The first of April is known to most folks as April Fool’s Day (or Easter this year!) but to some observant film fans it also the birthday of Lee Marvin’s favorite co-star, Toshiro Mifune. Lee Marvin Point Blank readers are well aware of Marvin’s feelings for Mifune.
Marvin’s affection for Mifune was rare for a man of his generation and despite the difficult circumstances during their one project together, their friendship grew and lasted until Marvin’s death in 1987.
Mifune was a legend in the Japanese film industry, due largely to his collaboration with director Akira Kurosawa. He achieved the rarely seen success of international celebrity in the burgeoning film market of the postwar years, including a handful of American films, despite his inability to speak English. It did not matter as his appeal required no words. As Lee Marvin famously said of Mifune: “This guy hypnotizes you with his genius. Those eyes! The battered samurai warrior standing alone, not wanting outside help.”
Of the one film they made together, Hell in the Pacific is given it’s just due in Lee Marvin Point Blank. Other sources for its production are detailed in director John Boorman’s memoir, Adventures of a Suburban Boy and Stuart Galbraith’s IV mammoth tome, The Emperor and the Wolf: The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. Personally, I found it to be a noble failure as both allegory and filmmaking. Upon the heavily edited version released to theaters at the time, Marvin himself felt the same way but, despite it’s reception, it remained on of his personal favorite films. It’s not without its merits, chief among them being the two actors’ presence and the eye-popping cinematography of Conrad Hall.
While Galbraith and Boorman give wonderful accounts of the rigorous production, both seem to lack insight into the one element that seems to accompany any Lee Marvin project, and that is humor. Thanks to exclusive interviews with Lee’s first wife, Betty Marvin and his career-long agent, Meyer Mishkin, I was able to secure several hilarious anecdotes to put in my book that would have been lost to time had they not agreed to open up to me.
Still in all, Hell in the Pacific is worth viewing, if only for the powerful presence of both Marvin and Mifune, two actors at the top of their game in a film personal and important to them both. Watch it again for the great Mifune’s heavenly birthday and when Marvin shouts out “Come and get it!” raise a sakazuki in the great man’s honor.
– Dwayne Epstein