July 2021 on TCM is upon us and with it comes some watchable Lee Marvin classics, as well as a few other goodies within the theme of neo-noir. Readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank will appreciate these films as they certainly fit the oeuvre of the man’s work. Even the film’s in which he doesn’t appear are ones he certainly could have and it’s interesting to consider him in the roles while watching. Check local listings for air time. First up:

Point Blank (1967): Friday, July 2nd. 

Point Blank, 1967

Lee Marvin as Walker based on the book in which his name is Parker written by Donald Westlake using the pen name Richard Stark directed by England’s John Boorman in quintessential American locales such as San Francisco and Los Angeles. Confused? Don’t be as TCM could not have picked a better film for their July 2021 launch of their theme of neo-noir classics, as this is the one that started it all. It’s what I like to call the first arthouse action film. See it again and you’ll see what I mean.

Warning Shot (1967): Friday July 2nd. 

Original ad art for WARNING SHOT (1967).

Hot from his success as Richard Kimble on “The Fugitive,” David Janssen stars in this film with a similar theme, only this time he’s a cop wrongly accused of murder. Janssen heads an all-star cast of cameos including Lee Marvin’s good friend and Point Blank costar, Keenan Wynn as well as Carroll O’Connor. Along for the ride are George Grizzard, Joan Collins, Lillian Gish, Steve Allen, Ed Begley, Sam Wanamaker, George Sanders, Eleanor Parker, Walter Pigeon and Stefanie Powers and a terrific score by Jerry Goldsmith. It’s a forgotten classic as far as I’m concerned and July 2021 is all the better for it.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973): Friday, July 9th.

Criterion cover for the DVD of THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE.

In the 1970s Robert Mitchum underwent a sort of renaissance in his career with three outstanding crime thrillers: The Yakuza (1975), Farewell, My Lovely (1975), and the best of them being The Friends of Eddie Coyle. This is yet another movie in dire need of rediscovery and thankfully, a few years back Criterion chose to give the film the blue ribbon treatment it deserves. Yes, it’s dark and depressing and yes rather unrelentingly so but I like to think of it as haunting as once seen you’ll never forget it. Seriously. Mitchum heads an all-star cast of rugged faced veteran character actors on the dirty streets of Boston as he himself gives the performance of his career. Once again, don’t take my word for it. See it for yourself and be amazed. As costar Peter Boyle told Rolling Stone Magazine at the time: “You know what the 2001 theme is? That’s the sound of Robert Mitchum waking up.”

The Wild One (1953) Saturday, July 10th.

Original ad for The WILD ONE in which 4th billed Lee Marvin is shown (barely) but not mentioned.

The seminal film that started the biker film craze of the late 1960s was actually based on an event in the 1940s and starred Marlon Brando as Johnny, titular leader of the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (BRMC). He’s challenged at one point by a scene-stealing, hilariously over-the-top Lee Marvin as Chino. Great and exclusive stories abound about the making of this classic in the pages of Lee Marvin Point Blank, including a letter Lee wrote to his brother about what he thought of the character in hopes of winning the role. As for his opinion of Brando? Read and discover!

Night Moves (1975) Friday, July 23rd.

Alternate cover art for NIGHT MOVES.

Gene Hackman is at the peak of his long and amazing career as Harry Moseby, a former football star working as a private detective hired to find the daughter of a burned out movie star.  He’s also dealing with the break-up of his marriage and the oncoming strains middle-age. Along the way he encounters some unsavory characters, such as sexy Jennifer Warren, a young an creepy James Woods (isn’t he always creepy?) and more. The style and performances of this film is required viewing in my opinion as Hackman is rarely better than in the hands of the great Arthur Penn. Enjoy!

Cutter’s Way (1981) Friday, July 23rd. 

DVD cover for CUTTER’S WAY.

Hollywood was still making films such as this in the early 1980s but sadly, few people wanted to see them. It’s a terrific character study in the guise of a thrilling whodunit. Jeff Bridges is Richard Bone, a Santa Barbara boat salesman by day and a “gigolo” by night (male prostitute, let’s be honest) who may have witnessed a murder committed by the riches man around. Enter John Heard as Alex Cutter, a disabled and embittered Vietnam veteran who wants to blackmail the suspected killer in a performance that reaches beyond the cliche description. It’s a performance worthy of countless acting awards but didn’t receive any. Ivan Passer’s direction, Jeff Bridges’ appearance (according to my girlfriend he never looked sexier!) John Heard’s riveting performance, the Santa Barbara locations and a chilling climax make this one a definite contender as a lost classic. Kudos to TCM for rediscovering it!

The Asphalt Jungle (1950) Saturday, July 31st. 

Montage of scenes and characters from John Huston’s ASPHALT JUNGLE. Can you name them all?

It’s a bit of a shame that this classic noir was made in 1950 as that’s the same year Lee Marvin began working in film as a glorified extra. Had he been a little better known by that time he would have fit right in with the cast of this hardboiled heist thriller in any of several different roles. The lead role by Sterling Hayden as the hooligan known as Dix would have been a perfect fit for the young Marvin. The ensemble cast as it is remains one of the best of all time. It also includes my personal favorite quote of all noir films when Hayden tells worrisome Marc Lawrence: “Why don’t you quit crying and get me some bourbon!”  A film brimming with double-crosses, subplots and believable characters, it’s one for the ages. Oh, and look quick for Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright Arthur Miller in the film’s opening line-up of suspected mugs. Honest!  

So there you have it. A plethora of terrific films for TCM’s calendar of July 2021. August brings even better fare for Lee Marvin fans. TCM is doing their regular installment of “Summer Under the Stars,” saluting one actor all day and on the 28th, they FNALLY get around to honoring Lee Marvin. July 2021 is pretty good. August will sure to be even better!

  • Dwayne Epstein 
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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

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One-Eyed Jacks, the only film Marlon Brando ever directed, was Francis Ford Coppola’s choice of a film worthy of rediscovery when asked to write about one for the Locarno Film Festival project, Serious Pleasures. 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 in need 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, etc. I was overjoyed to write about One-Eyed Jacks while still researching Lee Marvin Point Blank
The underrated western had the following storyline: After robbing a Mexican bank, Dad Longworth (Karl Malden) takes the loot and leaves his partner Rio (Brando) to be captured, but Rio escapes and searches for Dad in California, who has become sheriff of a coastal town and married a widow (Katy Jurado) and adopted her daughter, Louisa (Pina Pellicer). Rio and his gang (Larry Duran, Ben Johnson and Sam Gilman) make plans to rob the town’s bank during a fiesta but dad has other plans. 
Coppola’s thoughts on One-Eyed Jacks are below in italics, followed by my detailed essay on the film’s production. The images are from photographer Sam Shaw’s book of working with Brando during the film entitled Brando In The Camera Eye.

I know nothing about how Marlon Brando made One-Eyed Jacks, but I do know his intelligence, attention to detail and lack of caution. I saw the film when I was a film student, with my colleagues, and we were all impressed with its depth, its drive, its vitality, and the quality of the scenes, acting and spectacle. I have not seen the films for many years, but I was impressed with the scope of it. I liked especially the scenes on the beach, of which I understand there as another forty minutes that was lost. 

Title page for chapter I wrote in SERIOUS PLEASURES.

Although it was released in 1961, One-Eyed Jacks was initiated in 1955, when Paramount Pictures offered the much sought-after Marlon Brando a western and agreed to give him complete autonomy to produce it himself. Having formed his own production company, Pennebaker [his mother’s maiden name], Brando partnered with Paramount in the venture and began looking for the right script. 

Finding it proved difficult because he wanted to make a western that would break all the Hollywood cliches. He first tried writing it himself, working for several years with his close friend, Carlo Fiore, while completing his other commitments. Initially he wanted the film to be tongue-in-cheek, and gave it the working title of “A Burst of Vermillion” because the hero wore a colorful flowing scarf. Eventually, Brando submitted a 240-page draft that Paramount executives promptly turned down.

While he was considering other approaches (at one point he wanted to do a western version of The Count of Monte Cristo), Paramount producer Frank P. Rosenberg came a cross a book entitled The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones by Charles Neider. Future film legend Sam Peckinpah wrote a screenplay which the usually hard-to-please Brando surprised everyone by accepting with no changes, even though everyone else involved thought it needed more work.

At the studio’s urging, Peckinpah set about re-working the script while Brando and his collaborators looked for a director. After seeing Paths of Glory (1957) and The Killing (1956), Brando signed Stanley Kubrick at about the time Sam Peckinpah was given the heave-ho. About the experience, Peckinpah later said, “Very strange man, Marlon. Always doing a number about his screen image, how audiences would not accept him as a thief, how audiences would only accept him as a fallen sinner — someone they could love.”

TV veteran Rod Serling then took a crack at the script, followed by Calder Willingham once Kubrick came aboard. Brando’s ideas about what he wanted may have seemed strange to Peckinpah but they were positively normal compared to the story conferences that ensued following the hiring of Stanley Kubrick. All parties involved met regularly at Brando’s Oriental-style Beverly Hills home for story conferences during which they were required to remove their shoes (Kubrick inexplicably went further by removing his pants.). The meetings were punctuated by a loud gong Brando struck whenever the arguments became too heated.

The gong was struck more frequently in the ensuing months, usually during arguments between Brando and Kubrick. when Kubrick suggested Spencer Tracy to play “Dad” Longworth, for example, he didn’t know Brando had already hired Karl Malden on the payroll. When Kubrick said, “I’ve read the script and I don’t even know what it’s about,” Brando told him: “It’s about me having to pay Karl Malden $25,000 a week.” 

After Kubrick and Brando argued for the umpteenth time, Brando excused himself and flicked his head at Rosenberg to join him in the kitchen. The two men agreed that Kubrick had to go, but Brando turned down Rosenberg’s alternative suggestions, saying that he should direct the film himself. Rosenberg voiced reservations about the actor cutting his teeth on such a large undertaking but when Paramount agreed, Brando became the director. Part of the ambiguity surrounding the making of One-Eyed Jacks is whether Brando took over directing begrudgingly or whether he had intended to do so all along. In his recent autobiography he insists that he took the project on by default after every major Hollywood director turned it down.

Paramount announced that Kubrick had left to pursue his own project, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (1962). When Carlo Fiore told him Brando would be directing, Kubrick said, “If he had hired another director it might have appeared that I was lacking in talent or was temperamental or something. But if Marlon directs it, it gets me off the hook…I can see Marlon’s point. You can’t really call a film your own if somebody else directs you.” Brando went further by having Rosenberg fire Willingham and bring veteran screenwriter Guy Trosper into the production. 

To those in Hollywood who considered Brando difficult, especially with directors, it may have seemed just desserts to have him finally behind the camera. They had not counted on the Brando ingenuity that had made him a major force in Hollywood in the first place. 

His approach to casting was unusual. During auditions he would tell an actor a phone call had been received that a close family member had been injured. If the actor gave Brando the response he was looking for, he got the part. For the romantic lead he preferred an unknown, adding, “No tits. I don’t want my leading lady’s heaving big boobs on that wide screen while I’m trying to get a point across to my audience” A young Mexican actress named Pina Pellicer, whose previous experience was a Spanish language production of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” filled the bill.

Brnado explains what he wants to nervous leading lady Pina Pellicer, Tragically, she committed suicide in 1964.

The rest of the cast was made up of Brando cronies, including Malden, a friend of Brando’s from New York named Sam Gilman, and a former pickpocket turned stuntman named Larry Duran, as well as western veterans Katy Jurado, Slim Pickens and Ben Johnson. In Johnson, an alumnus of John Ford’s stock company, Brando had a model to build his own character on. He engaged the former rodeo superstar in endless conversations so as to acquire his speech patterns and vocal inflections.

The film, which was supposed to begin shooting on September 15, 1958, finally started to roll on December 2 for a scheduled six weeks as all of Hollywood wondered if Brando could pull it off. Some saw an incident on the first day as an omen: As the director looked through the viewfinder to set up a shot in front of visiting reporters, he complained that the device was useless because it made everything look so small. Assistant director Chico Day quietly took the viewfinder from Brando, turned it around and gave it back to him. “If you think this is bad,” Brando joked, “wait till the fifth day of shooting.”

(L-R) Actor/director Marlon Brando discusses a scene with assistant director Chico Day.

At the end of the first day, Brando was told something he would be hearing for the duration of the production — he was already behind schedule. In spite of these ongoing reminders, he had actually found himself enjoying the filmmaking process. In his autobiography he wrote, “One-Eyed Jacks is one of my favorite pictures…We shot it at Big Sur and the Monterey Peninsula, where I slept with many pretty women and had a lot of laughs.”

Brando taking advantage of the Big Sur location.

The joy the usually moody actor felt was contagious. He offered extras $200 out of his own pocket for the best reaction onscreen. He was patient and sensitive with the nervous Pellicer, who was having trouble with the English dialogue; to help her register appropriate shock in one scene, he fired a gun off-camera. Sometimes his ingenuity would backfire. Larry Duran was supposed to look both shocked and angry in a pivotal scene. Before the take, Brando strolled over to have a talk; when the actor seemed at ease, Brando hauled off and hit him flush in the face, ran behind the camera and started to film. Unfortunately, he hit Duran so hard he knocked half the actor’s beard off. 

For Brando it was all part of the learning process. “Some scenes I shot over and over again from different angles with different dialogue because I didn’t know what I was doing,” he admitted years later. “I also did a lot of stalling for time trying to work the story out in my mind while hoping to make the cast think I knew what I was doing.”

Since reporters were welcome on the set (Brando played host to everyone from Jacques Tati to a Japanese beauty queen), stories began to circulate, as Rosenberg told columnist Army Archerd, “This isn’t a movie. It’s a way of life.” If the director was trying to match a shot from the previous day after the weather changed, it would be reported that he kept the crew standing around while he waited to shoot the right wave. Similarly, it was reported that he had ruined days of shooting by getting drunk, when in fact he had tried to shoot a scene in which he was drunk by actually getting drunk. It was an experiment he had long wanted to try, but he ended up passing out and not getting the shots he needed. 

French film comedian Jacques Tati visiting the set of One-Eyed Jacks.

Paramount chief Frank Freeman let it be known he was coming to the set and if he was not satisfied, he would pull the plug. Rosenberg was amazed at how nonplussed Brando was when he told him. The next day, after viewing the dailies, Freeman appeared, told Brando he was doing a good job, gave him a bear hug, and walked away. Brando caught Rosenberg’s eye and thumbed his nose.

Finally, on June 2, 1959, after six months of filming, One-Eyed Jacks wrapped. Originally budgeted at $1.6 million, the film had ended up costing $6 million, and an arduous editing job still lay ahead. While most directors shoot an average of 150,000 feet of film and print 40,000, Brando had exposed over a million feet. 

What happened next depends again on which source you believe. Many Brando associates claim the film was taken away from him and chopped up to the point that he never again wanted to direct. Brando himself, although not happy with the final cut, has said, “I started editing it but pretty soon got sick of it and turned the job over to someone else. When he finished, Paramount said it didn’t like my version of the story. The studio cut the movie to pieces and by then I was bored with the whole project and walked away from it.”

At the studios’s behest Brando directed a day of reshoots in October of 1960, filming a new ending in which Pellicer’s character didn’t die. The 4 hour and 42 minute film was cut down to 2 hours and 20 minutes, and along the way whole subplots were removed, including one in which Brando’s character, recuperating in a Chinese settlement, rapes a young girl in a drunken stupor (The drunk scene that had given him so much trouble didn’t make it into the movie.). An ad-lib which Karl Malden inserted into every film he ever did must have been eliminated, too; One-Eyed Jacks is the only Malden film in which he the actor never says the name “Sekulovich,” which he had been obliged to change when he came to Hollywood.  

Old friends Karl (“Mladen Sekulovich”) Malden & Brando joke around between scenes.

When the film was released it received good reviews except for Brando’s own performance. He was quoted as saying at the time: “I didn’t feel it’s what I set out to do. In my film, everybody lied, even the girl. The only one who told the truth was the Karl Malden character. Paramount made him out to be the heavy, a liar. Now the characters in the film are black and white, not gray and human as I planned them.” As was the custom at the time, negative trims and outs were jettisoned so we will never see a director’s cut of One-Eyed Jacks

Besides being the last film shot in the expensive VistaVision process, permitting better color definition on the wide screen, One-Eyed Jacks was indeed like no other western, and through the years personalities as different as actor Charles Grodin and political satirist Mort Sahl have spoken of it as their favorite film. Like Francis Coppola, Martin Scorsese and David Lynch are fans and so is Monte Hellman, who has said that Fabio Testi’s poncho in China 9, Liberty 37 (1978) is a tribute to the poncho Marlon Brando wore in One-Eyed Jacks

The film’s title implies the duality of human behavior. At one point Brando’s character tells Karl Malden, “You’re a one-eyed Jack around these parts. But I’ve seen the other side of your face.” The title could apply equally well to the Rashomon-like contradictions contained in printed accounts of the film’s production, where everything seems to depend on one’s point of view — or on what one wants to have seen — like a one-eyed Jack. 

Original ad art for One-Eyed Jacks.

  • Dwayne Epstein.
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