Bruce Springsteen, New Jersey’s legendary rocker, recently celebrated his 71st birthday –Sept. 23rd, to be exact — and as such, I thought it a good time to explore the possible connection between the man’s music (one song in particular), and a possible Lee Marvin connection.

Terrific cover art for the VHS release of POINT BLANK.

Readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank know why I titled the book what I did as it’s explained in the introduction. Yes, it’s partly due to the title of one of his signature films, but there’s actually more to it than that. 

What does any of this have to do with Bruce Springsteen, you may ask? Well, to start with,  Springsteen has often utilized imagery from films in his work, which is why I thought there may indeed be a Lee Marvin connection. For example, having been a long time fan, I was amazed the way in which he opened the first concert I ever saw. The arena went dark and over the sound system came the following dialog: “Me and the boys got us some work to do. Wanna come along? Won’t be like the old days….but it’ll do.” That end dialog from The Wild Bunch (a film Lee Marvin almost made, by the way), lead to the stage lights coming up and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band launching into Buddy Holly’s rocking “Oh Boy!” For the next four hours, I was enthralled and then exhausted by evening’s end. “The Boss’ put on one hell of a show! 

Article in the L.A. newspaper for the first Springsteen show I saw back in 1980

 That aside, Springsteen’s film references include everything from titling one of his signature songs “Thunder Road,” after the 1958 cult Robert Mitchum film, to to the title of his album The Ghost of Tom Joad, as in the character Henry Fonda played in the John Steinbeck adapted film, The Grapes of Wrath
Even more pervasive are the lyrics chosen for some of his songs. Take for example, “Cadillac Ranch” in which he borrows imagery from the likes Rebel Without a Cause, The Last American Hero and Smokey & The Bandit:
“James Dean in that Mercury ’49
Junior Johnson runnin’ thru the woods of Caroline
Even Burt Reynolds in that black Trans Am
all gonna meet down at the Cadillac Ranch.” 

1980 line-up of the E Street Band :(L-R) Bassist Gary Tallent,guitarist Steve Van Zandt, organist Danny Federici, Springsteen, drummer Max Weinberg, pianist Roy Bittan, and saxophonist Clarence Clemmons.

Which brings us to the haunting lyrics of “Point Blank” from his 1980 double album, “The River.” The song concerns the end of a romance in which the narrator describes how his ex-lover has been destroyed by her experiences. At one point in the song, he dreams they are dancing together again, only to wake up and discover she’s standing in the doorway trying to stay out of the rain “looking like just another stranger waitin’ to get blown away.” Hence the title and chorus, “Point Blank”. 

Libretto from THE RIVER for “Point Blank.”

Granted, it’s hardly the same premise or theme as the Marvin film. However, creative entities, such as Springsteen can be motivated in the most interesting of ways. Since he clearly is quite literate when it comes to film iconography, one can easily picture him watching the film one night and grabbing a pad and pencil with an idea once the premise of the film is established. Is Walker alive or dead? As Walker himself asks, was is all a dream that he was double-crossed by his wife and best friend then left for dead? 
It certainly is not a new premise for a writer to create a theme of blurred lines between life and death, or dreams and reality. I believe Ambrose Bierce’s classic 1890 short story “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” set the standard for such a theme. A personal favorite is Dalton Trumbo’s “Johnny Got His Gun,” which realistically established a character grappling with the ability to know whether he is asleep or awake. In other words, Walker of Point Blank may have very well inspired Springsteen to use the premise as a springboard for what he would utilize as a dark concept of a tortured romance. Pure supposition, for sure, but certainly not unlikely. Judge for yourself in the video below and in closing, happy birthday, Bruce Springsteen!
– Dwayne Epstein

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John Mitchum, veteran character actor of countless films and TV shows, was also the younger brother of the legendary Robert Mitchum. He once wrote a book in the late 1980s about his life and experiences in Hollywood that’s overflowing with anecdotes and sometimes bawdy tales.

Paperback cover of John Mitchum’s memoir, THEM ORNERY MITCHUM BOYS.

I discovered the book, titled Them Ornery Mitchum Boys after my book, Lee Marvin: Point Blank, had already been published. It concerned me at first as I had always been a fan of his “Big Brother Bob,” and thought there may be something therein I may have missed out on for my research. Luckily, I had interviewed John Mitchum during a visit to the Lone Pine Film Festival and was able to get some wonderful quotes from the man at the time.
Since that time, I purchased a copy of the book on Ebay and was happy to discover it was also signed by the author!

Signature of John Mitchum.

That said, I was able to enjoy reading the tales of John and “Big Brother Bob” without trepidation that I had missed out on any important talking points John may have included, since he did indeed work with Lee Marvin on M Squad and also Point Your Wagon.  By the way, if you want to see some of “Big Brother Bob’s” best work, check out his astounding trilogy of films fro the early 70s: The Yakuza (produced by my agent, the late Mike Hamilburg) The Friends of Eddie Coyle & Farewell My Lovely. if they don’t make you a fan of his world-weary cynicism, then nothing will.
Anyway, below is the section of tales John wrote about Lee that includes thoughts on Jean Seberg, Ty Cabeen, and more. Enjoy…
– Dwayne Epstein

John Mitchum’s take on working with Lee Marvin.

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Robert Mitchum and Lee Marvin. Both names conjur countless images of never-to-be-forgotten films enacted by two men who although similiar, were far from identical. Each had their own persona, that sadly, other than a few brief scenes in Stanley Kramer’s Not As A Stranger (1955), never crossed paths on the silver screen. Along with Frank Sinatra, the 3 iconic actors played med students in producer Kramer’s directorial debut as seen right….

Lee Marvin (left), Frank Sinatra (center) and Robert Mitchum (right) as med students in Stanley Kramer's Not as a Stranger.

Lee Marvin (left), Frank Sinatra (center) and Robert Mitchum (right) as med students in Stanley Kramer’s Not as a Stranger.

Marvin’s one big scene in the film comes when the med students (all men, by the way) gather before class to discuss their future fortunes. Marvin, as Brundage, informs one and all that it’s not what you practice but where, as in Beverly Hills. The most idealistic of the students, Robert Mitchum’s Lucas Marsh, is clealry disgusted by Marvin’s philosophy.

Lee Marvin (far left) sets his fellow students straight, including Sinatra (center) future director Jerry Paris (next to Marvin) and a disgusted Robert Mitchum.

Lee Marvin (far left) sets his fellow students straight, including Sinatra (center) future director Jerry Paris (next to Marvin) and a disgusted Robert Mitchum.

Through the years, the two men would meet socially on occasion but were never close. More is the pity as they actually had much in common. Both men had a superficial veneer of indifference that shielded some deep-seeded emotional scars. For Marvin it was the war-induced PTSD, while Mitchum’s childhood abandonment, wanderlust and incarceration was rarely spoken of with any depth. When they did meet socially, as in the candid photo below with French director Roger Vadim, they kept the conversation light….

Mitchum (left) and Marvin (right) smoke and talk in this candid photo, with French director Roger Vadim (center) clearly distracted by possibly wife Jane Fonda .or another starlet in the proximity.

Mitchum (left) and Marvin (right) smoke and talk in this candid photo, with French director Roger Vadim (center) clearly distracted by possibly wife Jane Fonda .or another starlet in the proximity.

I would have liked to have interviewed Mitchum for  Lee Marvin: Point Blank, but sadly, never got the chance. I did however, speak with his character actor brother, John, in 1994 at the Lone Pine Film Festival the unused portion of which can be read below. He had co-starred with Marvin in Paint Your Wagon and as a famed storyteller, he had a fascinating take on working with Marvin and his older brother’s thoughts on men of their generation…..

D: If I could, Mr. Mitchum, just talk to me about Lee Marvin.
J: Well, you want the truth, don’t you?
D: Absolutely.
J: You can edit it any way you want. Well, the first two weeks on Paint Your Wagon, Lee had been drinking a great deal. I don’t think he needed an excuse… Now, as you remember, I played the Mormon with two wives. I had this big black outfit. They flew me in a helicopter on the day before I was to shoot so they could try my outfit on. So, here I got this big outfit on and Lee came over and he grabbed me by the collar, drinking, mind you. He said [slurred] “Well, Mitchum, tonight when we wrap, why don’t you wear this outfit down in Baker so they’ll know you’re an actor?” Then I found out why he was so incensed because I had done nothing to merit that. He had a babysitter named Boyd Cabeen, who’s gone now, too. They hire babysitters to work with the star, so if the star get in a fight in a bar, the babysitter walks in and stops it. He says, “If you want action, try me on for size.” So, Boyd was talking to Lee and said, “Why don’t you quit drinking, Lee? You can’t handle it. You don’t know your rear end from the Grand Canyon after you’ve had two beers. I used to babysit Mitchum at Metro and he would be drinking until six in the morning, be on the set at seven, never drop a line. But you can’t….” But the name Mitchum, “Ah Ha!” That was stewing in his mind. So, when I came up there — of course, I’m the closest target — Bob wasn’t anywhere around. Lee did apolgize a couple of days later after he saw the rushes. His apology was very left-handed. They showed the rushes of my coming in on the jackass with two women, the first scene at the trading post, there. He stood up and looked at the whole cast and crew and said, “Finally, we got an actor up here who’s got balls.”

John Mitchum, brother of Robert, as he appeared in Paint Your Wagon with Lee Marvin.

John Mitchum, brother of Robert, as he appeared in Paint Your Wagon with Lee Marvin.

D: [laughs} That sounds like Lee Marvin.
D: That’s a Lee Marvin compliment.
J: But Lee was a very complex man. He was in the Marine Corp during the war. By the way, I saw him up on Paint Your Wagon do a karate kick straight up in the air. If he wanted to kick your chin off, he could have done it in a second. He was that agile. During the war, he made a number of invasions. He was a very, very tought man. With all that movie star stuff, he was very tough.
D: Was there any rivalry betweent him and your brother, at all?
J: No.
D: They were often up for the same parts.
J: No, I don’t think there was any rivalry. As far as my brother is concerned, he didn’t understand that, at all. He did a picture with Bruce Dern, That Championship Season. I said, “Bob, what was it like working with Bruce?” His answer was clarifying. He said, “He [Dern] still doesn’t know that acting is not a competitive business.”
D: Bruce Dern obviously thinks it is.
J: Oh yes. “You have to compete with so and so..” Now, how can you do that? You can do that by upstaging and picking your nose at the wrong time.
D: And in the long run, you’re going to suffer for it.
J: That’s right.
D: Did your brother know Lee Marvin, well?
J: He knew him, but he didn’t know him closely.
D: They were also offered the same roles on occassion, like Patton. Was there any animosity between them?
J: No, no such thing. No way, with either of them. They’re too manly. They’re men. They’re not little boys. Both of them were extraordinary men, as far as I’m concerned.
D: Oh, definitely.
J: Extraordinary. See, I worked on “M Squad” with Lee. I did it years ago.
D: Any stories about that?
J: Only that he was a marvelous man to work with. There was no heroics. No, ‘I’m the star.’ None of that.
D: Just a professional.
J: Total professional. Total. Which to me, is the most beautiful way to work. People just do their jobs, shut up and go home. None of this posing around. Neither one, Bob or Lee, would do that, whatsoever.

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