SUMMER UNDER THE STARS, 2021

Summer Under the Stars is a month long event broadcast by TCM in which they show the films of one particular actor each day in the month of August. They’ve been doing it for years and this year they finally get around to honoring Lee Marvin, I believe for the first time. 

TCM’s line up of Lee Marvin films for August 28th. All times are Eastern Standard Time.



Normally, I like to showcase the films of Marvin to be shown on TCM at the end of the month for the upcoming month but this is worthy of some early acknowledgement. It’s not just for the obvious inclusion of Marvin’s films, but the fact that they are being shown pretty much in chronological order. It allows the viewer to see the progression of his career over time and recognize that even from the inception, his performances were always scene-stealing moments of the highest caliber. As costar Clu Gulager told this author back in 1997: “It turned out, Lee was, in my view, one of the foremost actors of his time. You never know about actors in their formative stages. Lee formed fairly early and became a great actor fairly early. Whereas, an actor like Paul Newman for example, who is today a great actor, did not form as early. I’m just showing you by way of contrast, we all have our time. Like Lloyd Bridges for example became a great actor in his older age. I think Marty Landau also. You just never know. But Marvin he just always was great.” 
The films chosen by TCM for their Summer Under the Stars tribute to Lee Marvin is a decent cross section of his work, despite the presence of a few often aired films, such The Dirty Dozen, Point Blank and Cat Ballou. Luckily, they are also including the likes of rarely shown Pocket Money and Gorky Park
It’s also worth noting the date chose to honor Marvin, as it’s a one day before the date of his death of August 29th, 1987. That will probably will get mentioned by one of the on air hosts. There’s some other worthy subjects throughout the month along the way, such as Gloria Grahame on the 17th and the airing of The Big Heat. As for me, I’m also looking forward to the likes of Robert Mitchum (August 6th), George Segal (August 10th), Jane Fonda (August 13th), Robert Redford (August 18th), Tyrone Power (August 22nd) and James Cagney (August 30th), among several others. The calendar can be found here.
Of course, anyone interested in finding out more about the making of any or all of the films being shown on Lee Marvin day for Summer Under the Stars, can find them all exclusively covered in Lee Marvin Point Blank.  

– Dwayne Epstein

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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 similar 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 to 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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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
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