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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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

 

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