NOVEMBER 2021 ON TCM

November 2021 on TCM is going to be terrific for us Lee Marvin fans. They’ll be showing three of his films and a plethora of other films related to his career. The choices may seem to be a bit of a stretch, but one need merely read Lee Marvin Point Blank to see it’s no stretch at all. The titles below bear this out:

The Rack (1956) Thursday, November 11, 3 a.m.

As Capt. John R. Miller, Lee Marvin perpetrates an ambush on fellow P.O.W. Paul Newman that sets the tone of the film.


Starring Paul Newman in one of his first films, Marvin costars in a small yet important role as a fellow Korean War-era P.O.W. who testifies during Newman’s court-martial for collaborating with the enemy. A similar theme akin to Marvin’s Sergeant Ryker (1968), the film is rather dated but does have its moments, due mainly to the all-star cast. Interesting trivia discovered by yours truly after my book came out but blogged about here.

The Dirty Dozen
(1967) Thursday, November 11, 12:30 p.m.

Composite of scenes from the TCM perennial, THE DIRY DOZEN.


A TCM favorite that is, like The Rack, airing appropriately enough on Veteran’s Day this November 2021. There’s not much more that I can possibly say about this timeless classic that made me a Lee Marvin fan and also hoisted him into the rare atmosphere of superstardom but as my next project suggests, I’m discovering fascinating, unheard of details all the time, so stay tuned!


The Professionals
(1966) Saturday, November 20, 9 a.m. 

The Professionals, 1966.


Not only one of Lee Marvin’s best films, but a solid classic in its own right, The Professionals deserves a much better reputation than its legacy suggests, which means no matter how many times you’ve seen it, you’ll want to see it again…and again, and again. Yeah, it’s that good. See for yourself if you don’t believe me and discover also some behind-the-scene factoids along the way.  

Below are some other films airing November 2021 that have an interesting connection to Lee Marvin’s career:



Out of the Past
(1947) Friday, November 12, 10:30 a.m.

Foreign issue poster for OUT OF THE PAST highlighting the male leads.


Considered by many to be one of, if not the greatest film noir of all time, Marvin would have fit in quite comfortably in this film, although it was made before he launched his acting career. Robert Mitchum stars as a man looking to forget his dubious past but his former gangster boss played by Kirk Douglas ferrets him to find his femme fatale girlfriend played by Jane Greer. Naturally sparks fly and soon all hell breaks lose. Marvin would be right in either role but I’d like to think he’d add and extra something in the Kirk Douglas role. You be the judge.

The French Connection (1971) Saturday, November 13, 5 p.m.

(L-R) Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider and Fernando Rey pictured in the DVD graphic for THE FRENCH CONNECTION.


Quite possibly the best 1970s cop film ever that once again, just gets better with the passage of time. Airing for the film’s 50th anniversary, Gene Hackman earned a well-deserved Best Actor Oscar as Popeye Doyle, a tough cop doggedly determined to bust the biggest heroin ring in NYC history. Based on the real life exploits of Eddie Egan (who, along with partner Sonny Grosso, had supporting roles in the films), it also won the Oscar for Best Picture. All well and good and all properly documented. So, what is it doing in this compendium of Lee Marvin films and themes? I recently discovered that Marvin was considered (among many others) for the lead role. Seriously. Would have been interesting but in all honesty, I’m actually glad he didn’t do it. No one could have been better than Hackman.

The Lineup (1958) Saturday, November 13, 9 p.m.

Original poster for THE LINEUP.


Based on the CBS radio and TV series of the same name, this obscure little thriller pairs Eli Wallach and Robert Keith as a couple of professional criminals looking to retrieve a cache of smuggled heroin. So, once again, why is it mentioned here? The film was directed by the underrated Don Siegel who often provided brilliance on a small budget, such as the similar-themed The Killers (1964) a few years later. Watch the relationship between psychotic Wallach and his mentor Keith and see if it reminds you of Marvin and Clu Gulager. If you do watch it, make sure to check out that slam bang ending!

The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948) Monday, November 15, 1 pm and Saturday, November, 27, 2:45 pm. 

Mostly in shadow, Humphrey Bogart and Tim Holt brutally battle big Barton MacLane for the money he owes them.



A classic in its own right, it also stands as one of Lee Marvin’s personal favorite films. And with good reason, as I showed in an earlier blog. Its reputation is well deserved but I’ll add my own two cents. I’ve never really been that big of a Humphrey Bogart fan, depending largely on the film itself. I thought the man came off rather stiff too often. However, when he played characters dangling on the edge of sanity as in The Caine Mutiny (1954) or In A Lonely Place (1950), then he was something to see. No where is that more true than his performance here as Fred C. Dobbs. It’s brilliant.

The Split (1968) Wednesday, November 24, 2:30 p.m. 

Someone forgot to tell Warren Oates to smile as this poster for THE SPLIT suggests.


Hot off the success of The Dirty Dozen, big Jim Brown reteams with fellow Dozen alum Ernest Borgnine and Donald Sutherland in this variation of Point Blank with a fascinating cast and premise. Brown is recently released from prison and is hired by mob boss Julie Harris (!) to rob a football stadium with cohorts Borgnine and Sutherland along with Warren Oates and Jack Klugman. As a typical 60s caper film it fits its time period but the sparks really fly AFTER the caper as the title suggests. Diahann Carroll is Brown’s love interest, Gene Hackman is a crooked cop who wants a piece of the split and James Whitmore is a psychotic sex criminal as crazed as any movie villain can be. Some cast, huh? Point Blank connection aside, check it out for yourself for that powerhouse cast alone!

So, there you have some cinematic goodies and thoughts about them that are airing November 2021 on TCM. Enjoy!

– Dwayne Epstein

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SERGEANT RYKER: WHAT YOU PROBABLY DIDN’T KNOW

Sergeant Ryker was a 1968 theatrical release for Lee Marvin but if you think it looks like it was made a few years earlier, you would be right. It’s just one of several aspects of this strangely intriguing, yet at the same time, run-of-the-mill production.

Cover art for SERGEANT RYKER’s VHS release, borrowed from the theatrical release.

Why does it ‘look’ like it was made earlier? The original production was a 1963 two-part TV episode pilot of the Kraft Theatre originally titled The Case Against Paul Ryker, which is an infinitely more apt title than the theatrical title or the poster above. By 1968, Marvin was already grayer, craggier, and an Oscar-winning superstar. Making a film with such a macho sounding title sounded like a sure bet at the box-office. Only problem was it was a court-room drama, NOT a macho war movie.
To be fair, it’s TV-movie trapping aside, it’s a well done story. Marvin is Ryker, already found guilty of conspiring with the enemy  — in this case the North Koreans — and is awaiting the hangman. New evidence may prove his claim of being on a secret mission behind enemy lines to be true, but the only officer who knew of the mission has died. A new trial is ordered and the truth may or may not finally come out. It begs the question, is Ryker an unrecognized hero or an undeniable traitor?  Cool premise, huh?
The production boasts a terrific ensemble for its day, including Vera Miles as Ryker’s wife, the criminally underrated Bradford Dillman as Ryker’s lawyer, Peter Graves as the prosecutor, Murray Hamilton as a sleazy associate, venerable Lloyd Nolan as Dillman’s commanding officer and the always less than cheerful Norman Fell as a put-upon corporal.
Those are the plusses. On the minus side of the ledger, the production values are strictly from hunger. Even as a 1963 TV show it looks pretty bad. I can’t imagine what it must have looked like on the big screen. It’s style is so nondescript, costar Norman Fell didn’t even remember being in it when I asked him about it back in the 1990s.
He did, however, remember a similar project that was made for TV but later released theatrically. He worked with Marvin in The Killers and he is quoted extensively about it in Lee Marvin Point Blank, THAT was a much more memorable experience, as far as he was concerned.
Pity the poor moviegoer of 1968 who wanted to see Lee Marvin in a ‘new’ release with a typical “rock-em-sock-em” sounding title like Sergeant Ryker, only to be treated to a TV courtroom drama (!)

A page from the SERGEANT RYKER pressbook in which Universal attempted to promote the project cinematically.

 

There is one other interesting aspect to the film if one ever gets around to watching it. Veteran director Buzz Kulik told me a great anecdote concerning Lee Marvin and the filming of the project. It didn’t make the cut as far as my book was concerned, but was brought to life on the pages of this blog a while ago.

Screen capture of Lee Marvin (head on desk) with Bradford Dillman from that ‘moment” Buzz Kulik described.

The advent of home video, cable TV, and now other digital media platforms, makes the likelihood of such a phenomenon near impossible today, thankfully. However, the sense of being ripped-off by Hollywood on occasion may never go away. I point to the plethora of superhero moves being cranked out as a prime example.
Want to know about some other less than savory doings that took place behind the scenes during the 1960s and 1970? There’s the time the time Lee Marvin was duped by a gay producer for starters. For that read Lee Marvin Point Blank.
– Dwayne Epstein

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BUZZ KULIK ON DIRECTING SERGEANT RYKER

ryker

 

Film & TV director Buzz Kulik, worked with Lee Marvin a few times and was gracious enough to grant me a phone inter view for Lee Marvin Point Blank. Most of what he told me went in the book. However, This little tidbit didn’t make the cut but is worth retelling…
Director Buzz Kulik: There is one story that stands out. I had worked with him on live TV. I liked him and thought he was a wonderful actor. He had a tough time with booze, though. Drunk, he could be belligerent. He couldn’t hold his liquor that well. Because of his past experience with it, I had heard he was difficult. So, what I did was talk to the head of security at the studio. I told him to tell the guards at the gate, “If he leaves at lunch, gets out on to Lankershim, hits the bars, gets into a fight, I want to know about it, right away. Tell me if he leaves.” I talked to Lee. I said, “I don’t want you to go off the lot for lunch. When we break for lunch, you could have lunch with me or whomever, but don’t leave the lot.” He said “Okay.” About five or seven days into shooting I called a lunch break. The hour goes by and Lee doesn’t come back. I wait a half hour, and he still didn’t show up. I yelled at security. I called all the gates. I said, “Look, all I asked is that you tell me if he leaves.” Nobody saw him leave. He finally showed up, bombed. Do you remember the old show, “Wagon Train?” Well, they filmed at Universal. When we broke for lunch, Lee wandered over there, sat with some of the old timers, and they must have had some booze in their dressing room because when he got back, he was all tanked up. He was very apologetic. I made him apologize to the cast and crew. What we wound up doing was shooting a different scene that day. I shot the scenes where he was at the defense table and all he had to do was listen. If you watch those scenes now, I think you can see him kind of hanging down. [laughs] He was a wild man.

 

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