LEE MARVIN: IN COLD BLOOD

I recently watched the 1967 classic true-crime thriller In Cold Blood on TCM and it still packs one hell of a wallop. Writer/Director Richard Brooks was at the peak of his game in his stark tale of the horrific murders of the Clutter family at the hands of ex-con drifters Perry Smith (Robert Blake) and Dick Hickox (Scott Wilson). As readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank know, Marvin himself came pretty damned close to being in the film.
How close? From the IMDb: “Lee Marvin wanted the role of Alvin Dewey but director Richard Brooks gave it to John Forsythe instead. Brooks had worked with Marvin on the extremely successful, The Professionals.  but Marvin had proved to be a handful on the set.”

L-R: Veteran character actor James Flavin, Robert Blake, Gerald S. O’loughlin, John Forsythe (in the role Marvin was to play) & Scott Wilson in Richard Brooks’ true crime thriller, IN COLD BLOOD.

I’m not quite sure where the IMDb got its information from but I had interviewed stuntman Tony Epper, who had worked very closely with Brooks and Marvin on The Professionals. His version of why Marvin was not in the film was quite different. While it’s true Marvin and Brooks did not always get along, both men were well aware of each other’s  personality traits and it was Marvin, not Brooks, who did not want to work with the other. Marvin thought of Brooks as a martinet who may have been a military veteran, but having not seen actual combat, he considered Brooks a phony and a bully. Unfortunate really as it was another golden opportunity that Marvin missed in being a part of portraying the horror of violence on film as never seen before at that time.

Lee Marvin as Detective Frank Ballinger on M Squad, or, as I like to think of it, how he would have appeared in the John Forsythe role for IN COLD BLOOD.

Tony Epper: “I’ll tell you what Lee did. I came over and Lee said ‘Go get some of that good wine at the liquor store.’ It was a different label, that’s all. Other than that, after the third drink, you know. Anyway, I get a phone call. I lived down in the valley in those days. It’s Richard. I remember Tommy Shaw, who was the production manager, in those days. He was a good production manager. Anyway, Brooks wanted to get the script of In Cold Blood to Tommy. He had called Tommy and Tommy couldn’t come. I took it, because his wife had a liver problem. That’s where the money went. Anyway, I went over and that’s when Brooks was still with Jean Simmons. He and I were good friends. Nothing but good friends…Anyway, I go in the house and there’s Richard. He says, ‘I want you to do me a big favor.’ I said ‘Do you want me to kill somebody?’ (laughs) He gives me the script. Lots of seals all over it. I stopped by Lee’s with the script and the bottle he wanted. Anyway, this part was Lee’s idea. He saw the sealed script I was to deliver to Shaw, and since he knew Brooks was so paranoid about anybody reading his script, he came up with this idea. He said, ‘Let’s just break the seal before giving it to Shaw.’ I asked Lee if he wanted to read it first. We never read it, just broke the seal. Brooks, until the day he died, kept asking me if we had ever read the script to In Cold Blood. I think that’s why he changed his mind about offering the role to Lee.”
– Dwayne Epstein

IN COLD BLOOD writer/director Richard Brooks (behind the camera) and cinematographer Conrad Hall behinds Brooks.

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MY FAVORITE FIGHT SCENES, PART 5 of 5

Well, dear readers, your humble narrator has come to the fifth and final entry in this series I created of my favorite movie fight scenes. I stopped at 1980 as the quality of filmmaking, especially when it comes to fight scenes, fell off dramatically from then on. If you missed any of the previous entries (Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4) click on the linking numbers in blue. As for the remaining choices, I wanted to include some Lee Marvin, of course, but there just wasn’t anything worthy of his films in this time period that was a favorite. Readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank know why. For the rest, read on…

21. THE PARALLAX VIEW-1974

Reporter Warren Beatty (left) orders a glass of milk to entice deputy Earl Hindman (right) into a brawl and of course it works in The Parallax View.

Reporter Warren Beatty (left) orders a glass of milk to entice deputy Earl Hindman (right) into a brawl and of course it works in The Parallax View.

The 1970s was my favorite period of American filmmaking for many reasons, not the least of which was due to the advent of the paranoid political thriller. One of the best was The Parallax View, which is a recognized classic of the genre. There is so much greatness in this taut thriller it’s almost impossible to narrow it down: From star Warren Beatty’s believable turn as a dogged reporter to the standout supporting cast of veterans (Hume Cronyn, Kenneth Mars, Anthony Zerbe, Paula Prentiss, William Daniels, Earl Hindman, Jim Davis, Walter McGinn, Kelly Thordsen); Amazing editing, especially in the ‘test’ sequence; Wonderful touches of dark humor; Director Alan Pakula’s use of silence to ramp up the suspense as he had in Klute and later All The President’s Men; All these elements are so phenomonal that the purposeful barroom brawl almost gets lost in the mix. Almost. What I love about it is that once it commences (hilariously, by the way) and Beatty’s character looks finished, he keeps charging back! No matter what. Talk about never say die. He even crashes through a window to get BACK into the brawl. The film itself is a stunner but for me, that fight scene is another all-time favorite. And whatever you do, DO NOT GIVE AWAY THE FILM’S ENDING!

22. HARD TIMES-1975

HardTimes

A rare smile from Charles Bronson as Chaney (center) as his manager James Coburn as Speed (right) and Strother Martin as his cutman Poe (left) prepare him for his fight in Hard Times.

Of all the films Charles Bronson made in his late life ascent into stardom few were liked by the critics that his fans loved (The Death Wish series), and fewer still were liked by fans that critics praised (From Noon Til Three). Only one it seems was able to please both fans and critics alike, and with good reason. Hard Times gave fans the action they’ve come to expect, while critics rubbed their eyes in astonishment to see Bronson in a film of value and depth. He plays a mysterious stranger in Depression-era America whom professional gambler James Coburn manages into the premiere street fighter of his day. The story was straightforward but the time, place and style of director Walter Hill’s direction proved the perfect marriage for Bronson’s minimalist acting. As the ads for the film wryly stated, “During the Depression, words didn’t buy much.”
A lot of the regular blog readers here may know that Bronson is the subject of my next project — tenatively titles Charles Bronson: American Samurai — and as such, this is one of my favorite film of his, as well. Saw it the theater when it first came out and even though there are a number of well done fight scenes throughout the film (has anybody ever rattlled off so many rapid fire punches as Bronson does in this film?), my favorite fight is Bronson’s first. If you’ve seen it, you know why. If you haven’t be prepared as it’s excellent. In his 50s,  aged and lined, when he takes off his shirt for the first (and subsequent) fight, brother, look out!

23. THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR– 1975

Robert Redford (Joseph Turner) fights assasin postman Hank Garrett (Mailman).

Robert Redford (Joseph Turner) fights assasin postman Hank Garrett (Mailman).

I am in no way, shape or form a fan of the spy film genre. There are exceptions of course (The Spy Who Came in From the Cold), but the overly complicated plots, sometimes needlessly so, are a complete turn-off to your humble narrator. Even this film, Three Days of the Condor, is hardly a favorite for the same reason. However, since the purpose of this blog is about favorite fight scenes, it definitely fits the bill. The opening of the film is now legendary (and justifiably so) but the fight scene later between good guy Robert Redford and “mailman” Hank Garrett,  is one for the books. It moves faster than most fight scenes I’ve ever witnessed and yet the viewer is able to keep up with who’s doing who.
When the first Christian Bale Batman film came out that was one of my biggest complaints and why I didn’t care for it. Not the case here. It moves so dangerously fast it ADDS to the suspense, NOT the confusion. Worth watching just for that tremendous scene. After that, meh, not so much.

13Turning point

Surbanite Shirley MacLaine (left) challenges waning Prima Ballerina Anne Bancroft (right) to a rooftop battle in Herb Ross’s The Turning Point.

24. THE TURNING POINT-1977

No, it’s not because it’s a catfight. It’s for a lot of reasons that the battle between Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft is a favorite fight scene of mine. Chiefly, it’s the one and only time two of my all-time actresses ever worked together, and it should have happened more often. Known mostly as the screen acting debut of both Leslie Browne and Mikhail Baryshnikov, the film is at its best as a wonderful excerise in female relationships rarely seen in movies. MacLaine left the ballet maybe too early and Bancroft stayed maybe too late and between them is MacLaine’s daughter whom they both battle over. When it comes to a head it’s classic movie bitchiness (yes, it starts with Bancroft tossing a drink in MacLaine’s face) and then…we’re off! They scream, chase, slap, curse, pull hair and end uproariously. Doesn’t matter if it’s a cliche or not. Two talents at the top of their game reaching a physical pinnacle is ALWAYS worth watching…and sadly, not seen enough.

NinthConfigKeach

Military psychiatrist Stacy Keach prepares to confront a gang of bizarre bikers, and ultimately, his true self, in William Peter Blatty’s, The Ninth Configuration.

25. THE NINTH CONFIGURATION – 1980


William Peter Blatty, best known for penning The Exorcist, wrote, directed, produced and even co-starred in this strange mediation on good/evil, sane/insane, god/godlessness (and more!) that is in dire need of rediscovery. It also goes by the title Twinkle, Twinkle Killer Kane and has what I consider to be an all-star cast headed up bythe underrated Stacy Keach. There are various cuts floating around but it doesn’t matter. Any version should be seen by one and all. Keach is a military psychatrist in charge of a group of misfit soldiers hidden in a castle in the great northwest to determine if they are really insane or merely malingering. A flimsy plot, I grant you, but the execution will blow you away. Razor-like dialogue, multi-layered subplots, inter-connected realtionships and, as the ads stated at the time, “A film that will keep you on the edge of your mind.” It culiminates with one of the strangest and yet completely siginificant barroom brawls I’ve ever seen. Once again, it must be seen to be beleived and once you do you’ll find yourself answering the question, why am I cheering all this bloodshed? I know I did.

And there you have it! My choices for favorite fight scenes. Just to keep it fair, I added some honorable mentions: Cape Fear (finale, either version), The Godfather (James Caan & Gianni Russo), Raging Bull, Gentlemen Jim, Somebody Up There Likes Me (tire stealing scene), Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, The Cincinnati Kid (the opening), 48 Hours, From Here to Eternity (several scenes), Straight Time (car scene), The Young Lions, My Favorite Year, Tom Horn (opening), Edge of the City (Jack Warden & Sidney Poitier), and Stalag 17.
Any readers have choices of their own? Quibbles? Complaints? Hey, leave a reply as I’m anxious to hear your thoughts.

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