Marvin movie bloopers is not a subject I’ve dealt with before but I got the idea for it from the last blog entry I did. When director Buzz Kulik told me the story of Lee Marvin being face down on the courtroom table in Sergeant Ryker and how he left the shot in the movie, it reminded me of similar moments that we either told to me or that I witnessed myself while working on Lee Marvin Point Blank.
For instance, costar Kelly Ward offered a funny anecdote concerning a scene in The Big Red One, in which Lee Marvin kept stumbling over the line, “Nothing but combat rejects on the beach at Colleville-sur-Mer.” Try as he might, he just couldn’t pronounce the name of that little French town. The moment he did finally get it right, it’s not only left in the film, but he does a take to the camera to let everyone know what he thought of that line. It’s in the movie and the details to the story are in my book. Pretty funny, especially the James Coburn reference.

“Psst! Hey, Buddy! Tell me again how to pronounce this French beach, will ya?”

Always fun to look for things left in a movie that has not been noticed before. Another example of a Marvin movie blooper is in The Professionals. Watch one of the dialog scenes in the desert between Marvin and Burt Lancaster and see what the horse is doing in the background. One of my best friends and I had watched the film so many times, he was the one who caught it after multiple viewings and could not stop laughing. We like to think of it as the animal kingdom’s critique of the film before it was released.

“Hey Lee! Look what your horse is doing! Heh, heh.”

That’s pretty much it for now but as Johnny Carson used to say, more to come, such as moments in Cat Ballou and The Dirty Dozen to look for.
– Dwayne Epstein

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Sergeant Ryker was a 1968 theatrical release for Lee Marvin but if you think it looks like it was made a few years earlier, you would be right. It’s just one of several aspects of this strangely intriguing, yet at the same time, run-of-the-mill production.

Cover art for SERGEANT RYKER’s VHS release, borrowed from the theatrical release.

Why does it ‘look’ like it was made earlier? The original production was a 1963 two-part TV episode pilot of the Kraft Theatre originally titled The Case Against Paul Ryker, which is an infinitely more apt title than the theatrical title or the poster above. By 1968, Marvin was already grayer, craggier, and an Oscar-winning superstar. Making a film with such a macho sounding title sounded like a sure bet at the box-office. Only problem was it was a court-room drama, NOT a macho war movie.
To be fair, it’s TV-movie trapping aside, it’s a well done story. Marvin is Ryker, already found guilty of conspiring with the enemy  — in this case the North Koreans — and is awaiting the hangman. New evidence may prove his claim of being on a secret mission behind enemy lines to be true, but the only officer who knew of the mission has died. A new trial is ordered and the truth may or may not finally come out. It begs the question, is Ryker an unrecognized hero or an undeniable traitor?  Cool premise, huh?
The production boasts a terrific ensemble for its day, including Vera Miles as Ryker’s wife, the criminally underrated Bradford Dillman as Ryker’s lawyer, Peter Graves as the prosecutor, Murray Hamilton as a sleazy associate, venerable Lloyd Nolan as Dillman’s commanding officer and the always less than cheerful Norman Fell as a put-upon corporal.
Those are the plusses. On the minus side of the ledger, the production values are strictly from hunger. Even as a 1963 TV show it looks pretty bad. I can’t imagine what it must have looked like on the big screen. It’s style is so nondescript, costar Norman Fell didn’t even remember being in it when I asked him about it back in the 1990s.
He did, however, remember a similar project that was made for TV but later released theatrically. He worked with Marvin in The Killers and he is quoted extensively about it in Lee Marvin Point Blank, THAT was a much more memorable experience, as far as he was concerned.
Pity the poor moviegoer of 1968 who wanted to see Lee Marvin in a ‘new’ release with a typical “rock-em-sock-em” sounding title like Sergeant Ryker, only to be treated to a TV courtroom drama (!)

A page from the SERGEANT RYKER pressbook in which Universal attempted to promote the project cinematically.


There is one other interesting aspect to the film if one ever gets around to watching it. Veteran director Buzz Kulik told me a great anecdote concerning Lee Marvin and the filming of the project. It didn’t make the cut as far as my book was concerned, but was brought to life on the pages of this blog a while ago.

Screen capture of Lee Marvin (head on desk) with Bradford Dillman from that ‘moment” Buzz Kulik described.

The advent of home video, cable TV, and now other digital media platforms, makes the likelihood of such a phenomenon near impossible today, thankfully. However, the sense of being ripped-off by Hollywood on occasion may never go away. I point to the plethora of superhero moves being cranked out as a prime example.
Want to know about some other less than savory doings that took place behind the scenes during the 1960s and 1970? There’s the time the time Lee Marvin was duped by a gay producer for starters. For that read Lee Marvin Point Blank.
– Dwayne Epstein

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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.

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.

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?
D: 1987.
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

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]

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