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 the 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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TCM’S 31 DAYS OF OSCAR HIGHLIGHTS LEE MARVIN

TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar is an ongoing annual event for the basic cable channel and this year Lee Marvin is very much in evidence. As the schedule shows, there are a plethora of his films on tap. No less than a half a dozen Lee Marvin gems, that’s right, a full half dozen, for most of February. If needed, here are the air dates (if you want to set your recording device for viewing, check your local listings for times). The Oscars or nominations of each film are listed below. My source? Why TCM’s own resident guardian angel, Robert Osborne from his excellent reference book, 50 Golden Years of Oscar. Okay, ready? Here are the Lee Marvin classics being shown for TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar….

THE CAINE MUTINY (1954) Airs Wednesday, February 5th. Nominated for Best Picture (Stanley Kramer, producer), Best Actor (Humphrey Bogart), Best Supporting Actor (Tom Tully), Best Screenplay (Stanley Roberts), Best Sound Recording (John P. Livadary (Sound Director), Best Film Editing (William A. Lyon & Henry Batista), Best Motion Picture Score (Max Steiner).

Marvin & shipmate Claude Akins in THE CAINE MUTINY.

CAT BALLOU (1965) Also Wednesday February 5th. Marvin won for Best Actor and the film was a also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay (Walter Newman & Frank Pierson), Best Film Editing (Charles Nelson), Best Song: “The Ballad of Cat Ballou” (Jerry Livingston & Mack David), Best Score (Frank DeVol).

Marvin as Kid Shelleen one of 2-roles he enacted for his Oscar-winning performance in CAT BALLOU

THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967) Again, Wednesday February 5th. Won the Oscar for Best Sound Effects (John Poyner). Nominated for Best Supporting Actor (John Cassavetes), Best Sound (MGM Sound Dept.) and Best Film Editing (Michael Luciano).

Marvin confronts Robert Ryan in the Oscar-winning THE DIRTY DOZEN.

RAINTREE COUNTY (1957) Airs Monday, February 10th. Nominated for Best Actress (Elizabeth Taylor), Best Art Direction-Set Direction (William A. Horning & Urie McCleary; Edwin B. Willis & Hugh Hunt), Best Costume Desgn (Walter Plunkett). Best Score (Johnny Green).

Rod Taylor as Garwood Jones and Lee Marvin as Orville ‘Flash’ Perkins in RAINTREE COUNTY.

 

 

BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955) Airs Saturday, February 15th. Nominated for Best Actor (Spencer Tracy), Best Director (John Sturges) & Best Screenplay (Millard Kaufman).

Most of the cast, excluding Anne Francis, Ernst Borgnine and John Erickson in BADY DAY AT BLACK ROCK.

 

 

THE PROFESSIONALS (1966) Airs Monday, February 24th. Oscar nominated for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay (Richard Brooks for both), and Best Color Cinematography (Conrad Hall).

(L-R) Woody Strode, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan and Burt Lancaster as THE PROFESSIONALS.

So there you have it! Further proof — as if any were needed — that Lee Marvin didn’t just make really good action films. He made some of the greatest of all-time! Don’t think you’ll be seeing any Jason Statham titles in years to come on TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar. Just saying.
And of course, rare behind-the scenes stories on all of theses films (and more!) can only be found in Lee Marvin Point Blank.
See ya at the movies.
– Dwayne Epstein

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AWARD SEASON THEN & NOW

Award season is upon us and the majors have already begun with the Golden Globe Awards. Oscar nominations came out earlier this week and the the other guild and critic awards are looming large. Much has changed from the days when Lee Marvin won his only Oscar for Cat Ballou back in the mid-60s.

Lee Marvin backstage after winning his Oscar.

For one thing, the amount of competing awards could be counted on one hand. There wasn’t much beyond the Oscars and Golden Globes. The plethora of guilds and critics organizations had yet to boast of award shows that would ultimately make the Oscars anti-climatic as there are now, with or without a wisecracking host. Matter of fact, when Marvin won his Oscar, he was as surprised as anybody since the odds-on favorite was Rod Steiger for his work in The Pawnbroker. The entire episode of Marvin’s win is covered extensively, of course, in Lee Marvin Point Blank, including some nefarious behind-the-scenes machinations that even Marvin himself was not aware of.

Julie Andrews and Lee Marvin accepting their Golden Globes for being the most popular stars of 1967, which is no longer a category.

What got me thinking about these differences in the award season of days gone by and the ones of today, is an article I read online in which an Academy member bemoans the advent of streamers, screeners, and the like and the effect it has on the season itself. It can be read here but the point is laughable. Bottom line is just that there are too damn many awards shows! Want proof? I’m going to go out on limb and make my own predictions of this year’s Oscar winners as shown below. Feel free to check back after the show to see how right I was. There are:

Best Picture: 1917.
Best Actor: Joaquin Phoenix for Joker.
Best Actress: Renee Zellweger for Judy.
Best Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt for Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood.
Best Supporting Actress: Laura Dern for Marriage Story.

What’s my criteria? They’ve already won every other award leading up to the Oscars. Talk about anti-climatic! Somewhere Lee Marvin is laughing his war-wounded ass off.
– Dwayne Epstein

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