JERRY GOLDSMITH

Jerry Goldsmith, the legendary composer of great film music, never scored a Lee Marvin film, and as classic film fans, we are less enriched because of it. I say this as the author of Lee Marvin Point Blank and genuinely wish that he had, as it would have been a wonderful marriage of an actor’s persona and a musical entity’s talent.
I should explain in that I am a huge fan of Jerry Goldsmith’s music and given the theme or setting of a project, he excelled even beyond his very talented contemporaries. For example, if a film involved a train as part of the premise and Goldsmith composed the score, the result was breathtaking. Listen to his main themes to the likes of  Von Ryan’s Express (1965), Breakheart Pass (1975) or The Great Train Robbery (1978).  He evokes the the motion of the train, the period the stories takes place and creates a hummable main theme…all at the same time!
With that in mind, I find it very disappointing that director Robert Aldrich failed to hire Goldsmith to score Emperor of the North (1973), choosing instead to go with Frank DeVol. Mostly known for his lighter scores for TV and Doris Day movies, DeVol was also an actor, most notably playing the dour-faced conductor Happy Kyne on “Fernwood 2-Night.”

CD cover of the belated release of Frank DeVol’s score to Emperor of the North.

I doubt if a Jerry Goldsmith score might have saved Emperor from its box-office disappointment, but it would have, at the very least, made for a great opening credit and rousing theme for the fight scene.
Another example is yet another Robert Aldrich film scored by Frank DeVol. Granted, The Dirty Dozen (1967) really didn’t need any help in reaching its classic status and DeVol’s main theme is pretty good. However, his reliance on variations of “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” may have been period correct but lazy composition, in my opinion.

Original DIRTY DOZEN vinyl soundtrack cover featuring Trini Lopez.

Having scored many films with military themes, most notably his Oscar-nominated score for Patton (1970), I think Jerry Goldsmith would have done amazing things with The Dirty Dozen. However, composers, like actors, are often hired based on their working relationship with a a given director, or are typecast based on the film’s subject. In this case, Robert Aldrich almost always went with DeVol, while Goldsmith frequently worked for several other high-profile directors, such as Franklin Schaffner and Joe Dante.
As a huge admirer of Goldsmith’s rich melodic scores, I just think it’s a damn shame that he never composed a rousing score for one of Lee Marvin’s films. In those golden days of rich music film scores, it’s a true pity that we shall never see the likes of Jerry Goldsmith again, nor, for that matter Lee Marvin.

Rare CD cover of the great Jerry Goldsmith conducting some of his best scores. I treasure it!

  • Dwayne Epstein
Share Button

MONTE HELLMAN

Monte Hellman, the maverick cult film director at his best in the 1960s and 1970s, passed away recently at the ripe old age of 91. A well written obituary concerning his life and work can be seen here.
Monte Hellman may not seem a likely choice for a blog entry dedicated to the life, career, and legacy of Lee Marvin but there is actually good reason for his inclusion here. Most people do not know that Monte Hellman took over the reigns of the ill-fated Lee Marvin cold war spy triller, Avalanche Express (1979).

Lee Marvin in character as Harry Wargrave, the Monte Hellman completed spy thriller, AVALANCHE EXPRESS.

Consequently, I interviewed Monte Hellman in his home in 1996 and he could not have been nicer, even going so far as making us dinner while we spoke. Most of what he told me went into the book of course but sometimes not everything can fit the narrative. With that in mind, and in tribute to his unsung talent, here exclusively is part of the unused portion of our interview….

Dwayne: I guess the best way to start is to ask you how you got involved in Avalanche Express.
Monte: (Long pause) I had sold a picture to Lorimar. My former attorney, Jack Schwartzman was an executive at Lorimar and they had a problem with the movie in that Mark Robson died before finishing the picture. So, they asked me if I would come in and do the kind of thankless job of finishing the movie.
D: At what point did that take place? Was the film completely done and in post-production or was there a little bit of filming left?
M: No, they had shot 90% of the film.
D: So, it was almost done but not quite.
M: Almost but not quite. Then, what happened was we looked at the footage and decided that there was probably, there were other problems so we actually planned to do quite extensive re-shoot..not re-shoot but shooting of additional material, in addition to what had not been shot. That was eventually cut back from. But I would say we wound up shooting maybe 15% of the picture, as opposed to 10. But the post-production was a major part of the movie as well because there was a lot of special effects.
D: Yeah, with the train going through the mountain passes…
M: Yeah, all the train stuff was..miniature, essentially.
D: You said that there was more problems than you had not anticipated in terms of what was shot..
M: Just that after..we did a kind of a rough assembly and some of the story just didn’t work so well. Some changes were made. One of the things that I did was loop the entire opening sequence that took place in Russia.. All subtitles, thank you. It was actually shot in English and we looped it in Russian with subtitles. It was just because we thought it added a kind of..in reality that’s what they would be speaking. Then they would all speak English when they were out in the middle of the spy world
D:How much of what the original idea of what the film was in production, how much of that was changed by the time the film was done?
M: Oh, I think the basic premise was all, none of that was changed. It was still the same basic movie. We just tried to, I guess add a little bit more tension and..Originally, we had actually planned to go Europe and do some re-shooting there. I went and scouted but didn’t actually re-shoot. Everything we did was shot in Hollywood.
D: Where was the film originally shot? In Switzerland or something?
M: Yeah, I think they shot in Switzerland, Germany, whatever. All over Europe.
D: That’s what it appears to be in the film.
M: Robert Shaw died actually before I got on board, as well.
D: That was my next point.
M: So, we had to..obviously we couldn’t shoot any additionally footage of him but I had to loop his entire performance. Because there were things that we needed from him and we wanted the voice to be consistent. So, we found an actor who was able to do his voice. D: Do you remember who the actor was?
M: I could look it up after we’re finished, if you want [Robert Rietty].  It’s a terrible thing to say but in some ways it actually helped because Shaw had a very strong Irish or whatever his accent was. And not, he never sounded Russian. It’s better to at least lose the accent that he did have, which this guy was able to do.
D: When you got involved on a post-production level, what was the sense of the people who had worked on the film from the very beginning in terms of what took place?
M: Well, [director Mark] Robson was very sick during the shooting of the film. So, I don’t think it was a happy experience for anybody. It was just really arduous and he wasn’t able to give his full power as a director. When I started working with the actors, everybody was cheerful. Nobody seemed to be..the morale was not bad when I took over.
D: What work with the actors did you actually do?
M: Well, we shot the 10% or 15% of the footage that was principle photography and then, besides all the special effects and the miniature work, we did.
D: When Robson died, I don’t know how much of a time span there was between his and Robert Shaw’s’ death but when..
M: I think it was very close.
D: Was it?
M: Yeah.
D: When they both passed away, was it assumed that the film was done and then you had to bring everybody back together again or was it…
M: No, everybody knew that we still had things to shoot.
D: You said that you worked with Lee Marvin for awhile. I didn’t know that.
M: I shot, there were several scenes on a plane I remember.
D: Wasn’t that a sequence towards the end of the film?
M: No, there was one sequence early on..
D: Oh yeah, with Mike Connors.
M: That’s right, that’s right. I shot that scene.
D: What was Lee Marvin like to work with as an actor?
M: Well, I had been warned that he was problematic. That he had a drinking problem. That is was best to get him finished by noon and so forth and so on. I didn’t have any problems with him at all.
D: Do you know if he had been drinking during the shooting at all?
M: I assume that he had been drinking during the other shooting [with Robson]. I didn’t have any problems, though. I didn’t notice that he was under the influence in any way.
D: From the people I’ve spoken too, I get the impression that he couldn’t have reached the level he did in the industry and been drunk all the time.
M: That was my experience, that he was not, that he was a very conscientious actor. He was fun to work with.
D: What kind of things would he bring to a scene as an actor?
M: Just as his star power. I think he was a movie star and he had tremendous ease with what he did. He was just really easy and fun to work with.
D: How did he get along with the other actors?
M: Seemed to be fine. The scene I did, I think he was with Linda Evans and the others, Connors and so forth.
D: It was a pretty eclectic cast. Not a typical Hollywood cast. (Joe Namath, Linda Evans Mike Connors, etc.) What was it like working with this diverse group?
M: I don’t recall that Joe was in that scene. If he was, I don’t remember him. I did work with Maximilian Schell only on his looping. We re-looped his whole performance as well. D: Really? Why was that necessary?

(L-R) Maximillian Schell and Robert Shaw as they appeared in AVALANCHE EXPRESS.

M: Just for consistency. Because he was in a lot of scenes with Shaw I guess where we didn’t want to have one sound…
D: A sound pop or something?
M: Yeah, yeah. So we looped everything of his and also it enabled me to help him with his accent, as well.
D: I know you mentioned a moment ago that it was thankless, but what for you was the working experience like?
M: How did you know that I even worked on it? I don’t take a credit as the director.
D: You don’t take credit but you got screen credit. I’m one of those poor schmucks that watches the entire movie. At the very end, when the credits are done, “The producers wish to thank Monte Hellman,” and I think they also mention Gene Corman.
M: That’s right.
D: Yours and Gene Corman’s name are the very last one mentioned.
M: Yeah, but it’s hard to know what we did, though (Laughs).
D: That’s another reason I wanted to talk to you. I need to know exactly what your input was. Knowing what the project would entail, what made you decide to do it? Was it because of the deal you had made with Lorimar?
M: Well, it was more or less that I had a very friendly relationship with them. It was a chance I had to repay them for something nice they had done for me.
D: It seems, although I’m not familiar with a lot of the films you’ve done, except the westerns you did with Jack Nicholson, it seems a lit bit out of the genre you are used to working with. Was it hard to acclimate your self?
M: Well, to me it wasn’t really that different. I cut my teeth on melodramas and war movies, action/adventure. It was like doing Flight To Fury (1964) again.
D: That makes sense. Had you had a previous working relationship with Gene Corman? M: Yes. He had actually produced the first movie that I directed…
D: I’m trying to remember.
M: (Smiles) You’ll never guess it.. 
D: I want to say something like Monster Beneath The Sea..
M: That’s almost exactly right; Beast From Haunted Cave (1959).
D: I was close.

Monte Hellman as he looked when I met him in 1996. Rest in Peace.

It’s a cliche to say it but cliche’s are borne of truth: Rest in peace Mr. Hellman as we shall not see your like again.

 

Share Button

DIRTY WHISPERS

Dirty whispers, for lack of a better term, is a rather lascivious device used in some films to set the stage for an eventual brutal showdown. There are of course several memorable examples but this being a blog dedicated to the life and career of Lee Marvin, I can think of no better example to start with than the man himself. 
 In researching Lee Marvin Point Blank, I discovered that he attempted this device in The Killers (1964) but ran into conflict with costar, Ronald Reagan, who hated the idea. Instead, he let it be known to the audience what he intended when he gets in the face of frightened costar Angie Dickinson and angrily whispers, “Lady, you tell us what we want to know or so help me god you’re going out that window.” 
  A few years later, he was able to use the device to much better effect when he collaborated with British director John Boorman on Point Blank (1967).

Lynn (Sharon Acker) warms up to a drunken Walker (Lee Marvin) as they circle each other on the Santa Monica pier in POINT BLANK.


In the opening prologue, in which Marvin as Walker confronts his estranged wife, played by Sharon Acker, an ingenious montage is utilized  to give the films’s back story to the viewer, as narrated by Acker. Costar Angie Dickinson told me how Marvin and Boorman would themselves whisper on set about how they would do a scene without letting the other actors in on it to maintain the film’s freshness. The opening montage is one example. Acker’s narration of course explains what’s going on for us, but in the scene itself, no words are heard but we do see Walker saying something to her (of probably the most lascivious nature) ,as they circle each other amid the other drunken denizens of the pier. 
   Later in the film, as Walker confronts his adversaries up the chain of command in an effort to get what he believes he is owed from the organization, he employs the device again to even greater effect as Marvin wanted to do in The Killers

Walker (Lee Marvin) uses a dirty whisper on a reception in POINT BLANK. Note the placement of his gun barrel.

Bursting into the outer office of kingpin Lloyd Bochner, he confronts the receptionist before she can even react to his entry, and while he scares her to near death with whatever dirty whispers we can’t hear, he uses his oversized Oxford to smash the secret alarm hidden under her desk. It’s a brilliantly realized moment in a film spilling over with brilliant moments way ahead of its time for audiences and film critics alike. 
   One can only imagine not only what Marvin was saying but what he must have sounded like, as his voice, whether booming loud or frighteningly whispered, was one of the actor’s greatest attributes.

 Film history has provided some other noteworthy examples of dirty whispers. Chronologically, to my mind, one of the first and still best is Edward G. Robinson terrorizing Lauren Bacall in Key Largo (1948). It’s amazing to think Robinson was never Oscar nominated for any of the memorable performances he gave throughout his lengthy career as this should have been one of them. 

Lauren Bacall reacts accordingly to Edward G. Robinson’s lascivious dirty whispers in KEY LARGO.


The scene induces shivers in the way Robinson gleefully does it, as much as the way Bacall reacts to it. It’s one of many stand out moments Robinson has in the film as over-the-hill Prohibition-era gangster Johnny Rocco hiding out in a Florida Hotel besieged by a hurricane. The greatness of his menacing performance has faded in moviegoer memory, since the film is largely remembered for the well-known sparks that flew and ignited between Bacall and toplined star, Humphrey Bogart. Pity, really, as Robinson was amazing in it.

The memorable near fight scene in From Here to Eternity (1952) that leads to a an even more memorable confrontation is not remembered as such but it’s initiated by another dirty whisper.

Ernest Borgnine (center) drools over the photo he snatched from Frank Sinatra (right) in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY as Montgomery Clift (left) prepares to respond.


As Frank Sinatra as Maggio shows off a photo of his big Italian family to his buddies in the bar, stocky and vicious Ernest Borgnine as “Fatso” Judson ambles into the bar. He snatches the photo, sees the image of Sinatra’s sister, kisses it, smiles menacingly, then leans over to Prewitt, played by Montgomery Clift, to whisper what has to be an undoubtedly filthy suggestion. Clift rises to the challenge but is pushed out of the way by the more maligned Sinatra who proceeds to smash Borgnine with a bar stool. All looks lost until Burt Lancaster steps in with a broken beer bottle. Damn exciting stuff, again the result of a probably forgotten dirty whisper.  
 Last but not least is possibly the best example of a dirty whisper and its aftermath. In The Hustler (1961), the great Piper Laurie plays Sarah Packard, the tragic and crippled girlfriend of the title character, ‘Fast Eddie Felson, played by Paul Newman.

(L-R) Paul Newman, Piper Laurie & George C. Scott enjoy Louisville’s Derby Day party in THE HUSTLER.


Celebrating the Kentucky Derby at a Jazz party, Felson’s manager Bert Gordon, played by George C. Scott, sees how vulnerable Ms. Laurie’s character is and proceeds to take advantage of it. While a Dixieland band blares in the background, he sidles up to the fragile woman, out of ear shot of everyone (especially Newman) and whispers something so devastating to her, she breaks down in tears and eventually does the unthinkable.
   What was said? Well, we may never know for sure what is said in such emotional scenes, but there is one interesting anecdote. According to Piper Laurie in her autobiography, “I finally asked him [Scott] what he had whispered into my ear in the big party scene in The Hustler that elicits a violent response from me. We shot it perhaps three or four times, and I could never figure out what he was saying: it sounded something like ‘isha-pa-pish-po.’ He told me he chose to use just gibberish, knowing he could never invent words or phrases as powerful as what my imagination could summon up. Probably true.” 
 Whether a result of avoiding the censor or the fertile imagination of gifted actors and actresses, such moments remain dramatic and powerful in their own right. Anybody remember any others?

  • Dwayne Epstein
Share Button