KILLIN’ GENERALS UPDATE

Killin’ Generals update indeed! I had previously mentioned on this blog that my latest project concerns the making of The Dirty Dozen (1967) and as promised, here’s some great news about its progress.

Montage of images from the one, the only, the original, THE DIRTY DOZEN.


As many of you know since The Dirty Dozen came out over 50 years ago, not many of those involved in the production are still around. However, I did get an interview and some rare photos with the film’s 94 year old producer Ken Hyman. Also I spoke with actress Dora Reisser (she played the fraulein Telly Savalas killed) who was very insightful about her role in the film. I’ve also spoken with several of the adult children of cast members who shared there own exclusive memories of their father’s work on the film.

Telly Savalas & Dora Reisser as they appeared in THE DIRTY DOZEN.



Best of all (drum roll), as of this week, 87-year-old Donald Sutherland responded to my interview request with some wonderful and exclusive anecdotes. Great news, doncha think?
 The best part is I have in my archival research interviews conducted with several others involved in the film who are no longer with us. They include the likes of Clint Walker and Bob Phillips. Phillips had an extraordinary history besides playing the role of Cpl. Morgan. Best of all, he was hired to ‘babysit’ Lee Marvin during production and although some of what he told me can be read in my bio Lee Marvin Point Blank, the majority of what he stated remains exclusively untold …..until now! Publication is Father’s Day, 2023.
 There’s still more to come in terms of the exclusive research I have been gathering, but for this Killin’ Generals update should suffice for now. So, until the next time, happy Easter and happy Passover to one and all. Or, As Dirty Dozen director Robert Aldrich used to say, “Onward and upward!”
– Dwayne Epstein

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JANUARY 2022 ON TCM

January 2022 marks a new year and with it, a couple of pretty good Lee Marvin movies on TCM. Oh, I know, 2021 was a pretty crappy year when all is considered. But look at the bright side. A new year always offers new hope, more chances for success and the possibility for more dreams to come true…or not. The future, dark as it looks, can still be bright as it remains unknown. Maybe the best way to ensure some glimmer of hope is by revisiting these Lee Marvin classics (all times are PST)….

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955): January 8th, 1:30 pm.

(L-R) Russell Collins, Walter Brennan, Spencer Tracy (seated), Dean Jagger, Lee Marvin and Robert Ryan in Bad Day at Black Rock.



 A recognized classic of slow building suspense, the entire all-star cast is uniformly excellent in this modern day western suspense thriller. Nothing new to say that hasn’t been said already as I wrote about previously here and here. Naturally, don’t just take my word for it. See it for yourself if you’ve never seen it…and if you have, enjoy it again. It’s just that good. 

The Dirty Dozen (1967): January 24th, 11:30 am.

Composite of scenes from the TCM perennial, THE DIRY DOZEN.

Once again, not much more to say about this recognized WWII classic other than to add it’s the subject of my current project to be published rather appropriately on Father’s Day, 2023. Truth be told, there actually is more to say as I’ve already racked up interviews with surviving cast members, adult children of the cast and 93-year-old producer, Ken Hyman. In other words, watch the film again and stay tuned for some great stories about it!


Raintree County (1957) January 31, 2:00 pm.

(L-R) Lee Marvin and Montgomert Clift as ‘Bummers’ during the Civil War scene in Raintree.


Okay, so this rip-off of Gone With the Wind (1939) has a painful-to-watch Montgomery Clift performance, a shrill Elizabeth Taylor and some rather unsavory plot twists. However, it also has some beautiful photography, underrated Agnes Moorhead and one of the best performances Lee Marvin ever gave on film. If you can sit through it, you’ll see what I mean as I’v written previously

Pretty good movies to end 2021 on and start the new year of January 2022 with, don’t you think? Don’t forget, all the films mentioned above are written about in greater depth in the pages Lee Marvin Point Blank

Oh yeah, almost forgot something.

A recent photo of good friend Ron Thompson (inset) and one of his two animated alter egos, Pete, from Ralph Bakshi’s AMERICAN POP.


American Pop (1981)

It premieres on TCM January 22nd at 12:45 am and is a worthy addition here, even if for no other reason then I love the film and know the film’s star, personally. Ron Thompson is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet and gives an amazing dual performance in the film without ever being seen! Not even Lee Marvin can say that. Ron has always been worth watching and has recently experienced an overdue renaissance of sorts that you can see here.  Check him out in animator Ralph Bakshi’s rotoscoped classic depicting 20 century pop culture. He’s remarkable in it!

Okay, now I can say it. Happy new year, one and all!
– Dwayne Epstein

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SEAN CONNERY

Sean Connery, the legendary Scottish actor, shook off his mortal coil on Halloween this year at the age of 90 and the world is a little less interesting because of it. In the midst of a global pandemic and a contentious American presidential election, the loss of Sir Sean Connery got sort of lost in the media shuffle of other coverage. 

From my private library. Think I’m a Sean Connery fan?


  However, to a fan such as I, it was anything but lost. Like most movie fans, he was my favorite James Bond but many of his non-Bond films were favorites, as well, especially the ones made during the Bond years. In many ways, he was the last true movie star: Handsome, rugged, charismatic, and an actor of criminally underrated depth and ability. 
  Luckily, when I was still researching Lee Marvin Point Blank, I was hired by good friend Bill Krohn to research the making of several films handpicked by filmmakers in a tribute book titled Serious Pleasures to commemorate the 1997 anniversary of Switzerland’s Locarno Film Festival. The films chosen that I was fortunate enough to write about included the first published work of my Point Blank research  that I reposted here. Fortunately, Woody Allen (!) chose The Hill (1965), as a personal underrated favorite worthy of rediscovery and I was the one who did the ‘Making Of” essay about it. It remains one of my personal favorites, as well. Here then is that 1997 essay published in French and Italian only but translated by yours truly. I consider it a worthy inclusion to the myriad of Connery tributes. Rest in peace, Sir Sean. Your legend will always loom large.
– Dwayne Epstein
   
THE HILL

Chapter opening for my essay on THE HILL.

Woody Allen’s thoughts on THE HILL translated: “WITHOUT COMPROMISE by Woody Allen
THE HILL, for whatever reason, is little known to American viewers. In the career of Sidney Lumet, which includes a large number of great films, THE HILL is perhaps the best. In any case, I place it among the best American films. The execution of this gripping story is wonderful, whether it’s a series of gorgeous renditions or the inspired photo. It’s a brutal, uncompromising spectacle, and every time I see it I’m amazed that a film of this quality has gone unnoticed at this point.”

In 1964, when Sean Connery was starting to feel trapped playing the popular but unchallenging James Bond, producer Kenneth Hyman approached him about doing The Hill, a script written by Ray Rigby from the stage play he co-wrote with R.S. Allen, based on Rigby’s experiences in a North African detention camp during World War II. Connery initially declined because he was hoping to make a film version of The Adventures of Moll Flanders with his wife, Diane Cilento. 
   When the project fell through because Cilento was tied up filming The Agony and the Ecstasy, Connery reconsidered Hyman’s offer even though Thunderball was scheduled to start production shortly. Happily, director Sidney Lumet, who was already attached to the project, had a reputation for completing his films at break-neck speed, because he edited in the camera and demand that his actors deliver on the first few takes. 
  Connery signed on to play Joe Roberts, a busted non-conforming officer doing time in a hellish military prison, with no illusions about what a tough role it would be, or why he would be playing it. “It is only because of my reputation as Bond that the backers put the money up for The Hill,” he said later. Ian Fleming purists had always felt that Connery’s receding hairline, preceding lined face and tattooed forearms acquired in the Navy, worked against Bond’s image, but they were perfect for playing Joe Roberts. As an added touch, he decided to go without his toupee for the first time and grew a moustache for the role.
   For Sidney Lumet, it was a chance to work with a cast of classically trained actors like Harry Andrews, of whom he said: “When you get that kind of training….It’s brimming over. You can’t contain it. Everything is so rich. To have that kind of weight going for you in a supporting part is just magic.” He could have been speaking of anyone in the cast, which included Alfred Lynch (who co-starred with Connery in the minor service comedy, On The Fiddle), Roy Kinnear, Ossie Davis, Jack Watson and Ian Hendry. A bonus for Connery was the inclusion of an old friend from his earliest days as an actor, Ian Bannen.
   Exteriors were filmed in Gabo De Gata near Almeira, Spain. Prior to the cast’s arrival, the prison encampment with its punishment hill were constructed under the supervision of art director Herbert Smith and production manager Dick Frith. Since the Spanish desert sand did not mix with cement, one hundred tons of sand had to be shipped in, as well as 2,000 gallons of water for the oasis around which the camp constructed. Five hundred workers toiled for two weeks erecting the ominous hill, a 35-foot-high monstrosity made of 10,000 feet of steel and 60 tons of lumber, stone and sand. Once filming began, twelve men raked the sand daily.
   Even though exterior filming began in October, the temperature remained a blistering 115 degrees. For the next five weeks Lumet put cast and crew through ten-hour work days, six days a week. The close camera angles made stand-ins impossible, so actors were required to run up and down the hill with full packs in as many continuous takes as were needed to get the shot. “Doing it in several takes would have been charity,” said Lumet, “The actors knew it would be difficult but they were all rugged men who were able to fulfill what were expected of them.” Lumet himself took the hill to make the point.
   “We were in the bloody desert and the food and water were ghastly,” recalled Ian Bannen. “It’d be hard to find words to describe the location…[It] was as smelly as Aberdeen on a hot day. Fishy-smelling, that’s what it was like. Just awful.” But Lumet was not a sadist — quite the contrary. “I think Time Magazine summed it up when it said Sidney makes love to his cast and crew,” added Bannen. “He’s a great sweetener.” All the actors fell ill, including the stoic Sean Connery, who pulled a tendon and suffered a short bout of what he called “Spanish tummy.”
   Lumet and cinematographer Oswald Morris used a variety of lenses to shake the story free of its stage origins. Most of the action is set against the landscape at the beginning of the film, for which a 25mm lens was used; as the characters deepen, the 18mm lens is increasingly brought into play, not only to track feelings but to distort the officers’ faces as their power crumbles. Lumet also made extensive use of a handheld camera, with jerky zoom-ins during moments of shock and tension. 
   Following two weeks of shooting in a London studio, the film wrapped and Sean Connery went immediately to work on Thunderball. Connery’s disdain for the Bond films was understandable: While he was filming with Lumet the British tabloids ran headlines like “Bond Takes The Hill,” and suggested that his rugged appearance in one behind-the-scene still was the result of a falling out with the Bond producers, and that it would ruin his image. “I’m not conscious of any image,” Connery bristled. “I play a part because I want to play it. Even if The Hill is not a success, does it matter? Some of the finest films haven’t been commercial successes.”
The Hill premiered in competition at Cannes, where it tied with France’s Platoon 317 for Best Screenplay. It was released in the U.S. early in 1965, making it hard for Academy voters to remember it by year’s end. Ironically, the wildly successful Thunderball won an Oscar for special effects. Despite good reviews, The Hill did poorly in the all-important U.S. market, but made money in Europe. Ian Bannen recalling seeing it in Greece; “It was incredible. I never witnessed cheering and applause like that in a cinema before.” One factor in the film’s domestic failure may have been the thick accents of most of the cast; several prints were actually made for the American market with subtitles, to no avail. As Mark Twain once said, “America and England are two countries separated by a common language.”

   Undaunted, Ken Hyman went on to produce another film for MGM that starts in a military prison, The Dirty Dozen (1967), which became the sixth highest-grossing film in the studio’s history. Sidney Lumet worked again with cast members Kinnear, Andrews and Bannen, and has made four more pictures with Connery to date. As for Connery, he cites The Hill as “An example of a film that wasn’t a success with the public but eventually became a supposed classic. The idea was to make an ensemble film and we made it.” It remains his personal favorite among all his films. 

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