THE OSCAR TRACK

The Oscar track is upon us since the nominations were announced last month, as shown here. I use the term “The Oscar track” as it’s the appropriate term used by Lee Marvin when he was interviewed by TIME Magazine’s Stefan Kanfer in the 1970s. Kanfer had the audacity to tell the actor he didn’t think his Oscar-winning performance in Cat Ballou was even close to his best performance. The writer was amazed to hear Marvin agree with him. Adding, “But y’know, you run this track, and that’s the track that the racers are on; it’s the Oscar track. It really isn’t based on skill as much as it’s based on luck and popularity.” Kanfer’s remembrance of the interview — along with his assistant, future Oscar-nominated screenwriter, Jay Cocks — is hysterically recounted in Lee Marvin Point Blank.

Lee Marvin in POCKET MONEY and as he probably appeared when interviewed by Stefan Kanfer.


 As to the Oscar track, Marvin’s point is well taken. Now, normally this time of the month I’d be blogging about any upcoming Lee Marvin-related films on TCM but since the network is broadcasting “31 Days of Oscar” all month there’s a dearth of Marvin-related films. The sole exception is Ship of Fools, which is a shame since he made other films that were indeed on the Oscar track in one way or another: The Professionals (1966), and The Dirty Dozen (1967) received such recognition but truth be told, I think a few of his films SHOULD have been on The Oscar track and were not. 
 On the technical side, the innovations apparent in Point Blank (1967), such as the editing and the sound advancements (first film in which the actors were individually ‘miked’) and Conrad Hall’s breathtaking cinematography of Hell in the Pacific (1968) were certainly worthy. They may have ran out of the money since they were both directed by the very British John Boorman and both films did poorly when first released. I don’t know if either factor is the case but it’s a pretty safe bet. 
 I can say, for the purposes of this blog entry, two of Lee Marvin’s performances overlooked by the Academy were certainly worthy:
Monte Walsh (1970), remains an overlooked classic for which Marvin gave one of his most poignant performances.

Monte Walsh, 1970


As cited in detail in Lee Marvin Point Blank, several critics at the time of its release said the same and thought an Oscar nomination for Best Actor was practically a foregone conclusion. Sadly, It never happened. 

The Big Red One (1980): Sam Fuller’s semi-autobiographical yarn of his experiences in Europe during WWII allowed Marvin to give one of his best performances of his career, running a gamut of emotions from badass to empathy as a nameless sergeant pushing his young charges on a rifle squad to the poignancy of caring for a young boy in a liberated concentration camp. 

The Big Red One, 1980.

It’s a pity both of these performances were overlooked and the reasons they were are as speculative as they are varied. Too bad there’s no such thing as a retro Oscar track. If there were, Marvin would win it in a walk.

– Dwayne Epstein

 

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4 thoughts on “THE OSCAR TRACK

  1. Hi Dwayne,
    I don’t have TCM, but there’s another network that frequently shows Lee movies called Movies! TV Network (my channel 195). For a long time they would screen at least 2 of his per month, however there was a long drought of nothing between October and last month (I thought there was a management turnover). I check the upcoming schedule every day, and last month I found that they scheduled Lee movies 15 out of the 30 days in April, with April 20 being a marathon day starting at 5:50 am (PST) Monte Walsh, and ending that night with Prime Cut at 5:00 pm. They showed The Professionals and Hangman’s Knot about 2 1/2 years ago, but haven’t scheduled since.

  2. No, it’s not commercial free, but they don’t overdo it, and they have respect for the films and do not cut them. They also run certain films multiple times during the month, for instance, they are screening this month Dirty Dozen and Point Blank 6 times each, and Bad Day at Black Rock 5 times. April 20 will be 6 Lee’s in a row. Last summer they showed Stranger Wore a Gun a lot because, I think, it’s got some 3D that’s noticeable. The Big Heat and I Died 1000 Times sometimes show up on their Film Noir Thursdays. There are no Lee’s today, but tomorrow I can tune into The Dirty Dozen followed by Point Blank. The schedule is at moviestvnetwork.com

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