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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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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OP-ED IDEA: THE DIRTY DOZEN TAKES ON IMMIGRATION

An Op-Ed writer on an online small town newspaper I recently came across had a novel idea. She thought it might work to regroup the original concept of Lee Marvin’s The Dirty Dozen, but instead of taking on the Nazi High Command, they go after the rogue nations in Central America. The mission? Straighten out the corrupt governments so immigrants would be less willing to seek asylum here.

I’m guessing he’s talking to Trini Lopez partially hidden (maybe on purpose) on the far right.

The Op-Ed author, Vera Hogan, writes for Fenton Michigan’s Tri-County Times and openly admits to not being a fan of the genre of war films. The full piece can be read here and if you do read it, allow me an obvious rebuttal.
Naturally, she avoids the controversy of President Trump’s cockamamie wall fantasy but does comes close by stating the ‘Dozen’ could help rebuild the country’s schools, corruption, etc. The Op-Ed piece fall short of explaining how you train a bunch of murderous convicts to do that but her heart is in the right place. That’s certainly more than can be said by the occupant of the White House, but I digress.

The whole idea of the Op-Ed, however, circumvents the core problem within the film itself. As Marvin’s Col. Reisman tells Ernest Borgnine’s General Worden: “These men by definition are incapable of training and following orders.” Can you imagine turning them loose in corrupt Central America? They wouldn’t straighten the countries out, they’d take over!
Personally, I avoided political commentary within the pages of my book Lee Marvin Point Blank (although some readers may disagree) but as far as I’m concerned, there’s an even more appropriate quote by Marvin in the opening moments of The Dirty Dozen that can certainly be applied to the current Commander-in-Chief: “I don’t think it’s a good idea to advertise the fact that someone in charge is a raving lunatic!”
-Dwayne Epstein

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