RICK SPALLA: 1960’S LEE MARVIN DOCUMENTARY

Rick Spalla, an independent TV producer of entertainment news shows of substance (i.e. not TMZ or Entertainment Tonight), was one of the first people I sought when I began working on my Lee Marvin biography. I had learned of a TV documentary he had done on Marvin back in 1969 and was desperate to see it and find out more about it. Glad I did.
Don’t recall how I managed it back in those pre-internet days of the 1990s, but I secured an interview with Rick Spalla who graciously let me view the show in his studio on a moviola he set up. The 16 mm film was hardly HD, and stopping and starting it to take proper notes was a challenge, but it was well-worth it for the nuggets of info I was able to mine and put in the book.
Spalla died in 2001 and I never did get to see the show again, that is until now.

Lee Marvin being interviewed by Joe Hyams on location in Oregon during PAINT YOUR WAGON as they enjoy the rehearsal of The Nitty Gritty Band.

Imagine my surprise when Facebook friend and fellow film biographer, Gabriel Hershman, wrote me recently to tell me the show has been posted on YouTube! He sent me the link and I viewed it again as if for the first time. It really was well-done and holds up extremely well, in my opinion.
In fact, it reminded me of the quote I got from Spalla as to how his idea for the show came about: “Initially, I was planning to do the show about Keenan [Wynn] and his racing. Keenan invited Lee along. Then, over the years, Lee just got to be such a big star, we had to do one about him once the series started.”

Closing credit from the show PORTRAIT: LEE MARVIN.

Several of the people interviewed for the show had passed away by the time I began working on Lee Marvin Point Blank. Thanks to Spalla, I was able to get quotes from the likes of Keenan Wynn, Robert Ryan, Jack Webb, and others all of which went in the book. Readers know I also got first person exclusives myself with the show’s other guests, like Terry Moore, Eliot Silverstein, Angie Dickinson and more, so feel free to check those out, as well.
All in all rediscovering the show on YouTube thanks to Gabriel Hershman, was a revelation.

Author Gabriel Hershman’s biography of Albert Finney (above) is HIGHLY recommended.

Marvin was candid and whimsical during the on location interview, the film clips are well-placed and the anecdotes told about him are wonderful.

As to Rick Spalla’s opinion of his subject, he told me: “He lived life to the fullest. He loved living. We went down to Mazatlan so I could film him fishing and he was in heaven. He called it ‘Margarita time.’ On the first day he caught 6 sailfish and a marlin. When he was fishing, he was like a kid with a toy. As if he had all the toys in the world. He’d catch a fish and couldn’t wait to throw the line out again. It was like a movie or something. After the first day, he wanted me to go out with him again, but I had enough.”
Luckliy, for the rest of us, we can now see what he meant. So, without further ado, I give you Portrait: Lee Marvin, part one and part two. or click the images below. Thanks again, Gabriel!

Share Button

PRE-STARDOM: LEE MARVIN & THE LADIES

Unlike other male film stars, Lee Marvin didn’t have many romantic entanglements in his films, as readers of Lee Marvin: Point Blank are fully aware. When he became a leading star that changed only very slightly but it was even more true in his pre-stardom days.
Oh, he interacted with the opposite sex on screen but certainly not in the manner that normally befitted a future superstar. Take for example 1953’s The Big Heat, in which he played henchman, Vince Stone. His girlfriend, Debbie, was played by Gloria Grahame and anyone who has seen the film knows how their relationship winds up.

A self-satisfied Debbie (Gloria Grahame) hands the phone over to an impatient Vince Stone (Marvin) knowing it’s his boss after she just chided Stone for jumping whenever the big boss calls, in Fritz Lang’s THE BIG HEAT.

Of course Marvin’s chivalry towards the opposite sex is on display earlier in the film in how he treats Carolyn Jones and the way he offers her a cigarette. Talk about foreshadowing!

Then there’s the way Marvin’s aptly named Slob interacts with Terry Moore in the bizarre 1955 cult classic, Shack Out on 101. From the pre-credit prologue until the film’s finale,

Terry Moore as Cotty tries to deal with the advances of Slob in SHACK OUT ON 101.

Marvin and Moore’s way of dealing with each other is one of the highlights of the film. Terry Moore detailed the way in which Marvin threatened her on camera when I interviewed her for Lee Marvin Point Blank and she was delighted with the results. Less delighted was Donna Reed about her equally terrifying scene with Lee Marvin in Hangman’s Knot (1952). Her reaction delighted Marvin but certainly not her.
It seems the only time Marvin was allowed to be halfway human towards women was on television, in which his versatility was put to better than use than on film….

A tender moment with Patricia Donahue in The Last Reunion episode of the NBC anthology series, GENERAL ELECTRIC THEATRE.

As Lt. Frank Ballinger, Marvin has a uncharacteristically tender moment on his show M SQUAD.

Television notwithstanding, once viewers were able to attach a name to the familiar face, Lee Marvin was back in movie theaters enacting some typical love scenes…

As hired killer Charlie Strom, Lee Marvin gently persuades blind receptionist Virginia Christine  to divulge some vital infomation in Don Siegel’s THE KILLERS.

Vivien Leigh drives home her point to Lee Marvin in their heated debate concerning women’s shoe styles in Stanley Kramer’s SHIP OF FOOLS.

On the brink of major stardom in the early 1960s, Lee Marvin’s roles in such films as The Killers and Ship of Fools had him treating the opposite sex very much in keeping as he had throughout his pre-stardom years of the 1950s. By the end of the 1960s, however, he was an undeniable superstar, in the clinches with the likes of Jane Fonda, Jeanne Moreau and the ever present Angie Dickinson. How did he deal with these ladies on camera as well as off? The subject of the next blog entry….and a good portion of Lee Marvin Point Blank.
– Dwayne Epstein

 

Share Button

LEE MARVIN’S SHACK OUT ON 101 PLAYING AT BERKELEY!

Shack Out on 101 at Berkeley? Yeah, as the accompanying link will attest, you read that right. It’s revival is also long overdue, in my opinion. I had never even heard of this strange, little film until I saw it by chance at a movie marathon, years before I started working on Lee Marvin: Point Blank. It really does defy description, but I knew that once I started researching Lee’s career, I HAD to give it special attention. In fact, I made sure to include an image in the book depicting Marvin and Len Lesser (Seinfeld’s Uncle Leo) “at play”….
101-book

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are a number of things that makes this film so strange and watchable at the same time: from the opening near rape scene to the happy conclusion of a man being harpooned, it really is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Take for instance these ads from the pressbook….
101poster

The ad lines are of course typically exploitative for its day and subject but check this out: the bottom panel depicting “Eddie” is a scene with Lee Marvin who plays “Slob” (aka Leo) but Eddie is played by Whit Bissell. And these ads are by the guys that made the movie!!! There’s a little more subtle ad below…..

101altposter

Not that it matters, but Terry Moore’s character is named Kotty, not Kitty. It just gets better and better, doesn’t it? I love the dialogue, too. For example, during a heartfelt talk between Bissell and burger joint owner Keenan Wynn, Bissell quitely asks Wynn if he loves Terry Moore. Wynn answers by slamming his fist down and shouting, “I’m on the hook and I can’t get off!” I just love this stuff. It probably can better be explained by a better authority than I. Way back in 1978, FILM COMMENT magazine started its fairly regular column called Guilty Pleasures, in which film makers cited their favorite bad films and why. Bonnie & Clyde’s co-screenwriter David Newman I think summed up it better than I ever could. He makes some now outdated references that I’ve taken the liberty to wiki but other than that….

Number 3: Shack Out on 101 (1955, dir. Edward Dein). Forget about those movies like Blood of the Poet that want to look weird and strange and wind up kind of silly. Here is perhaps the most bizarre picture ever made. Yes. I have it seen eleven times and I’m still not sure if it knows how nutty it is. Every time I submit myself to Shack Out, I think I’m stoned or running a high fever.
This black-and-white production looks like it was made for about $2.75 below the line. Except for a beach scene, the entire film takes place on one set: a hamburger joint that makes the Alice cafe on television look like a Max Reinhardt spectacle.

101cast

How can I impart the weridness of this movie to you? To begin with, all the men in it are desperately in love with Terry Moore. Wait, wait, there’s more. The romantic hero is Frank Lovejoy. Terry’s miffed because he alone acts cold to her. Is he, ergo, a Commie spy?
More? You want more? Lee Marvin plays a short-order cook [….] in a manner so baroque as to render his performance in The Wild One a gem of nuanced understatement by comparison. Keenan Wynn, as the love besmittne creep who owns the joint, has one scene with Marvin where they work out together, lifting weights, doing push-ups, that, frame for frame, will take you further out of your skull than any amount coke you care to mail me for testing purposes.

101legs
The dialogue is so off-the-wall elliptical that it recalls the true zaniness of a Vic ‘n Sade script. I promise you that at no point is it possible to get a grip on this movie. What in the blazes did they think they were doing? Were all they all whacked-out? What is it really about? All I can tell is that I recommended this only once — to a friend who almost punched me out the following day.
But once more unto the breach. Fully aware that its lunatic charm may be apparent only to me, I unhesitatingly recommend that you look for it in the TV Guide, stay up till 4 in the morning (it is never on earlier, when normal people ar awake) and watch it … if you dare.”

101paper

So, if you are in the Berkeley area tomorrow night, August 27th, run don’t walk to see Shack Out on 101. You won’t be disappointed. Or, more in keeping with the spiirt of the film: YOU’LL BE ON THE HOOK AND CAN’T GET OFF!!!

101moore

Share Button