MAY 2021 ON TCM

May 2021 on TCM is offering a nice assortment of Lee Marvin films as well as Lee Marvin related films for the diehard and novice fan alike. Unfortunately, the treasures are not on display until the middle of the month and later. However, the line-up is certainly worth waiting for as it includes projects from the earliest part of his lengthy career as well as Marvin inspired projects and films he was offered but ultimately turned down. All of which makes for a wonderful cross section for May 2021 on TCM. Titles and dates are listed below but check local listing for air time. If you want greater detail as to each projects’ importance, there’s always Lee Marvin Point Blank

The Big Heat (1953), Saturday, May 15th: Fritz Lang’s ultra violent crime thriller (at least for 1953) stars Glenn Ford as a tough city cop out to bust up the mob responsible for his wife’s murder.

Debbie (Gloria Grahame) taunts her sadistic boyfriend, Vince Stone (Lee Marvin).


A terrific supporting cast actually steal the show (especially pouty-lipped Gloria Grahame), and that includes a young Lee Marvin as sadistic Vince Stone, dubbed by N.Y. Times critic Vincent Canby as “The Merchant of Menace,” and with good reason! Marvin’s opinion of his director and costars are detailed in Lee Marvin Point Blank, as well as a rather unsavory run-in concerning Glenn Ford several years later. 

The Rack (1956), Thursday, May 20th: A showcase for the talents of a young Paul Newman, this Rod Serling & Stewart Stern scripted drama explores the phenomenon of American soldiers consorting with the enemy during the Korea War. Marvin delivers in a small yet essential role in two powerful scenes. An all-star cast enlivens the proceedings with Marvin and Newman reuniting on more equal ground almost two decades later for Pocket Money (1972).

Original ad campaign for THE RACK (1956).


I had not written much about The Rack in my book due to Marvin’s small contribution, but this blog helped me discover a fascinating detail that I would have included had I known about it at the time. Instead, it can be read here

Petulia (1968), Friday, May 21st: Director Richard Lester’s stylized film depicting swinging 1960’s San Francisco was first offered to Marvin who turned it down. In doing so, it opened the door to allow George C. Scott to play the frustrated middle-aged doctor infatuated with the kooky title character played by the luminous Julie Christie. The film is a time capsule

The original psychedelic poster art for PETULIA (1968).


that also includes a wonderful supporting cast, not the least of which is a VERY creepy Richard Chamberlain looking to change his image from the clean-cut Dr. Kildare.

Not only picture Marvin playing the role, but look quick for members of the San Francisco comedy troupe The Committee (Howard Hesseman most notably), The Grateful Dead (A very funny Jerry Garcia, Mickey Hart, Phil Lesh & Bob Weir) as well as Big Brother and The Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin.
   Another film Marvin turned down reportedly without even reading the script gave Scott his greatest success the following year. Any guesses?

Point Blank (1967), Saturday, May 22nd: This seminally influential films, is, as I like to call it, the first arthouse action film. What can be said about this neo-noir cult clasic that hasn’t been said already by yours truly and countless others?

Point Blank, 1967




John Boorman’s vastly original style still packs a wallop due largely to star Lee Marvin’s haunting performance.


Again, a veteran supporting cast keeps the film watchable, along with the surrealistic execution presented in muted colors, trippy sound, innovative editing and photography. At the end of the day it’s still Lee Marvin one recalls long after the film is done. If you’ve never seen it, you’re in for a surprise. If you have seen it, see it again. As with all classics, there’s always more to experience with each viewing.


Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967), Tuesday, May 25th: Once again, a stylized 1960s film, this time strangely directed by the legendary John Huston and starring Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor. 

Original poster for Reflections in a Golden Eye.


The basic premise is easy to describe but the characters and execution certainly are not. Brando is a southern military officer unhappily married to shrewish Elizabeth Taylor, who is carrying on an affair with docile Brian Keith, who is unhappily married to fragile Julie Harris. Along for the strange proceedings is Robert Forster making his film debut as a young recruit who pines for Taylor. Hence the premise.
   As for the execution, it’s all shot in a strange and sickly sepia tone and the character interactions go beyond bizarre, especially Brando. It’s all based on an equally bizarre novel by Carson McCullers. its inclusion here is based on the fact that Marvin was offered the Brando role but ultimately turned it down. Taylor had accepted the role as a chance to help her close friend, Montgomery Clift, who died before he could play the part. Longtime Clift rival Brando came aboard and the entire production is an acquired taste. I found the film rather mesmerizing, even more so if you imagine Lee Marvin in the role. After all, he did say, this.

The Devils Brigade (1968), & Kelly’s Heroes (1970) both Sunday, May 30th: Here are two films that applied 1960s sensibilities to the genre of WWII action films in the wake of the immense popularity of The Dirty Dozen. Although The Devil’s Brigade is not as well known, personally, I like them both, with maybe Brigade, a little bit more.

Original ad art for The Devil’s Brigade not accidentally similiar to the Dirty Dozen.

Allegedly based on a true story, it tells the story of a team of crackerjack Canadian soldiers led by Cliff Robertson, teaming up with a ragtag group of American G.I.s led by Vince “Ben Casey” Edwards all under the command of an over-the-hill William Holden. They even managed to recruit ‘Dozen’ alum Richard Jaeckel in a scene stealing performance as a jackrabbit-like G.I. named Omar. The standout is Claude Akins in a performance to rival John Cassavetes in Dozen. Unfortunately, there’s also an annoying performance by Andrew Prine and plenty of former football players, ala Jim Brown in The Dirty Dozen.  
   As for Kelly’s Heroes, Dirty Dozen alumni Donald Sutherland and Telly Savalas along with comedian Don Rickles are the best thing in the movie that sadly toplines a very wooden Clint Eastwood. A former boss and I were once comparing the films and he argued Kelly’s Heroes had a more believable premise of men risking their lives not for glory but for a treasure of Nazi gold. All I can say to that is you be the judge.

The Dirty Dozen (1967), Monday, May 31st: Not the first film with a plot consisting of WWII renegades on a secret mission, but certainly the best.

Poster for THE DIRTY DOZEN, the best of Men on a Mission films in which the genre is defined in the ad.



Even before The Devils’s Brigade and Kelly’s Heroes, there was Roger Corman’s The Secret Invasion (1964) with a similiar theme. All that aside, this “men-on-a-mission” classic puts all the others to shame. TCM has long been a fan of this timeless classic, showing it whenever they can and promoting it as well, as seen here. Not much more to add than that, other than to suggest it certainly is worthy of repeat viewings. 

So, there you have it: May 2021 on TCM for Lee Marvin fans. Things are surely looking up!
• Dwayne Epstein

Share Button

WHITE HEAT

White Heat (1949), James Cagney’s last gangster film for Warner Brothers, was the choice of Clint Eastwood’s pick for a film deserving of a second look when asked to write about one for the Locarno Film Festival project, Serious Pleasures published in Europe. The project’s editor, Bill Krohn, is a friend of mine who granted me several of the titles to write about.The way it worked was a known director would pick a favorite film worthy of rediscovery, write about why, and then I’d research and write about the film’s backstory. Previous examples posted include The Sand Pebbles, Point Blank, The Hill, One-Eyed Jacks, etc. I was overjoyed to write about White Heat while still researching Lee Marvin Point Blank
Eastwood’s thoughts on White Heat are below in italics, followed by my detailed essay on the film’s production. The images are from several sources since I’ve been a lifelong Cagney fan and have numerous books on the subject.

Title page for my chapter on WHITE HEAT.


THE LAST GANGSTER
In the first scene, a man was disfigured by the burning steam of a train engine. In the last scene, the protagonist fired into a gas tank and detonated an apocalypse. In between, you were treated to countless explosions of violence as gangster Cody Jarrett (James Cagney) went on a rampage. You have never seen such savage lawlessness on screen before; You have never imagined a more vicious American family than Jarrett’s gang. White Heat hits you like a torpedo!
 Raoul Walsh had a lot do with the film’s impact. As a story-teller he was only interested in bigger-than-life characters; good or bad, they had to be exceptional or excessive. Now wonder he found White Heat’s outlaw inspiring. Cody Jarrett was the last gangster, possibly the final incarnation of Public Enemy. He was not the corrupt business type in vogue in the late forties noir, but a tragic figure afflicted with epileptic fits and an Oedipus complex. Walsh’s other good fortune was to be reunited with Cagney, whom he called the best actor he ever worked with. After Bogart (High Sierra), Cagney was one of the rare stars he was able to kill at the end of the movie. When I saw this one in an Oakland theatre, I was about 20 and already a big Cagney fan.
  There was no moral standard in White Heat. The cops remained anonymous, mere instruments of Jarrett’s fate. Compassion didn’t pay either: The gang started unravelling when a wounded accomplice was spared by his appointed executioner. Actually, Jarrett was betrayed by everybody, his wife, his second in command, and especially the undercover agent who befriended him. Everyone but his mother. By contrast, the gangster retained an odd integrity throughout. His one fatal weakness was a neurotic attachment to Ma. Somehow this monster overshadowed all those who surrounded him and you found yourself more interested in his madness than in his punishment. 
  In spite of the dark overtones, Walsh never lost his sense of humor. His fine touches are everywhere: He had Cagney whimper at Ma’s knees during one of his fits, brutally kick Virginia Mayo off a chair, casually shoot a man through a car trunk while munching on a piece of chicken. Later, you saw Jarrett communicating with his dearly beloved beyond the grave, and ultimately confiding: “All I ever had was Ma.” When Jarrett learned the truth about his undercover “friend,” he bursts out laughing. He was like a gambler so driven by self-destruction that nothing mattered anymore. 
   Walsh’s pace was relentless. I had never experienced anything like that before. The most unsettling was that the tone would change suddenly and the black humor veer into grandiose drama. Watch the scene where Jarrett is told of Ma’s death and, like a wounded animal, runs amok across the prison dining-hall until they strap him into a straitjacket. The explosion of rage and despair, expertly choreographed by Walsh and Cagney in a few long takes, is still one of the most powerful scenes in American cinema. So is the end the journey when Cagney yells from the top of the butane tank: “I’m on top of the world, Ma!” before disappearing into a fireball. 

WHITE HEAT
As the screen credit on White Heat states, the original story was by Virginia Kellogg, a former L.A. journalist who had fashioned a sketchy treatment for a gangster yarn inspired by the Denver mint robbery of 1922. Screenwriters Ben Roberts and Ivan Goff, newly contracted to Warner Bros., but partnered since World War II, wrote the screenplay and fleshed out the fictional plot and characters.

(L-R) Ben Roberts & Ivan Goff at work on the script for WHITE HEAT.



After the war, darker characters began appearing in American film with new stars (Marlon Brando, Kirk Douglas, Richard Widmark) to play them, and established stars like Clark Gable and Tyrone Power began playing darker versions of their previous screen personas. Ironically, James Cagney had gone out of his way after the war to break free of his Warner Bros. contract and tough guy image to make independent films with warmth and charm, which failed miserably. For financial reasons, he had to return to Warners in defeat to play a character that would top all previous examples of darkness and evil. 

Jack Warner, who had dubbed Cagney “The Professional Againster” because of their constant bickering, conceded the boxoffice prospects when Goff and Roberts lobbied him to bring in Cagney to play Cody Jarrett and entered into negotiations with Cagney’s business partner, his brother Bill. Bill Cagney struck a deal which required Warners to pay off the heavy debt Cagney Brothers Productions had incurred in independent projects, and James Cagney returned to the studio he had once vowed he would never work for again.

The only bright spot was the prospect of working with some of the contract players who had become lifelong friends. The studio promised to give a role to one of Cagney’s closest friends, character actor, Frank McHugh. According to Cagney “I asked for him and Warners ‘yessed’ me and ‘yessed’ me until the first day of shooting, when they told me they just couldn’t get Frank. I found out later Frank had never been asked…It was a typical example of sacrificing quality for time and money.” 

(L-R) Edmond O’Brien and James Cagney between scenes.



When it came to saving time and money, the studio had the perfect man for the job. Raoul Walsh, who had made two masterpieces for Warners with Cagney [The Roaring Twenties & The Strawberry Blonde] had a well-deserved reputation for driving actors hard, shooting fast and denying retakes, partly for budgetary reasons but mostly because he didn’t want the actors to lose their freshness and spontaneity. Like the hero of the prewar Cagney-Walsh collaboration The Roaring Twenties, and many other heroes of Walsh films, Cody Jarrett is doomed by fate and betrayed by a friend, but these themes were turned on their head in White Heat, where Edmond O’Brien’s character betrays Jarrett out of necessity, and Jarrett’s death is a comfort to the viewer instead of a tragedy. 

Even though White Heat was not the first gangster film to venture out of the urban jungle — Walsh’s High Sierra had done so previously — in this respect the film set a precedent for Cagney. With White Heat he not only left the mean streets of New York for the mountains of California, but pulled his heists as if he were in the Old West by robbing trains and company payrolls (Goff and Roberts working title was “The Last Outlaw”). Cagney also looked different in White Heat; instead of losing weight before the start of production as he had for previous roles, the actor, now middle-aged, allowed himself to look genuinely paunchy onscreen for the first time. As Raoul Walsh said later of his cast, “Virginia Mayo was a beautiful girl. Cagney was a nice guy, but he ate too much.” 

Raoul Walsh & Cagney in 1939 during the making of THE ROARING TWENTIES,



An historical bone of contention concerning White Heat has been whose idea it was to make Jarrett a mother-fixated psychopath. Both Cagney and Walsh have stated publicly that the idea was theirs, but the first draft of Goff and Roberts’ script had already borrowed heavily from the story of Ma Barker by rolling all of her sons’ traits into Cody Jarrett.

Cody Jarrett having one of his fits as Ma Jarrett (Margaret Wycherly) tries to comfort him.



Other ideas can be attributed to Cagney, who was fond of “sprinkling the goodies along the way” — adding touches like the scene where Jarrett sits on his mother’s lap, which Walsh encouraged him to do when the actor wondered if audiences would accept it. In another scene Virginia Mayo, who played Jarrett’s slutty wife, recalls, “Jimmy said, ‘If I kick the chair out from under you, will you fall back on the bed and not hurt yourself?’ I said, ‘Yes, I can do it — it’s easy.’ So we did it. We did it in one take.” 

Verna Jarrett (Virginia Mayo) gets read the Riot Act from her husband Cody.



When Jarrett is told in the prison mess hall of his mother’s death, he goes into a psychotic rage. A very reserved, quiet man off-camera, Cagney had no problem doing the scene n front of the cast and crew, and even invited guests to watch the filming — accomplished again in one take. “For that particular scene,” he recalled, “I knew what deranged people sounded like because as a youngster I had visited where a pal’s uncle was in a hospital for the insane. My god, what an education that was! The shrieks, the screams of those people under constraint! I remembered those cries, saw that they fit and called on my memory to do as required.”

Critics and audiences loved what ultimately became the penultimate gangster film for the formerly socially-conscious studio, which now showed its hero as unredeemable. The film received only one Academy Award nomination — ironically for Best Original Story, by Virginia Kellogg, who had very little to do with the actual film. Cagney, who had wanted to be remembered as a song-and-dance man, became a psychotic to a whole new generation of filmgoers. “Although it turned out to be a good picture in a number of ways,” he later said, “It was just another cheapjack job.”

Orson Welles thought otherwise. After he and Peter Bogdanovich re-watched White Heat together, the two spoke about film acting versus stage acting. Welles said: “Look at Cagney. Everything he does is big, and yet it’s never for a moment unbelievable because it’s real. It’s true. He’s a great movie actor and his performances are in no way modulated for the camera. He never scaled anything down.”

“Made it, Ma! Top o’ the world!”



– Dwayne Epstein.

Share Button

THE SIMPSONS: “THANK GOD FOR LEE MARVIN!”

The Simpsons, Fox’s long-running prime time animated series, may not seem like a suitable blog post for all things Lee Marvin, but fans of the show may know different. Rolling Stone magazine posted a list of the shows best episodes and the musical clip episode from the show’s ninth season ranked among them. What does this have to do with Lee Marvin?

Lee Marvin & Clint Eastwood animated on The Simpsons.

As I said, long standing fans of the show probably know why and it’s good to know that Rolling Stone feels the same. 
 The clip below says it all and is a wonderful example of what the show did best when it was at its best. To set up the episode that consisted of musical clips from past shows, The Simpsons had gone out to rent a video but argue over what to watch, with Marge and Lisa preferring a rom-com, while Homer and Bart naturally prefer something a little more macho. They land on Paint Your Wagon (1969), since it stars Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood, which Bart and Homer assume would fulfill their masculine viewing needs. 
    As an aside, I first watched this episode with my best friend, one Mike Barrow, another Lee Marvin fan and diehard aficionado of The Simpsons. He had come to visit me in my new apartment in Long Beach but before we caught up on old times he said a new episode was on and we HAD to watch it. I was in the earliest stages of researching Lee Marvin Point Blank so we had much to talk about…AFTER viewing the episode. We turned on the TV to catch the episode and imagine our immense surprise when we see the opening! 

Mike Barrow and the author back in the day.

Naturally, after it aired, we had even more to bond over! Keep in mind, this is the guy with whom I watched The Dirty Dozen (1967) with on video so often, it got to the point that he would just call me up and start to hum the the film’s main theme and I would respond, “Sure, come on over.” Now that’s a buddy. 
All that said, for those who may have missed it, below is the clip in question. Watch. Enjoy. And remember, “Thank god for Lee Marvin! He’s always drunk and violent!”
– Dwayne Epstein 


 

Share Button