GORKY PARK: MARVIN’S LATTER DAY BRILLIANCE

Gorky Park (1983), director Michel Apted’s adaptation of the popular Martin Cruz Smith thriller, was not well-recieved when first released but it may be worthy of re-evaluation. There are several reasons I say this but the main reason, is of course, Lee Marvin’s performance.

Lee Marvin as Jack Osborne in Michael Apted’s GORKY PARK.

It was not only one of the actor’s last films, it would be the last time he would play a classic villain, as he had earlier in his career. I don’t want to give a spoiler alert if you haven’t seen the film (which I highly recommend) so simply the premise will suffice here. It’s a complicated ‘whodunit’ in which Soviet-era police detective Arkady Renko (William Hurt) is tasked with finding who is responsible for the three mutilated bodies found in Gorky Park. There are several suspects and among them is shady American businessman, Jack Osborne (Marvin). To Marvin’s credit, as good as he looks in uniform, he looks even more impressive in the dapper expensive suits his character wears.  Watch the way he carries himself, as well. The brilliance mentioned are the touches the actor adds that are clearly not in the script. Dressing after a day at the sauna, he uses the back of his index fingers to straighten his collar and expensive tie he admires in the mirror. Then there’s the way he dallies the cat-and-mouse dialog with adversarial Hurt.

(L-R) Lee Marvin as Jack Osborne, William Hurt as Russian police detective Arkady Renko and Ian Bannen as Renko’s superior.

I genuinely believe it’s one of Marvin’s best performances that creates a through line of sorts to his career. Think of Paul Newman as the idealistic lawyer Anthony Lawrence of The Young Philadelphians (1959), and then the tragic alcoholic Frank Galvin of The Verdict (1982). There are other such examples to be made but I like to think that in Jack Osborne’s wilder youth he was not unlike the dapper yet violent Vince Stone of The Big Heat (1953). See Gorky Park and judge for yourself, of course.
As for the film, I was fortunate enough to interview British director Michael Apted for Lee Marvin Point Blank and his insights as to the films success and/or failure is on the money, as well as the fascinating anecdotes about its production. So check it out again wherever possible and give Lee Marvin’s performance a second look. I think you’ll pleasantly surprised.
– Dwayne Epstein

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LEE MARVIN’S BEST MOVIES? NOT EVEN CLOSE!

Lee Marvin’s best? That’s a pretty subjective concept. After all, one man’s meat is another man’s poison but still and all, some things along such lines are pretty obvious.  “The 5 Best Lee Marvin Movies” is the title of a recent blog entry I came across by chance on the web and the concept is the subject of this blog.
I’m not really big on chiding other writers but the author’s choices leave much to be desired. The title alone is somewhat irksome: “The 5 Best Lee Marvin Movies.” Why only five? Wouldn’t ten be more appropriate for such a lengthy career? And his choices! If you can’t see the link I included above, here’s what he chose:
5. The Wild One
4. The Big Heat
3. Cat Ballou
2. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
1. The Dirty Dozen
Can you see the problem I had with the choices that were made? Three of the five are not even Lee Marvin movies in the strictest sense. Marvin had supporting roles in The Wild One, Big Heat and Liberty Valance. Granted, they were great scene-stealing roles, but supporting roles, nonetheless. They are all better known as Marlon Brando, Glenn Ford & John Wayne movies and Lee Marvin would be the first one to say it. All the films (and more) are of course recounted and detailed in Lee Marvin Point Blank, by the way. It also includes Marvin’s input into these roles as well as what he thought of each of them.
While I applaud the effort made in the end to encourage others to seek out Marvin’s films, doing so by this list would make someone wonder what’s the fuss about Lee Marvin since he apparently was merely a villain in the 1950s & 1960s. The author barely recognized the fact that Marvin was a major star in the 1960s & 1970s.
I’m not and never have been a fan of “Best Lists,” which is why there isn’t any on this blog site. However, if one were to attempt a list of Lee Marvin’s best, here’s a good start, at least in terms of what might make someone a fan. Consider the following a sort of starter kit. If after viewing these films, you’re still not a fan, then you never will be.
– Dwayne Epstein

The Professionals, 1966.

Point Blank, 1967

Monte Walsh, 1970

Emperor of the North, 1973

The Big Red One, 1980

 

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POLITICALLY INCORRECT LEE MARVIN

Politically incorrect is not something most celebrities would want on their resume’ but it was something Lee Marvin had no trouble with, at all. Granted, it wasn’t bandied about as much in his time as it is today, but it was certainly witnessed in his work, almost from the beginning.
Being politically incorrect, according to Merriam-Webster, is defined as “Not avoiding language or behavior that could offend a particular group of people.” In researching Lee Marvin Point Blank, I quickly discovered a few examples of such behavior in the subject, and the subject was usually women. Wouldn’t always be a matter of the language used by his characters so much as his extreme behavior, most notably….
The Big Heat

The attitude of Vince Stone toward his annoying girlfriend is shown building to a painful climax in Fritz Lang’s THE BIG HEAT (1952).

As bad guy Vince Stone, a glimpse of his attitude towards women is shown early on when he stubs his cigarette out in Carolyn Jones’ hand. The worst is yet to come when he throws a pot of scalding hot coffee in girlfriend Gloria Grahame’s face. Fear not, as she gets her revenge before the film ends.

The Killers

Terrorizing Angie Dickinson in THE KILLERS.

Throughout director Don Siegel’s classic remake the violence comes fast and furious from the very beginning. Lee Marvin’s Charlie Strom terrorizes a school for the blind and later, wreaks havoc on femme fatale, Angie Dickinson. As the actress told this writer, “Oh but I had it coming.”

 

Ship of Fools

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

Mistaking the aging Vivien Leigh for an onboard prostitute, drunken Marvin grabs and kisses the embittered ‘past-her-prime’ beauty until he shockingly realizes his mistake. She helps him realize the mistake by beating him to a pulp with the heel of her shoe.
The legend is that Marvin kept very few mementos from his career, but he kept that shoe out of his deep respect for Vivien Leigh.
There are of course several other examples of such behavior (on screen and off) and it was not always limited to the ladies. For better or for worse, when it came to being politically incorrect, Lee Marvin was the shining beacon on the hill.
– Dwayne Epstein

 

 

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