MOVIEFONE: 57 GREATEST WESTERNS

Moviefone, the ubiqiutous movie info and streaming site, decided to rank the 57 greatest westerns of all time and to its credit, three Lee Marvin classics are on the list.

Original poster to SEVEN MEN FROM NOW with 3rd billed Lee Marvin.

Poster to THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE.

Poster art for THE PROFESSIONALS.




I came across the Moviefone list by chance only recently as it was posted back in 2017. I mention this since it was posted in honor of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood’s mutual birthdate of May 31st. Eastwood is now an amazing 91 years old!
  Personally, I’ve never been a fan of “Best Of….” lists, especially since there are bound to be some obvious omissions. This list is no exception, despite the inclusion of three Lee Marvin films, the single best of his westerns was indeed omitted. The full list can be read here
Upon reading it it’s seems to be rather weak on any Gary Cooper classics, save for High Noon, which belongs on any list of great westerns. Where is The Westerner (1940) or Along Came Jones (1945) or The Virginian (1929)? 
 Also, if you’re going to include such western comedies as Way Out West and Destry Rides Again, why not Support Your Local Sheriff and of course, Cat Ballou? Also missing are such personal favorites How the West Was Won (1962) as well as Tom Horn (1980) and the string of 1972 greats of The Cowboys, When Legends Die, Bad Company, and The Culpepper Cattle Company
Okay, enough griping…well, what the hell is TV-movie mini-series Lonesome Dove doing on the list? Okay, griping over. As to the reason this is even posted in a blog dedicated to the life and career of Lee Marvin, author Gary Susman did have the presence of mind to include the three Lee Marvin films, all good choices but once again, left out the best of the bunch. No, not the aforementioned Cat Ballou
It’s not only one of Lee’s best films and performances, it’s one of the best westerns ever made. Any guesses? 
Of course, any more info needed or wondered about can be found in the pages of Lee Marvin Point Blank. Until then, in the immortal words of Bruce Willis, “yippie-kay-ay, mutha….”
 – Dwayne Epstein

Monte Walsh, 1970

 

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DOMESTIC LEE

Domestic Lee Marvin is not something witnessed onscreen very often. Even more scarce is Father Lee. However, this being Fathers Day, it’s a good time to explore those rare occasions of domestic Lee in which, to my mind, only occurred twice on film and in both instances, they were not the classics the filmmakers intended.

A rare domestic Lee shown in THE KLANSMAN (1974) with Wendell Wellman playing his son Alan and Richard Burton as neighbor Breck Stencill.

In The Klansman, he’s Sheriff “Big” Trak Bascomb, married with a grown son preparing for college. A simple side plot to the rather unsavory and racially charged film that’s probably the worst film Marvin ever starred in, with costar Richard Burton fairing even worse. Unfortunately, the originally script by Sam Fuller was truncated which is a shame since it had a devastating un-filmed sequence in it involving Marvin’s son Alan Bascomb that I was able to get a copy of and write about here. In any event, the less said about the embarrassing film, the better.

(L-R) Lee Marvin as Flynn O’Flynn protects and defend daughter Barbara Parkins in SHOUT AT THE DEVIL (1976).

The other instance of Marvin playing a paternal character was the action/adventure film from AIP entitled Shout at the Devil. Costarring Roger Moore and Ian Holm, the film takes place in WWI-era Africa with Marvin as a big game poacher protecting daughter Barbara Parkins and battling her betrothed (Moore), as well as the Germans, in this weak entry in the actor’s canon of films.
Obviously, the type of films Marvin made did not often make for a domestic Lee audiences could appreciate. He played married characters in The Professionals (1966) in the film’s back story as well as in Point Blank (1967). In both films, however, his spouses did not fair well, in the screenplay.
There were instances in which characters in his films acted paternally towards supporting characters, such as the gentle way in which treated Sissy Spacek in Prime Cut (1972) and the mentoring he administered to the novice bank thieves of Spikes Gang (1974).
These symbolic examples aside, Lee Marvin was just not cut out for domestic bliss, once again, on screen and off. Of his four grown children, none of them were willing to go on the record with me for Lee Marvin Point Blank with the sole exception being his son, Christopher. His poignant afterword was a worthy and surprising addition to the text. So, with Fathers Day in mind, feel free to check out the book’s afterword and then watch a better Lee Marvin movie to enjoy.
With dad, of course.
– Dwayne Epstein

 

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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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