GENE HACKMAN TURNS 90-YEARS OLD!

Gene Hackman, a perennial favorite of mine since I first saw The French Connection (1971) and The Poseidon Adventure (1972) in theaters, has reached his landmark 90th birthday. That’s right, as of January 30th, the legendary ‘least likely to succeed’ Pasadena Playhouse alum, who has won two Oscars and countless other accolades, enters his 9th decade but is still appreciated the world over. According to this People.com article the love for Hackman among film fans runs deep.
Having costarred with Lee Marvin in Prime Cut (1972), I never did get to interview him for Lee Marvin Point Blank which of course, is a damn shame.

Original ads for PRIME CUT featuring Marvin, Hackman, Sissy Spacek and Angel Tompkins.

It’s not for lack of trying, however. Before the days of the internet is when I did the bulk of my research and in my attempts to contact him via his agent I was was told Mr. Gene Hackman was not interested. Once I interviewed others involved in Prime Cut, such as Greg Walcott and Angel Tompkins, I could understand Gene Hackman’s reticence. The stories I got, especially from Walcott, explains why Hackman may have refused my invitation.

Lee Marvin as Nick Devlin and Gene Hackman as Mary Ann go head-to-head in director Michael Ritchie’s PRIME CUT.

Hackman was obviously not happy with the film, having just made The French Connection and on the brink of major stardom. Also, it seems very unlikely that he and Marvin, got along during the film, despite both men being ex-Marines. Why you may ask? Well, if you read my book you’d figure that out pretty quickly.

All that aside, Gene Hackman is and always will be one of my favorite actors. So for that I say HAPPY 90th BIRTHDAY, MR. HACKMAN AND HERE’S WISHING YOU AT LEAST ANOTHER 90 MORE!
– Dwayne Epstein

TIME magazine’s review of PRIME CUT. I especially love the comment about Sissy Spacek. Critics!

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MEN ON A MISSION: THE BEST OF LEE MARVIN

Men on a Mission, a subgenre of pretty much every possible action film, has been around for a very long time and is undergoing a resurgence of sorts within the ranks of superhero films and the like. The undeniable king of the subgenre, however, has to be Lee Marvin. Whether the genre is a western, WWII, crime films or sometimes impossible to categorize, no actor did more of them or the best of them than Marvin.
According to a 2014 IndieWire article on WWII films, “The recipe is simple: take a bunch of men (the more ill-suited and quarrelsome the better), give them an objective—killing Hitler, looting Nazi gold, saving Private Ryan, protecting crucial work of arts from destruction by the Germans—and send those men on the mission.”
By that definition, no list of great WWII Men on a Mission films could be complete without The Dirty Dozen (1967). Of course, the definition left out the crucial aspect of training which often makes up the best part of the film, all elements of which are even the ad line for the film….

Poster for THE DIRTY DOZEN, the best of WWII Men on a Mission films in which the genre is defined in the ad.

When it comes to westerns within the subgenre, it’s hard to beat The Professionals (1966) for plot, character, action and dialogue. Kind of forgotten nowadays but anyone familiar with it knows how great a film it truly is.

 

Poster art for THE PROFESSIONALS.

 

 

 

 

Some crime films don’t usually include the subgenre as they are often revenge or heist oriented in their plots and themes. One obvious exception would be Prime Cut (1972).

The very strange project had Marvin tasked with rounding up a crew to get rogue mobster Gene Hackman to fork over the money he’s been skimming from the Kansas City mob. Naturally, Hackman does not take kindly to their mission and the resulting violence makes up the bulk of the film. Marvin does rescue Sissy Spacek from Hackman along the way and dallies with ex-girlfriend Angel Tompkins but that aside, it’s pure male-dominated action. At one point, Marvin even has to introduce himself to the mother of one of his young recruits!

Two different ad campaigns for director Michael Ritchie’s, PRIME CUT.

And then there are action films that simply defy categorization. The best example of this is Marvin’s 1973 opus, Emperor of the North. The mission, which is also clearly stated in the ad, was so unique audiences did not know what to make of it and ultimately simply avoided it altogether. A shame really as the finale and the cinematography throughout are excellent.

EMPEROR OF THE NORTH’s ad states the mission quite clearly.

So there you have it. A small smattering of examples showing Lee Marvin’s work as the best of the subgenre. There are many more, of course, but for the uninitiated, the above examples are a good place to start. Naturally, all of his films, including the ones mentioned herein, are explored in detail, from inception to reception within the pages of Lee Marvin Point Blank. Feel free to check it out for yourself and you’ll discover the best of a rediscovered and still relevant subgenre.

  • Dwayne Epstein
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SUPERSTARDOM: LEE MARVIN & THE LADIES

The Harvey Weinstein scandal being the main topic of conversation these days, such behavior is actually not that revelational among the power brokers and others who have reached a level of superstardom in show business. The term ‘casting couch’ is one of the oldest cliches in Hollywood, and as Claudette Colbert once famously said, “The casting couch? There’s only one of us who ever made it to stardom without it, and that was Bette Davis.”
So what does any of this have to do with Lee Marvin? Well, in researching Lee Marvin Point Blank the subject of sexual harassment never became an issue in my research, despite Marvin’s tendency towards boorish behavior on the occasion of some drunken episodes as detailed in the pages of Lee Marvin Point Blank. He could be loutish and embarrassing at times but thanks to his breeding, he always managed to pull himself back from the abyss. As his lawyer David Kagon said to me: “Lee Marvin was a truly Victorian character, particularly when it came to women. He always treated women extremely courteously. I never heard him use a word that you’d want to use, at that time, to qualify for usage in polite society when a woman was present. He always treated them very, almost as if he were Victorian. He was the kind of guy that would open a door for a woman. He’d stand up.”
Due to the kind of films he made, Marvin had little interaction with many of the actresses of the day. When he did, the results were unsurprisingly similar.  Basically, Marvin’s treatment of his female costars as he ascended into superstardom fell into three categories: Younger costars were protected in a fatherly way while veteran costars were given the utmost respect. The third category? Well, that was a rare category that may have fallen to more women had he worked with more women.

CAT BALLOU costar Jane Fonda learning some valuable lessons from veteran Lee Marvin.

His Oscar-winning performance in Cat Ballou catapulted him to stardom but during production, his treatment of the opposite sex didn’t change. In fact, costar Jane Fonda didn’t always see eye-to-eye when they made the film but in retrospect she wrote in her autobiography: “The producers had us working overtime day after day, until one morning Lee Marvin took me aside. ‘Jane,’ he said, ‘we are the stars of this movie. If we let the producers walk all over us, if we don’t stand up for ourselves, you know who suffers most? The crew. The guys who don’t have the power we do to say, ‘shit, no, we’re working’ too hard.’ You have to get some backbone, girl. Learn to say no when they ask you to keep working.’ I will always remember Lee for that important lesson.”
Following Cat Ballou, Marvin worked with the mostly all-male cast in the now classic rugged western, The Professionals. An exception to the testosterone-driven cast was Europe’s Claudia Cardinale…..

Claudia Cardinale and Marvin in Richard Brooks’ THE PROFESSIONALS (1966).

By all accounts, Marvin’s relationship with the Italian film star was, as the title suggested, strictly professional and for Marvin that meant respectful.
A good example of how he treated a younger actress is his relationship with Sissy Spacek during the making of Prime Cut. As she is quoted in her memoir about her film debut:

Sissy Spacek and Lee Marvin in PRIME CUT.

“I loved working with Lee Marvin, and he was actually very protective of me. But he was a prodigious drinker, and he warned me to avoid him when he was inebriated. When we first met on location, I blurted out, ‘Lee, you have the greenest eyes!’
‘Yeah,’ said Lee. ‘And whenever you see them turn blue stay away from me.’
“It was true. When he’d had a few too many, his eyes turned ocean blue and everybody gave him a wide berth. But mostly he was a good guy, and very professional….I was so caught up in the filming I hardly noticed the battles going on behind the scenes. [Director]  Michael Ritchie was constantly fighting with the powers that be over the tone of Prime Cut. Michael wanted it to be more of a camp satire; the studio wanted a straight gangster thriller. Lee Marvin shared the director’s vision for the film and it led to some tense moment  on location.”
Spacek is right when she said there were some fights during production, but incorrect when she said Ritchie and Marvin shared the film’s vision. In fairness, she readily admits to hardly noticing the battles going on. Lee Marvin told it plain to journalist Grover Lewis in Rolling Stone magazine shortly after the film came out: “I’ve made some mistakes I wish I hadn’t. One of them was working with Michael Ritchie on Prime Cut. Oh I hate that son-of-a-bitch. He likes to use amateurs because he can emotionally dominate them. That chick in Prime Cut, she would’ve sucked my cock on camera if Ritchie’d told her to. One night, I wanted to rehearse a scene and he didn’t want to, so he pretended to get sick. I said, ‘shit fire, Michael. ‘ll get you a fuckin’ doctor.’ Nothing worked with that guy, and the picture just fell apart before we even got started. ” The film’s other female star, Angel Tompkins, concurred with Sissy Spacek’s assessment of Marvin. Clearly, his respect for women was maintained, despite his opinion of the film’s director. As to the handful of other female costars he worked with…

(L-R) Elizabeth Ashley, Kay Lenz and Lee Marvin in GREAT SCOUT & CATHOUSE THURSDAY. Lenz told this author wonderful anecdotes about working with Marvin.

(L-R) Roger Moore, Barbara Parkins and Lee Marvin in SHOUT AT THE DEVIL. Playing Parkins’ father, Marvin was just naturally fatherly towards the actress.

Linda Evans and Lee Marvin in AVALANCHE EXPRESS.

Then there is that rarest of third categories, of which only one is actually known. Well, maybe two if you count an extra during a film. Okay, three if you want to be speculative. To put it another way, Lee Marvin was protective and respectful to his leading ladies. However, there’s absolutely no evidence that he was abusive in any way, but was he ever romantic? Stay tuned…..
– Dwayne Epstein

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