Continuing on into the groundbreaking decade of the 1960s, below is the next five films in my list of personal favorite movie fight scenes……
11. SOLDIER IN THE RAIN-1963
Rarely scene and hardly liked by most Steve McQueen fans, Soldier in the Rain was made fresh off his blistering success of The Great Escape. It may seem like an odd choice to most McQueen fans as it’s an odd film to begin with but along with Baby, The Rain Must Fall it is in dire need of rediscovering. Based on a novel by the prolific WIlliam Goldman, and directed by the criminally underrated Ralph Nelson, the offbeat tale is mostly a comedy about the peace-time shennigans of Supply Sgt. Eustis Clay (McQueen) and Master Sgt. Maxwell Slaughter (Jackie Gleason), and their unlikely yet beleviable friendship. The moody tone of the latter half of the film is hinted at during the opening credits via Henry Mancini’s meloncholy main theme. Tuesday Weld heads up the equally offbeat supporting cast of Ed Nelson, Lew Gallo, Tony Bill, Adam West, Tom Poston and Rockne Tarkington.
The black and white film is shot bright and sunny throughout most of the proceedings but once the film’s mood changes, so too does the lighting, to a darker tone that is neither inappropriate nor jarring. It all works, and brilliantly at that, especially during the barroom brawl that remains a favorite if spooky reminder of how great this film is. The viewer is right in the thick of the fight scene as McQueen and Gleason versus Gallo and Nelson reaches a most believable conclusion, as does the film itself, in which all loose plot developments are poignantly tied up. The pairing of Gleason and McQueen in an early ‘Buddy Film’ may seem odd at first glance but the chemistry between them is there and quite touching at times.
In a moment that sounds like a scene right out of the film, rumor has it that Gleason gave McQueen a pair of cufflinks depicting one of his own favorite recreations, playing golf. Supposedly, McQueen thanked him for the gesture but told The Great One he didn’t wear cufflinks when indulging in his favorite recreation: riding motorcycles.
12. DONOVAN’S REEF-1963
When I interviewed Betty Marvin for Lee Marvin Point Blank she was not only forthcoming in her memories of her ex-husband, she proved to be extremely insightful of his screen persona. In comparing Marvin to frequent costar John Wayne, she used a wonderful metaphor, describing Wayne as a big lumbering, yet to her mind, lovable bear. Lee, on the other hand was a panther, sleek, muscular and ready to pounce at a moment’s notice. No where is that analogy more true than in Donovan’s Reef, which opens with a wonderful comic brawl between the two that makes almost the entire remainder of the film anti-climatic by comparison.
13. WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS-1966
Why is a Toho monster film on this list? I say, why not? Besides, when I was a kid I LOVED this movie. Watching it now it commands an amazing amount of camp value that rivals anything Ed Wood ever did! The premise is simple enough. Two incredibly ugly behemoth brothers battle it out over bragging rights to destroy Japan, while destroying Japan in the process. You want camp? Try this, when a lounge singer warbles out the film’s love song on a crusie ship (“The Words Get Stuck in My Throat”), a Gargantua, skilled in music criticism, promptly picks her up, eats her, and spits out her clothes like a sunflower seed shell.
The Brown Gargantua is ‘the good one’ and the Green is ‘the bad.’ Naturally, I was rooting for the green. Along for the ride is a slumming Russ Tamblyn as a hip talking scientist. All in all one of the best — albeit longest — fight scenes in movie history. Their faces and body language alone is worth the price of admission!
14. THE SAND PEBBLES – 1966
As a 1960s roadshow engagement film and the only time Steve McQueen ever got an Oscar nomination, the overblown production of The Sand Pebbles is dying for rediscovery, if only for the bizarre fight scene between diminutive Mako and slovenly giant Simon Oakland. The film revolves around a U.S. gunboat mired in the quagmire of 1920s China’s political upheaval. The many analogies to Vietnam become a little annoying after a while but the relationships of the characters (especially the crew of the San Pablo), is the heart of the film. The fight scene between Oakland and Mako is a standout as the viewer doesn’t think there’s any way Mako can possibly triumph. He’s a ship’s Coolie fighting for his right to stay on the ship in a bet made by McQueen’s Jake Holman character (who incidentally proves he can take Oakland himself by a couple of quick body blows). Oakland is fighting for the right to break in a virginal Chinese prostitute. What unfolds in the sequence is not only good ol’ fashion underdog heroics, but a rousing yet believable fight scene climax.
One little known footnote: When Francis Ford Coppola was filming Apocalypse, Now! he had his cast & crew watch The Sand Pebbles first in order to see what kind of superior filmmaking can emerge in the midst of difficult location shooting. Robert Wise’s The Sand Pebbles proved to influence films more than he ever realized.
15. POINT BLANK– 1967
“Taut thriller, ignored in 1967, but now regarded as a top film of the mid-60s,” is how film historian Leonard Maltin aptly described director John Boorman’s ‘arthouse action film,’ Point Blank. How could I possibly write about my favorite fight scenes and not include this Lee Marvin movie? There are of course several to choose from, but I chose the battle between Marvin’s Walker and a couple of thugs hired to beat him up behind the movie screen of Angie Dickinson’s posh strip club, covered by the wailing of an onstage soul singer. Why was it chosen? This film is chock full of innovations: the first film shot at Alcatraz after it was shut down; the first film in which the actors were each individually miked for sound; the stylized jump cuts, camera angles, visual effects; but more than anything it’s the fight scene. Speaking of firsts, witnessing Marvin grab stuntman Jerry Catron by the crotch –the way someone would grab an opponent’s lapels to punch him in the face, and then doing just that, to his CROTCH — is an innovation in itself, for better or for worse. I defy any man to watch that moment and not reflexively bend over, cross his legs and wince after witnessing it!
– Dwayne Epstein