THE OSCAR TRACK

The Oscar track is upon us since the nominations were announced last month, as shown here. I use the term “The Oscar track” as it’s the appropriate term used by Lee Marvin when he was interviewed by TIME Magazine’s Stefan Kanfer in the 1970s. Kanfer had the audacity to tell the actor he didn’t think his Oscar-winning performance in Cat Ballou was even close to his best performance. The writer was amazed to hear Marvin agree with him. Adding, “But y’know, you run this track, and that’s the track that the racers are on; it’s the Oscar track. It really isn’t based on skill as much as it’s based on luck and popularity.” Kanfer’s remembrance of the interview — along with his assistant, future Oscar-nominated screenwriter, Jay Cocks — is hysterically recounted in Lee Marvin Point Blank.

Lee Marvin in POCKET MONEY and as he probably appeared when interviewed by Stefan Kanfer.


 As to the Oscar track, Marvin’s point is well taken. Now, normally this time of the month I’d be blogging about any upcoming Lee Marvin-related films on TCM but since the network is broadcasting “31 Days of Oscar” all month there’s a dearth of Marvin-related films. The sole exception is Ship of Fools, which is a shame since he made other films that were indeed on the Oscar track in one way or another: The Professionals (1966), and The Dirty Dozen (1967) received such recognition but truth be told, I think a few of his films SHOULD have been on The Oscar track and were not. 
 On the technical side, the innovations apparent in Point Blank (1967), such as the editing and the sound advancements (first film in which the actors were individually ‘miked’) and Conrad Hall’s breathtaking cinematography of Hell in the Pacific (1968) were certainly worthy. They may have ran out of the money since they were both directed by the very British John Boorman and both films did poorly when first released. I don’t know if either factor is the case but it’s a pretty safe bet. 
 I can say, for the purposes of this blog entry, two of Lee Marvin’s performances overlooked by the Academy were certainly worthy:
Monte Walsh (1970), remains an overlooked classic for which Marvin gave one of his most poignant performances.

Monte Walsh, 1970


As cited in detail in Lee Marvin Point Blank, several critics at the time of its release said the same and thought an Oscar nomination for Best Actor was practically a foregone conclusion. Sadly, It never happened. 

The Big Red One (1980): Sam Fuller’s semi-autobiographical yarn of his experiences in Europe during WWII allowed Marvin to give one of the best performances of his career, running a gamut of emotions from badass to empathy as a nameless sergeant pushing his young charges on a rifle squad, to the poignancy of caring for a young boy in a liberated concentration camp. 

The Big Red One, 1980.

It’s a pity both of these performances were overlooked and the reasons they were are as speculative as they are varied. Too bad there’s no such thing as a retro Oscar track. If there were, Marvin would win it in a walk.

– Dwayne Epstein

 

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GUEST BLOGGER PETER STEIN

I’ve never entertained the idea of having a guest blogger before on this site, so bear with me as I try something new. Recently, via social media, I made contact with a gentleman who very much appreciated Lee Marvin Point Blank and made a concerted effort to tell me as much. When I read what he sent me I was, to put it mildly, blown away. I asked his permission to post it here as a guest blogger and he agreed. So, with that in mind, I humbly give you guest blogger Peter Stein. Believe me folks, I did not in any way encourage this unsolicited testimonial on his part. So, enjoy this unedited guest blogger entry….
– Dwayne Epstein

Dear Dwayne,

I really enjoyed reading your book, “Point Blank” … As you know, people watch movies … And we see the actors and actresses play different roles … Those roles seem real to us … because that is all that we see and experience … In the movies, Lee Marvin has a certain persona … He is a tough guy, a man’s man, so to speak … And as movie fans (or as movie fanatics), we naturally want to know about the stars that we see on the big screen … Are they different than the people that we see in the movies? … Are they the same as the people that we see in the movies? … This is an inherent fascination for all of us … Who are they?

Hardcover of LEE MARVIN: POINT BLANK

The book, Lee Marvin: Point Blank, written by you, is well researched and well written … It addresses many of those questions … Here are a few passages, which are a brief sample of what one will find in reading this honest and delightful book:

“I thought that I understood the character.  He’s an ex-ballplayer, a has-been, a washout, a drunk who spent his life pursuing Mexican whores – There’s a load of them aboard ship.  He’s a childlike adult, a little afraid, trying to work out values in his own way … A little like me” ,,, (page 145)

Lee Marvin as ex-ball player Bill Tenney takes his lumps from Vivien Leigh’s Mary Treadwell in SHIP OF FOOLS.

“’I think that he drank sometimes to stop the pain’ theorized Betty Marvin.  ‘He would withdraw so much’” … (page 145)

“’I used to look at his body language.  His hands and arms were so relaxed, which I can’t say for all actors.  He was just there … that was a joy to see.  I didn’t see any tension.  I didn’t see any acting.  That’s the ultimate.  That’s the key.  Basically, that’s what it’s all about.’  When it came time to shoot the scene in which Marvin terrorizes (Norman) Fell, who’s locked in a steam box, [Norman] Fell recalled, ‘Well, being who is, he scared the crap out of me.  I was in there with my head sticking out and this guy comes in.  I knew that he would kill me in half a minute.  Just rip me up to pieces.  So, he gave me a chance to give that to the scene.  The fear that you saw was real.’” … (page 137)

“’Have I ever had a part where I didn’t get killed? He asked rhetorically in 1962.  ‘I die beautifully.  The trouble is, how do you live?  It’s not nice to look at a character and see him die.  After all, every character to a degree is yourself.  But there’s a great necessity for dying in this business.  Why do I play these roles?  You know, if you live by the gun, you die by the gun.  And I hate guys that do that.  They deserve to die.  But maybe some day I’ll mature enough to where they audience will let me put the gun down.’” … (page 131)

“Neighbor George Rappaport remembers, “When he was really lucid, and off the stuff and feeling good, you could not find a better guy to be with.  We had some really nice conversations about everything … You would figure the macho guys were always like the rednecks and all.  But that’s not true.  That’s why I say on the inside, he was soft as a pillow.  He really cared about people and he cared about issues.’” … (page 135)

“Lee struggled with his classes, but said years later, ‘It made no sense.  After committing murder, it was hard to find sense in peace.  How could a guy all mixed up in murder get an education?  The two didn’t make sense … I had to do something though.  They gave me a typing test and I couldn’t spell half the words.  I looked around and saw all those frivolous chicks and guys—What was I doing there?  So, I quit’” … (page 54)

In reading this book, one will get a better understanding and appreciation of Lee Marvin, the man and Lee Marvin. the actor … And one may even get a better understanding of oneself … This was certainly true for me as this book impacted my life in a very personal and wonderful way.

I knew that Lee Marvin served in the Marine Corp during World War II and saw action in the Pacific.  I also heard that he had problems with alcohol … But in your book, I learned first-hand how he was haunted by his experiences in close combat throughout his life.

And one day, while I was taking a long walk along the ocean under sunny skies in Santa Barbara, I was thinking about this.

The beach at Santa Barbara.

I realized that I would have had similar problems if I had seen combat in Vietnam.  Knowing myself, I knew that I would have suffered greatly from what I have seen …. from what I probably would have done … and from returning home while there were many others who did not come back … I also realized that if that had happened, I could have easily ended up an alcoholic and another homeless man, who was living on the streets.

At this point in the walk, I knew that I would soon be approaching a group of homeless people, who gathered every day, at the same place, near the path where I would be walking … And I thought about how I continued to think about how easily I could have been one of them.

Prior to this, I would be somewhat apprehensive and rather uncomfortable, because they were different and unkempt … I also knew that some of them were likely to have some serious mental issues/problems … And as a result, they could at times be threatening and aggressive.

Interestingly, I switched my thinking from “Lee Marvin, myself, and homeless people” … to … “Mother Teresa, myself, and homeless people” … And I asked myself, ”What would Mother Teresa do if she were walking past a group of homeless people?”

Promotional image for MOTHER TERESA (1986) documentary

To be clear, I am no saint.  I am just a regular guy.  And yet, at the same time, I always try to do the right thing, because my parents have raised me that way and because I have found that it is just a better way to live one’s life.  So, at this time, I was just asking myself, “What would Mother Teresa do?”

And remembering an excellent 1986 documentary movie on her by Ann and Jeanette Petrie, I decided that I would treat them in a nice friendly manner … and in the same way that I would treat anyone else … I would greet them warmly and enthusiastically … by saying “Hi” … by noting how beautiful the day was (it always seems beautiful in Santa Barbara) … by sometimes noting how lucky we are to be surrounded by all of this … and by sincerely wishing them a great day … I decided that I would do this with every homeless person that I encountered.  And when this happened, almost every time, they would respond back to me is a similar friendly manner.

One day, I was doing my Santa Barbara walk and I was lost in my thoughts.  Suddenly, I heard loud applause and acknowledgement.  It came from a group of my homeless friends.  These were people, who had nothing, but who shared their love with me.  I was deeply touched.  And, in a very real way, I felt unworthy of such great love.

And so, every time that I am in Santa Barbara, I make a point of doing what I have described.  I have also come to a better understanding of the difficulties and challenges that veterans deal with.  And essentially, I try to help others a little bit more than I did in the past.  The result is that my life has been greatly enriched … all because of Lee Marvin and the book that you have written … For that, I am most grateful and I thank you.

Perhaps, Lee Marvin’s son, Christopher, said it best when he described his father and commented as follows … “Aside from being a great actor, my father was very complex.  He was independent, kind, funny, generous, and could spot a phony a mile away.  Hopefully, I have inherited some of those qualities” … (page 255)

Who was Lee Marvin really? … And what formed that tough guy image? … This book is loaded with information … And it gives the reader an honest glimpse of Lee Marvin, the actor … This book gives the reader an honest glimpse of Lee Marvin, the man … It might also change your life as it did mine.

With thanks and very best wishes,

Guest blogger Peter Stein and friend, Zara. 

Peter Stein

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POLITICALLY INCORRECT LEE MARVIN

Politically incorrect is not something most celebrities would want on their resume’ but it was something Lee Marvin had no trouble with, at all. Granted, it wasn’t bandied about as much in his time as it is today, but it was certainly witnessed in his work, almost from the beginning.
Being politically incorrect, according to Merriam-Webster, is defined as “Not avoiding language or behavior that could offend a particular group of people.” In researching Lee Marvin Point Blank, I quickly discovered a few examples of such behavior in the subject, and the subject was usually women. Wouldn’t always be a matter of the language used by his characters so much as his extreme behavior, most notably….
The Big Heat

The attitude of Vince Stone toward his annoying girlfriend is shown building to a painful climax in Fritz Lang’s THE BIG HEAT (1952).

As bad guy Vince Stone, a glimpse of his attitude towards women is shown early on when he stubs his cigarette out in Carolyn Jones’ hand. The worst is yet to come when he throws a pot of scalding hot coffee in girlfriend Gloria Grahame’s face. Fear not, as she gets her revenge before the film ends.

The Killers

Terrorizing Angie Dickinson in THE KILLERS.

Throughout director Don Siegel’s classic remake the violence comes fast and furious from the very beginning. Lee Marvin’s Charlie Strom terrorizes a school for the blind and later, wreaks havoc on femme fatale, Angie Dickinson. As the actress told this writer, “Oh but I had it coming.”

 

Ship of Fools

Vivienne Leigh drives home her point to Lee Marvin in their heated debate concerning women’s shoe styles in Stanley Kramer’s SHIP OF FOOLS.

Mistaking the aging Vivien Leigh for an onboard prostitute, drunken Marvin grabs and kisses the embittered ‘past-her-prime’ beauty until he shockingly realizes his mistake. She helps him realize the mistake by beating him to a pulp with the heel of her shoe.
The legend is that Marvin kept very few mementos from his career, but he kept that shoe out of his deep respect for Vivien Leigh.
There are of course several other examples of such behavior (on screen and off) and it was not always limited to the ladies. For better or for worse, when it came to being politically incorrect, Lee Marvin was the shining beacon on the hill.
– Dwayne Epstein

 

 

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