the overwhelming majority of reviews of the book have been largely positive and for that I am eternally grateful.

Paperback back cover of LEE MARVIN POINT BLANK (designed by Jake Kiehle) highlighting some of the reviews.

However, the handful of negative criticism still stick in one’s craw. I can chuckle at it now but at the time, you can’t imagine how frustrating it is to be pummeled over something the critic claims authority over, yet in reality, knows nothing about….and then blames me!
What had bothered Tim was a review that not only raked the book over the coals, but also tore into what the reviewer thought was the awful editing of the book. Why did that bother Tim so much? He just happened to have been the editor! I told him I had read some other negatives too, but he emphasized to me in no uncertain terms that no matter how tempting it is: DO NOT RESPOND IN KIND. His point being that iit gives them a platform, brings you down to their level, and might even effect sales negatively in the long run if the review is believed.
He was right of course, but seeing as how this is my blog, to help support and supplement my book, run for cover if you are so inclined as I’m-a gonna fire back, once and for all. As James Dean said to Rock Hudson in Giant: “And there ain’t a dang thing you can do about it!”
Okay, Since I had told Tim I wouldn’t respond in kind, and to keep myself as honest as possible, I’ll just focus on two such reviews and I won’t be citing the source of the criticism. I’ll merely quote the inane comment anonymously and then show how frustratingly wrong they can be. Ready? I’ll start with the one that pissed off Tim so much. Here goes….

… Dwayne Epstein’s Lee Marvin: Point Blank isn’t anything close to definitive. A sloppily edited assemblage of interviews, it’s first-draft oral history in which readers with considerable patience can find Epstein issues several medical diagnoses derived from his own conclusions….Marvin fans who can get through all the throat-clearing tedium will find similar quotable bits in these underedited pages.

Heh, heh. Can you see why Tim, the book, editor got so pissed? No proof to back up their claim, no alternative response, not even an example of my ‘throat-clearing tedium,’ other than one sentence in which the quote is taken completely out of context. I hope the idiotic reviewer got paid well for his online rant because he may have kept a lot of well-meaning movie geeks from reading my book and discovering Lee Marvin for themselves. Sadly, it’s their loss.
And now, my personal favorite. There’s the one from a respected and long-in-the-tooth film journal that went to town on my facts. Strange scenario involved as well because the reviewer sent me the review and apologized as it was a last minute assignment for him, thus hinting that he may not have read the whole thing. Like a bonehead, I thanked him for his effort without reading the review first. Still kicking myself over that one. Here’s part of what bugged me….

Epstein does tell of Marvin—during the filming of Samuel Fuller’s The Big Red One (1980), his last great role—taking the stage at a Roman-built amphitheater in Israel to recite a soliloquy from King Lear. That event is as surprising to the reader as it must have been to Marvin’s costars, as there’s no other mention in the book of Marvin having an affinity or aptitude for William Shakespeare or classical drama.

Hmm, do you think he may have missed the section in which Lee studied the classics at the American Theatre Wing (ATW)? Possibly. Then again, he probably also missed this image in the photo section (laid out by graphic artist Jake Kiehle), as well…..

Lee Marvin in LM:PB’s photo section shown in Shakespearean garb while attending the ATW.

I swear to you folks, try as you might, you just can’t make these things up!
Okay, enough ranting. Don’t go by my word as to the book’s value. Certainly don’t go by the word of an online movie geek or pompous film journalist, either. By all means, judge for yourself. Read the book. Find out about Lee Marvin. Rent or download some of his films. Then, do something revolutionary these days: make up your OWN mind.
– Dwayne Epstein

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BIG RED ONE RECONSTRUCTION AT THE DGA

Writer/Director Sam Fuller’s The Big Red One never received the accolades it deserved in his lifetime for a myriad of reasons. I mention this simply because I was going through my research records for Lee Marvin Point Blank and came across some reminders of the film’s reconstruction back in 2004. I was invited to the screening at the Director’s Guild of America (DGA) in Hollywood and wound up mingling with several of the film’s participants.

Program cover for the DGA screening of Sam Fuller’s reconstructed THE BIG RED ONE.

Those in attendance included Sam’s widow Christa Fuller and their daughter Samantha, as well as the film’s costars Robert Carradine, Kelly Ward, Bobby DiCiccio, Perry Lang and a few others. Mark Hamill was scheduled to appear but had to cancel.
Anyway, it was a wonderful experience.

Inside page of BIG RED ONE reconstruction program.

There were also a few unexpected surprises, such as Martha Plimpton and her father, Keith Carradine. I spoke briefly with Carradine in hopes of getting an interview for his work in Emperor of the North but sadly, it was not to be.
On a happier note, I was able to reconnect with Peter Levinson (1934-2008), The Big Red One’s original publicist who had granted me an interview a few months before, regaling me with some wonderful industry anecdotes I might blog about in the near future.
Viewing the film was of course an incredible experience as the lost footage had been rumored and whispered about for decades were finally on display. Historian Richard Schickel did a most commendable job putting the pieces together, as most fans would later discover on DVD.
Okay, I am apparently avoiding the obvious, which is what I REALLY found in my research records. Can you tell? So, without further adieu, here it is. Before the film started, Christa Fuller took a photo of me chatting with her daughter outside the DGA building. It might best be dubbed “Beauty & The Beast.” I give you…..

Samantha Fuller (left) reacts to something I’m telling her while I blather on about something that, for the life of me, I have no memory of whatsoever. Maybe that’s a good thing.

 

 

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