As readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank know, the actor’s career did not really ascend until the mid 1960s, but interestingly enough, he did get his first film lead in the early 1950s. Based on the play A Sound Of Hunting by Harry Brown, Marvin had actually played the role of Sgt. Mooney even earlier when he was still working as a stage actor in New York.
The original Broadway production was not a hit with theatregoers of the day, as it told a tale that many who were combat vets themselves were all too familiar with at the time. A small company of soldiers in Europe during the war are hoping to go home soon, but instead, discover they are due to return to battle. In the interim, one of their numbers gets pinned down in the crossfire of a German machine gun nest. Sgt. Mooney, the leader of the exhausted, dwindling company, argues with his C.O., fights to keep his men in line, but mostly is fraught with the ultimate decision of what to do with their comrade left out in the crossfire. Basically a character study, it gave the all-male cast ample opportunity to flex their acting muscles in a taut little drama.
The Broadway play opened at the Lyceum Theatre on November 20, 1945 and closed after just 23 performances on December 8th. The play remains an interesting footnote mostly notably for the actor who originated the role of Sgt. Mooney. He was an untrained actor with a show business backgound as an acrobat following a stint in the Army’s Special Service Corp. A fledgling agent saw the play, liked the young actor’s presence and offered the young man a Hollywood deal with legendary producer Hal Wallis. The young actor was brash enough to state that he wouldn’t go to Hollywood unless he could produce his own projects. Amazingly, a deal was made. The agent was Harold Hecht. The actor was Burt Lancaster. They formed Hecht-Lancaster Productions and the rest is of course history. When Hecht became an independent producer (minus his partner Lancaster), his greatest solo success was 1965’s Cat Ballou.
As for the film version, titled Eight Iron Men, it was produced by maverick filmmaker Stanley Kramer and directed by noir veteran Edward Dymtryk. The cast consisted of Marvin, along with Richard Kiley, Bonar Colleano, Nick Dennis, Arthur Franz, Dickie Moore and Barney Phillips. By the way, there was also two TV versions of the story. In 1955 Lux Video Theatre aired a version under the film’s title of Eight Iron Men with Russell Johnson (the professor on Gilligan’ Island), William Schallert (Patty Duke’s TV father), Gene Reynolds (co-creator of TV’s M*A*S*H), a grown-up Carl ‘Alfalfa’ Switzer, and directed by Biuzz Kulik who would later direct Marvin in Sgt. Ryker.
Believe it or not, there was yet another version for TV under its original title of A Sound of Hunting which aired in 1962 on the antholgy series, Dupont Show of the Month. The cast was even more eclectic as it consisted of Peter Falk, Sal Mineo, William Hickey, Gene Wilder and Robert Lansing in the role of Sgt. Mooney.
All fairly interesting little tidbits to snack on but the real interesting tidbit remains the film’s working title. For reasons known only to the late Stanley Kramer, the working title of the film was completely different from what it was released as. Probably had something to do with the fact that the number count was all wrong. Whatever the reason, it was changed to Eight Iron Men from the working title of…wait for it..that’s right, The Dirty Dozen (!)
– Dwayne Epstein