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Lee Marvin

Posted: May 11th, 2007, 11:34 am
by Lzcutter
By now everyone knows how much I adore this actor. But today, I am not alone in admiration. The NYTimes Film Critic chimes in on the career of Lee Marvin:

May 11, 2007, NY Times
A Loving Look at a Cinematic Tough Guy: Gangster, Hit Man, Gunslinger

Lee Marvin moved across the screen like a shark coming in for the
kill. Long and lean, with shoulders that looked as wide as his hips
and hair as silver as a bullet, he seemed built for speed. He roamed
across genres, excelling at gangsters and cowboys. Romance was not his
thing. He could make you laugh, at times uneasily, but it's his bad
men that stick in your head. They are scary as hell, sometimes
seductively so, because their every punch and twist of the knife seems
delivered not in the heat of violence but in its chill.

Marvin did much of his greatest work in the 1960s; he was passed over
by New Hollywood auteurs who could have immortalized him for
succeeding generations. He died in 1987 at 63 of a heart attack. For
younger audiences, especially those who believe film history starts
with Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, Marvin may well represent a
question mark. ("Who?" a young friend asked.) I can find no DVD box
sets of his work, though he shows up in a few John Wayne collections
playing second fiddle and comic foil. Several of these titles, notably
John Ford's melancholic western "The Man Who Shot Liberty
Valence" (1962), are included in the first-rate series "Lee Marvin:
The Coolest Lethal Weapon," opening today at the Walter Reade Theater,
courtesy of the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

He's cooler than cool in Don Siegel's pulpy 1964 classic "The
Killers," where he plays an intellectually curious hit man, and in
John Boorman's masterfully fractured 1967 thriller "Point Blank." In
"The Killers," the hit man turns detective because he can't figure out
why one of his victims (John Cassavetes) doesn't run when he has the
chance. (Later, when a woman tries to talk him out of killing her, the
hit man says, "Lady, I just haven't got the time.") The eye-popping
cast includes Ronald Reagan wearing a meringue of glossy hair, Angie
Dickinson as the prettiest of poisons and a fabulous Clu Gulager.
Marvin, who showed up drunk on the first day of production, owns the
film up, down and sideways.

Booze played a recurring role for Marvin behind the scenes and on
screen: he took his noisy cues from a real biker called Wino Willie
for "The Wild One" and brings real hurt to the role of the tragic,
alcoholic Ira Hayes, one of the Iwo Jima flag raisers, in John
Frankenheimer's 1960 television drama "The American." In 1966 he won
the best-actor Oscar for his dual roles in the strenuously unfunny
western "Cat Ballou," including that of a hired gun so pickled in
alcohol his horse looks soused. (Accepting the statuette, he joked
that the horse deserved half the credit.) Yet even this cringingly
dated comedy, made when terminal drunks were still good for laughs,
can't disguise his graceful gestural performance, the way he doesn't
so much fall as sway.

He was a remarkable physical specimen. Born in New York in 1924 to an
advertising executive and a fashion editor, he knocked around prep
schools before joining the Marines. In 1944, the year he turned 20, he
was a scout sniper in the Pacific Theater, where, on Saipan, a bullet
severed a nerve. He spent 13 months recuperating in a hospital and was
awarded the Purple Heart. Decades later, in the last great film he
made - Samuel Fuller's World War II epic, "The Big Red One" (1980) -
Marvin's sergeant leads a group of young soldiers who are around the
same age he was when he took on the war for real. Neither the
tenderness nor the hate in this performance seem feigned.

After he healed, he apprenticed as a plumber before moving into stage
work. He performed on and off Broadway and frequently on television.
He first hit the big screen with a small role in a 1951 film, "You're
in the Navy Now," and soon began specializing in reprobates. Bosley
Crowther's take on him in "The Wild One" in 1953 is worth quoting at
length from The New York Times: "And in a second wolf-pack leader,
whom Lee Marvin gruesomely portrays as a glandular 'psycho' or dope-
fiend or something fantastically mad, there is briefly injected into
this picture a glimpse of utter monstrosity, loose and enjoying the
privilege of hectoring others in a fair society." I'm not sure about
the fair society, given the populace, but fantastically mad is right

The Walter Reade series doesn't include "The Wild One," perhaps
because it's so familiar, but it's amazing to watch Marvin holding his
own easily against that new force in cinema: Marlon Brando. With his
lewd laugh and loose gestures that give him the jangling affect of a
marionette without the strings, the grizzle-faced, gravelly-voiced
Marvin comes across as the realer and rawer deal. Flanked by his gang
of toughs in their matching motorcycle jackets and cute little hats,
his plush mouth jutting suggestively, the beautiful Brando looks
almost prissy. By comparison, Marvin looks dirty in body and in
spirit; he's rough around the edges and, you imagine, just about
everywhere else too.

His character is trying to play it smoother in Fritz Lang's noir
standard "The Big Heat," which was also released in 1953 and, happily,
is in the series. This is the film in which Marvin brutally ups the
bad-boyfriend ante by tossing a steaming-hot pot of coffee into the
face of his girl (Gloria Grahame), leaving her terribly scarred.
Decades earlier, James Cagney was content to push a grapefruit into
his moll's kisser. These days, movie scum feed their prey to the dogs,
but there is something still shockingly raw about the fervor that
Marvin brings to this scene, as if his character were experiencing
sexual pleasure from his violence. Part of this is Lang, a sadist of
the screen, but Marvin is the one with the wet lips.

There's a little softness and a lot of shading in one of his best
villains, a gold-hungry gunslinger in Budd Boetticher's magnificent
western "Seven Men From Now." The first in a series of westerns that
Boetticher made with the older Randolph Scott, this near- perfect film
gives Marvin plenty of room to prove what he can do, whether he's
taking another man down with brutal psychology or practicing his quick
draw. There's soul in this characterization as well as a hint of the
dandy, notably in the green scarf knotted at his neck. Marvin wears
similarly silky scarves in both "The Wild One" and "The
Comancheros" (1961), a slog of a western that he steals from John
Wayne for his 10 showboating minutes onscreen.

Those scarves are lovely flourishes. Maybe he liked the way they
looked on him, or maybe he didn't like his neck. Or maybe this
professional tough guy, who lived through World War II and was paid
handsomely to keep the fight going on the big screen, wanted to show a
side of himself that wasn't immediately obvious. He twirls his guns
with flair in "Seven Men From Now" (off screen, he often handled a
gun) and takes on a veritable army without batting an eyelash in
Richard Brooks's entertaining western "The Professionals" (1966). In
real life Marvin had been a good guy, but with his hooded eyes and a
voice that sounded as if all the gentleness had been scraped from it,
he seemed destined for villainy.

He was, certainly. But the best of these are not cartoon creeps or
thrill-kill sadists. They are generally complex men, interested,
trigger tempered, yes (watch how impatiently he moves through a school
for the blind in "The Killers"), but also nimble-witted and at times
dry-as-dust funny. In the 1970s, during an infernally long court
battle that dragged on for almost the entire decade, he became more
famous for being the defendant in the first legal test of palimony
(spurring the sale of "Free Lee Marvin" T-shirts) than for any of his
contemporary roles. There were still worthy parts and juicy
performances, including Michael Ritchie's venomous satire "Prime
Cut" (1972) and, of course, "The Big Red One." It seems fitting that
after 30 years of playing the heavy, the sap, the sneak and the clown,
here he was: a hero.

Posted: May 11th, 2007, 12:07 pm
by movieman1957
I've been enjoying him recently in some Randoloph Scott westerns. "Hangman's Knot", "Seven Men From Now" and my favorite bad guy in "Bad Day At Black Rock."

Also really enjoyed him in his offbeat role in "Donovan's Reef." When he was bad he was among the baddest. He also made a good leader in stuff like "The Big Red One" and of course "The Dirty Dozen."

Posted: May 11th, 2007, 12:21 pm
by Lzcutter

He's also very likable in The Professionals and has one of the best end lines in movies, imo.


Posted: May 11th, 2007, 2:02 pm
by movieman1957
I forgot to "cue chorus" when I mentioned Randolph Scott (cue chorus!)

"The Professionals" is a film I've found interesting for the cast. It's a pretty interesting story but there are some big names and they're all pretty good together.

Posted: May 11th, 2007, 2:18 pm
by Lzcutter
I forgot to "cue chorus" when I mentioned Randolph Scott (cue chorus!) >>


The folks of Rock Ridge will be around to talk with you about that. They'll make sure it won't happen again! :shock:

Posted: May 11th, 2007, 2:37 pm
by MissGoddess
I have always this absurd impulse to laugh out loud whenever I see Lee Marvin go to town in one of his really vicious moments. There is something so over-the-top about his badness, actually it's a kind of lustful glee and enjoyment his characters seem to get out of being that way---animal, almost, as though he was a man who never went bad---he was by nature bad from day one! And so it comes natural. No other screen villain effects me that way. The others chill me to the bone or bring out other predictable responses but no matter how much Lee Marvin's villains scare me they also make me smile. I'm weird that way about Lee Marvin. I must add I am not crazy about many of his most famous films, they are just too violent for my taste, but he was a unique character.

And I think he's just too funny for words in Donovan's Reef. The absurdly childish way he becomes mesmerized by that toy train at the end of the film cracks me up.

If I haven't thanked you enough for alerting me to the screening of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, LZ, then I thank you here again. I can't wait to see it on the big screen.

Lee Marvin

Posted: May 26th, 2007, 4:27 pm
by inglis
I have a great picture of Lee Marvin in my living room .It's a black and white shot and he is wearing a pinstriped suit and I think it's a behind the scenes shot. I got it this past Christmas from my brother. When I was 9 years old my brother took me to see The Dirty dozen .I was blown away by the story and how Marvin took all these unsavory characters and made them into soldiers. I especially loved it when Donald Sutherland played the part of the general ,the inspection of the troops was hilarious. I have to say that having 2 older brothers to take me to movies was pretty amazing . I still can't believe that I saw alot of these movies as a youngster.I could not take my kids now to see The Dirty Dozen it would not be suitable and yet here I am at 9 years of age watching The Dirty Dozen . I do remember though that because my brothers were alot older it was easy to slide in and see these films.

Posted: May 28th, 2007, 7:58 am
by jdb1
"The Dirty Dozen" was aired on one of my local TV stations last night.

I think the thing about Lee Marvin has always been that he doesn't really seem to be "acting." Even when he is playing a truly reprehesible character, it seems to be coming from his own persona, and not from a script. In every part he played, he was perfectly in control of that person, and the spirit of the part just emanated from him - the sort of thing that Lee Strasberg tried to get out of all his students, but which many of those students had to go through all sorts of "business" to try to achieve. With Marvin it just flowed out from some secret place and made you believe.

Posted: May 28th, 2007, 6:02 pm
by Vecchiolarry

He was absolutely horrible in "The Big Heat" and I mean that in a good way. He was suppossed to be and you just hate him. Poor Gloria Grahame.

Then, you see him in "Cat Ballou" and you can't help but smile.


Posted: June 3rd, 2007, 2:20 pm
by MikeBSG
I once saw a photo taken at lunchtime during the filming of "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance." Marvin, in costume, is sitting at the middle of the table, passing the mashed potatoes to someone (Vera Miles?) with the most pleasant smile on his face.

It is surreal.

Posted: June 3rd, 2007, 2:25 pm
by ken123
If I were passing the mashed potatoes to Vera Miles I would have a smile on MY face !

Met Lee Marvin in Early 70's

Posted: February 3rd, 2008, 3:59 pm
by halcarter
Lee was in a department store in tucson to purchase swin trunks on his way to Rocky Point to do some fishing. We struck up a conversation and he was every bit as laid back as you would expect. We all got a huge laugh when the clerk ringing up his purchase said "thank you Mr. Marvin."
Lee quickly said "no, call me Lee, only the Police call me Mr. Marvin".

Lee Marvin was one of my favorite actors. It was a wonderful moment I'll always treasure.

Posted: February 4th, 2008, 9:14 am
by movieman1957
I recently saw him in an old Merv Griffin interview on DVD and he said the same thing about the police. That short time belied everything you would imagine him from the screen. Quite laid back and a good story teller.

Posted: February 4th, 2008, 6:49 pm
by Ollie
He played some of my most hated villains, but I'm surprised that John Boorman's HELL IN THE PACIFIC doesn't get more mentions - I've often wondered what it was like to return to an island situation - even one only remotely similar in circumstance - and face a Japanese, considering his war-time endeavors. That must have been an interesting situation.

LIBERTY VALANCE has one of the best death-falls in movie-history - the proper jerk ("back... and to the left" says Jerry Seinfeld), then crumbling into the street. I honestly can't imagine Lee Van Cleef being outshone for wickedness by any actor, but Lee Marvin does it clearly.

BIG HEAT is another vicious character. If I'd been around, I'd have taken Gloria with me instead of letting her run around with that guy!

Even Lee's Kid Shalleen was a wonderfully wicked guy. It doesn't take him 4 words to understand there's venom in his spit.

I seldom ponder "favorites", but I'd probably toss in my vote as him being one of my favorites, too.