MORE EARLY INFLUENCES IN LEARNING FILM HISTORY

For no other reason than just for fun, the idea of exploring early influences on both my writing, as well as my love of movies that resulted in Lee Marvin Point Blank, is something I decided was worth exploring just a little more.
I have a vid memory of watching Richard Schickel’s PBS series The Men Who Made the Movies back in the 70s when I was VERY young. Up until then, I never even gave much consideration to the importance of the director to a film and the concept changed my thinking, dramatically.

Extremely rare program for the PBS seres, THE MEN WHO MADE THE MOVIES.

In fact, Some of the subjects in Schickel’s series, such as Raoul Walsh and Bill Wellman, proved even more fascinating than the films they made!
An even greater example of early influences is a series books put out by Citadel Press entitled “The Films of…” and the very first one picked up was the beat up hardcover seen below….

THE FILMS OF JAMES CAGNEY, my 1st Citadel Press title which I still own.

The entire series (each title of interest of varying quality) was a revelation to this young star struck movie fan. Imagine for a moment you’re looking for any well illustrated information on the stars, genres, and periods of filmmaking that you love, long before the days of the internet, and you stumble up this rack at the local mall’s book store….

Citadel Press book rack as seen in at the local mall back in the 70s & 80s.

I was so enthralled by these titles, I even sent away for the full catalog so I could discover what all the titles were that existed and find out what they had to offer….

Citadel Press catalog of “Films Of..” books.

I was so bold at such a young age, I even went so far as to write the publisher and ask if I could write  book called The Films of Steve McQueen. I was politely told that one was in the works but thanks for the offer. They were right, of course. One did come out…about ten years later.

Back of the rare record given to me by author Tony Thomas.

The existing titles varied in quality, as I said, but I noticed several of the best were authored by the same very prolific writer. His name was Tony Thomas and for reasons I can no longer recall, I was fortunate to meet up with him in his home in southern California. I was extremely impressed with his kind demeanor, countless soundtracks shelved on the wall (many produced by him!) and his amazing patience with me. In fact, He simply handed me several soundtracks as we spoke and signed them all! As you can see by the scans below, I still have them. What he wrote remains a treasured possession. I wonder if anybody does that kind of thing any more…..

Tony Thomas inscription on the back of his soundtrack album To Robin Hood.

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GOLDEN GLOBES AND LEE MARVIN

Since the Golden Globes airing tonight begins the serious start of this year’s award season derby, it’s worth considering Lee Marvin’s involvement back in the 1960s. It’s of course mentioned within the pages of Lee Marvin Point Blank, but a little more depth is always interesting….isn’t it? Well, even if it isn’t, here it is.
It’s often felt that the Golden Globes — put on by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) — is a sort of precursor to the Oscars. It probably was at one time but with all the awards shows glutting the airwaves these days, it’s hard to tell anymore. The best reason to watch though, is in seeing all the celebrities getting and acting drunk. Sounds like an award show just made for Lee Marvin, doesn’t it?
Marvin was first nominated for a Golden Globe back in 1965 for his dual role in Cat Ballou as broken down, drunk gunslinger, Kid Shelleen and his evil twin brother, Tim Strawn.

Lee Marvin in Cat Ballou as the evil tin-nosed Tim Strawn.

No one was more surprised over the nomination, let alone the victory, than Marvin himself. Drunks are of course favorite performances for Oscar voters but the HFPA doesn’t always agree. The same can be said of dual roles by an actor. What helped Marvin, of course, was his unsung veteran status in films and television. He did win the Globe and went on to win the Oscar, as well. His acceptance speech at the Globes was not nearly as memorable as it would be later when he won the Oscar for the same film. When the thunderous ovation died down, he quipped about his performance, “Oh, I didn’t think it was all THAT funny.”

Golden Glob Winner Samantha Eggar (for The Collector) and Lee Marvin compare trophies at the February, 1966 presentation.

Four years later he was back at the Golden Globes, nominated again in the same category of Best Performance by an Actor in a Musical or Comedy. I always like the fact that the HFPA separates the performances of Musical/Comedy roles from the Drama category and the year he was nominated (for Paint Your Wagon, no less!) proved an intriguing year indeed. Some of his fellow nominees, all more known for dramatic roles, also sang in their performances. The winner was a warbling Peter O’Toole in the musical remake of Goodbye, Mr. Chips. However, fellow nominee Steve McQueen in The Reivers also sang a few choruses of “Camptown Races” on camera. The non-singing Dustin Hoffman (John & Mary) and Anthony Quinn (The Secret of Santa Vittoria) rounded out the field. Marvin may have finished out of the money, but his nomination was worthy. In my opinion, his performance as Ben Rumson is one of his best, despite the film itself being an overblown, overproduced, over-long albatross. Maybe that should make him more deserving. After all, isn’t it a greater challenge to be impressive in a badly made film than in a good one? Just a thought. Who knows, maybe the HFPA voters will feel the same when they announce the winners tonight.

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MY FAVORITE FILM FIGHT SCENES: PART 3 OF 5

Continuing on into the groundbreaking decade of the 1960s, below is the next five films in my list of personal favorite movie fight scenes……

11. SOLDIER IN THE RAIN-1963
Rarely scene and hardly liked by most Steve McQueen fans, Soldier in the Rain was made fresh off his blistering success of The Great Escape. It may seem like an odd choice to most McQueen fans as it’s an odd film to begin with but along with Baby, The Rain Must Fall it is in dire need of rediscovering. Based on a novel by the prolific WIlliam Goldman,and directed by the criminally underrated Ralph Nelson the offbeat tale is mostly a comedy about the peace-time shennigans of Supply Sgt. Eustis Clay (McQueen) and Master Sgt. Maxwell Slaughter (Jackie Gleason) and their unlikely yet beleviable friendship. The moody tone of the latter half of the film is hinted at during the opening credits via Henry Mancini’s meloncholy main theme. Tuesday Weld heads up the equally offbeat supporting cast of Ed Nelson, Lew Gallo, Tony Bill, Adam West, Tom Poston and Rockne Tarkington.

Jackie Gleason takes Ed Nelson for a spin.

Jackie Gleason takes Ed Nelson for a spin.

The black and white film is shot bright and sunny throughout most of the proceedings but once the film’s mood changes, so too does the lighting, to a darker tone that is neither inappropriate nor jarring. It all works, and brilliantly at that, especailly during the barroom brawl that remains a favorite if spooky reminder of how great this film is. The viewer is right in the thick of it as McQueen and Gleason versus Gallo and Nelson reaches a most beleviable conclusion, as does the film itself in which all loose plot developments are poignantly tied up. The pairing of Gleason and McQueen in an early ‘Buddy Film’ may seem odd at first glance but the chemistry between them is there and quite touching at times.

Steve McQueen (right) consoles Jackie Gleason (left) following their barrom brawl.

Steve McQueen (right) consoles Jackie Gleason (left) following their barrom brawl.

In a moment that sounds like a scene right out of the film, rumor has it that Gleason gave McQueen a pair of cufflinks depicting one of his own favorite recreations, playing golf. Supposedly, McQueen thanked him for the gesture but told The Great One he didn’t wear cufflinks when indulging in his favorite recreation: riding motorcycles.

12. DONOVAN’S REEF-1963

When I interviewed Betty Marvin for Lee Marvin Point Blank she was not only forthcoming in her memories of her ex-husband, she proved to be extremely insightful of his screen persona. In comparing Marvin to frequent costar John Wayne, she used a wonderful metaphor, describing Wayne as a big lumbering, yet to her mind, loveable bear. Lee, on the other hand was a panther, sleek, muscular and ready to pounce at a moment’s notice. No where is that anaology more true than in Donovan’s Reef, which opens with a wonderful comic brawl between the two that makes almost the entire remainder of the fllm anti-climatic by comparison.

Marvin and Wayne temporarily abide by Jack Warden's orders to heed their annual birthday brawl in Donavan's Reef.

Marvin and Wayne temporarily abide by Jack Warden’s orders to heed their annual birthday brawl in Donavan’s Reef.

13. WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS-1966
Why is a Toho monster film on this list? I say, why not? Besides, when I was a kid I LOVED this movie. Watching it now it commands an amazing amount of camp value that rivals anything Ed Wood ever did! The premise is simple enough. Two incredibly ugly behemoth brothers battle it out over bragging rights to destroy Japan, while destroying Japan in the process. You want camp? Try this, when a lounge singer warbles out the film’s love song  on a crusie ship (“The Words Get Stuck in My Throat”), a Gargantua, skilled in music criticism, promptly picks her up, eats her, and spits out her clothes like a sunflower seed shell.
The Brown Gargantua is ‘the good one’ and the Green is ‘the bad.’ Naturally, I was rooting for the green. Along for the ride is a slumming Russ Tamblyn as a hip talking scientist. All in all one of the best — albeit longest — fight scenes in movie history. Their faces and body language alone is worth the price of admission!

No it's not Whoopi Goldberg and Sharon Osborne. It's the title characers of WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS in mid-brawl.

No it’s not Whoopi Goldberg and Sharon Osborne. It’s the title characers of WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS in mid-brawl.

14. THE SAND PEBBLES – 1966
As a 1960s roadshow engagement film and the only time Steve McQueen ever got an Oscar nomination, the overblown production of The Sand Pebbles is dying for rediscovery, if only for the bizarre fight scene between diminutive Mako and Slovenly giant Simon Oakland.  The film revolves around a U.S. gunboat mired in the quagmire of 1920s China’s political upheaval. The many analogies to Vietnam become a little annoying afte a while but the relationships of the characters, especially the crew of the San Pablo, is the heart of the film. The battle between Oakland and Mako is a standout as the viewer doesn’t think there’s any way Mako can possibly triumph. He’s a ship’s Coolie fighting for his right to stay on the ship in a bet made by McQueen’s Jake Holman character (who incidentally proves he  can take Oakland himself by a couple of quick body blows). Oakland is fighting for the right to break in a virginal Chinese prostitute. What unfolds in the sequence is not only good ol’ fashion underdog heroics, but a rousing yet beleviable climax of events.
One little known footnote: When Francis Ford Coppola was filming Apocalypse, Now! he had his cast & crew watch The Sand Pebbles first in order to see what kind of superior filmmaking can emerge in the midst of difficult location shooting. Robert Wise’s The Sand Pebbles proved to influence films more than he ever realized.

Slovenly Simn Oakland seems destined to pummel minute Mako in The Sand Pebbles. Viewers of the film know better....

Slovenly Simon Oakland seems destined to pummel minute Mako in The Sand Pebbles. Viewers of the film know better….

15. POINT BLANK– 1967
“Taut thriller, ignored in 1967, but now regarded as a top film of the mid-60s,” is how film historian Leonard Maltin aptly described director John Boorman’s ‘arthouse action film,’ Point Blank. How could I possibly write about my favorite fight scenes and not include this Lee Marvin movie? There are of course several to choose from, but I chose the battle between Marvin’s Walker and a couple of thugs hired to beat him up behind the movie screen of Angie Dickinson’s posh strip club, covered by the wailing of on stage soul singer. Why was it chosen? This film is chockful innovations: the first film shot at Alcatraz after it was shut down; the first film in which the actors were each individually miked for sound; the  stylized jump cuts, camera angles visual effects; but more than anything it’s the fight scene. Speaking of firsts, witnessing Marvin grab stuntman Jerry Catron by the crotch –the way someone would grab an opponent’s lapels to punch him in the face, and then doing just that, to his CROTCH — is an innovation in itself, for better or for worse. I defy any man to watch that moment and not reflexively bend over, cross his legs and wince after witnessing it!

Lee Marvin's Walker surprises mob goon Jerry Catron with a beer bottle to the kisser, and that's just for starters!

Lee Marvin’s Walker surprises mob goon Jerry Catron with a beer bottle to the kisser, and that’s just for starters!

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