Buzz Kulik, the underrated director of classic TV-movies (Brian’s Song, ’71), mini-series (From Here to Eternity, ’79), and more than a few neglected theatrical films (Riot, ’69, Villa Rides, ’68, Warning Shot, ’67) agreed to be interviewed by yours truly for Lee Marvin: Point Blank back in 1994. He had worked with Marvin during the golden age of live television but my interest was in the televison production, Sgt. Ryker. Aired originally in two-parts in 1963, it was lated edited together to capitlize on Marvin’s fame and shown successfully in theatres in 1968.
Sadly, Kulik passed away on January 13, 1999, making the never-before-seen comments below a lasting tribute to his memory. Feel free to check them out and comment, and when you have time, check out some the above mentioned productions. You won’t be disappointed….
Buzz Kulik (left) directs Jim Brown on the set of 1969’s Riot.
Dwayne: Well, what I really wanted to talk about is Sgt. Ryker. Was that made for TV and then released theatrically, or was it the other way around?
Buzz: That was made for television. It was the first two hour movie made for television and was shown on separate nights. It got a good response so Universal decided to release it overseas and it did very well. I haven’t seen it in years.
D: It’s available on video. I think it’s public domain, so it’s fairly inexpensive. What I wanted to know about was the storyline. Was that something you planned to be ambiguous?
B: That was something we, everybody involved, talked about. Lee and I talked about it and worked it out.
D: In your opinion, was he guilty?
Theatrically released poster art for Sgt. Ryker.
B: [Laughs] Oh no, no. You’re not going to get me to say.
D: He had a line, “I made one mistake, boys. I came back!” Was that his way of saying he was guilty or innocent?
B: I think that was the character’s way of saying, “Look, I’m struggling for my life, here. You’re not going to pin this on me.” That’s how Lee played it. He played the character.
D: Did you work with him in anything else?
B: We did two or three things together. He was a terrific personality. A real ballsy kind of guy. Had a great humor about him. He was a Marine, through and through. I got along great with him. He was a good friend.
D: Do you remember when you last saw him?
B: When did he die?
B: I guess it was a year or two before he died. He had stopped drinking. It was at a social function. He was there with his last wife, Pam. We chatted. I guess that was it.
D: What, in your opinion, would Lee Marvin bring to a part? How would he approach a role?
B: Well, he wasn’t one of those kind of guys who was into method acting. He didn’t dig deep into his inner soul. He was very instinctive. When I saw Cat Ballou, I thought he was wonderful. All instinct. He wouldn’t ask what his motivation was. It was all instinct with him and he had very good instincts.
D: How did he use those instincts for Sgt. Ryker?
B: The story was very well-written within the framework of what we had to work with. For him, it was a straightforward proposition. He took what he had learned in the military.
D: What do you remember most about him?
B: He had great humor and energy. What I remember most is his energy. He was always moving. I never saw him in repose.
D: How did he get along with the rest of the cast?
B: Vera Miles and he got along great. He got along great with everybody. Guys loved him because he was a guy. The crew loved him.
D: What do you think his success was attributed to?
B: He had a wonderful presence that came from the energy he generated. Some actors go through all kinds of machinations for a role. Lee would have none of it. He just worked through his incredible energy. I think that’s why he drank, work off some of that energy. My experience was that I was prepared for it. It happened that I had heard it happened to other directors. It didn’t take much because he really couldn’t hold his liquor that much.
Snippets for the media from the Sgt. Ryker pressbook
He didn’t drink on the set. Not while we were working. But if there was a break, he just had so much tightly wound energy, he needed to have something happen. We shot that in 20 days, which is about a month. …. When it came to his drinking, it didn’t take much to put him over the hill. [END]