Saturday, August 28, 2021

More on Today’s Lee Marvin Summer with the Stars at TCM

N.S.: While TCM is having Lee Marvin Summer with the Stars today, Saturday, August 28, it has left Marvin off its promo essay. Never mind that Marvin was a vasstly superior performer to many of the names Roger Fristoe listed (Tyrone Power, Esther Williams, Eve Arden, Robert Young).

Some of the people TCM is now promoting were only supporting players. Now, I’m as fond of leggy, sexy, pretty Eve Arden and her sardonic, husky delivery as the next guy, but she was never a star in pictures. TV, sure, but TCM is all about movies.

A couple of years ago, when my chief of research and I saw Billy Wilder’s Agatha Christie thriller, Witness for the Prosecution (1958), we were puzzled. Why is this obvious American decked out in a British Army uniform? Is he on loan, or something? Power never sat down with a dialect coach, and made no effort to adopt a British accent, even though he was allegedly playing an Englishman. So, why did Billy Wilder work with him, and let him drag down a picture that otherwise would have been a masterpiece, dominated by Charles Laughton and Marlene Dietrich? Because the studio said it wouldn’t greenlight the picture, unless it starred Tyrone Power, or someone of that magnitude.

Wilder brilliantly worked around Power’s shortcomings as an actor. When he testifies in his own defense, he is ridiculously lacking in credibility. However, the testimony by the witness for the prosecution creates such an overwhelming contrast, as to gift him credibility.

Here’s today’s lineup:

Robert Aldrich’s Classic, WWII Drama, Attack (1956), at 11:30 a.m. ET.

A group of besieged WWII GIs, non-coms, and one lieutenant fighting the Germans have to work around a cowardly commanding officer. My recollection, from about 50 years ago, is that Marvin has to impersonate his C.O.

Lee Marvin and Eddie Albert (as the C.O,) became the names most closely associated with Bob Aldrich.

Laszlo Benedek’s Decadent Celebration of Motorcycle Gang Anarchy, The Wild One (1953), starring The Bum, at 1:30 P.M.

Benedek was a fan of sociopaths, and may have founded the “liberal” “if-we-just showed-them-understanding” message film. Benedek notwithstanding, the true heroes of the story are the local men who do the job of the weakling chief of police (whose daughter falls for Johnny), and give The Bum’s character, Johnny, a good beating, and run him and his gang out of town.

Note that although at the time, The Bum was the world’s hottest actor, as Chino, the leader of a rival gang, the then unknown Lee Marvin duels him to a dramatic stalemate. The only credibility problem is that we’re supposed to believe that Johnny would beat Chino in a fistfight.

Marvin’s Oscar-Winning Vehicle, Cat Ballou (1965), at 3:15 p.m.

In Cat Ballou, Marvin plays a parody of himself.

The story involves (like True Grit) a girl seeking a gunslinger to avenge her father’s murder. The father was murdered by … Lee Marvin. And she engages, to kill the murderer… Lee Marvin. Marvin plays a double role as a ruthless killer, who nose has been shot off, and his decent but drunken twin brother. (In the pathetic remake of True Grit Jeff Bridges did an impression of Marvin playing the drunken twin.) At least, that’s what I recall after 56 years, even after taking a peak at the IMDB page.

As the killer, Marvin was parodying his heavy in John Ford’s last great picture, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), as the eponymous character.

Marvin’s first major heavy role was in the Sidney Boehm/Fritz Lang thriller about a city under the thumb of organized crime, The Big Heat (1953). In America, Fritz Lang was only half a man. In Weimar Germany, he made masterpiece after masterpiece, but in America all he had was his arrogance, monocle, and memories of better times. That is because back in Germany, he had the greatest screenwriter in the history of German film writing for him, his second wife, Thea von Harbou. However, he fled Nazism for America, and she fled America for Nazism.

Thea von Harbou ran the very Nazi film office that, according to Lang, Josef Goebbels had offered him, just before he left. That The Big Heat turned out so well, was due to Sidney Boehm’s script, and to brilliant performances by Glenn Ford, as an avenging angel cop, Lee Marvin as the gangster’s enforcer, and Gloria Graham as Marvin’s moll.

Marvin gave another brilliant turn as a heavy in a sea of heavies, in the Burt Kennedy/Budd Boetticher/Randy Scott Western, Six Men from Now (1956), which John Wayne produced but did not appear in.

Robert Aldrich’s Blockbuster, Much-Imitated Ensemble WWII Drama, The Dirty Dozen (1967), at 5:15 P.M.

Marvin plays the ruthless sergeant who leads a group of condemned soldiers (murderers and rapists) on a suicide mission against the German High Command. If they succeed, they get their freedom.

As Robert Aldrich lay in his deathbead, a friend asked him, “Is there anything we can get you, Bob?” Aldrich responded, “A good script.”

John Boorman’s Gangster Classic, Point Blank, (1967). Marvin looked as if he’d pumped iron for this role, in which he plays the world’s most dangerous man.

Marvin plays a top-of-the-line career criminal. His partner and best friend steals his wife, his cut from a huge job, and shoots him and leaves him for dead. Angie Dickinson plays the female lead.

Marvin’s character has to have the physical authority to make you believe that he is ready, willing, and able to kill off the entire mob, to get his money. He’ll make a believer of you.

Although I religiously watched her show, Police Woman, because I was a cop-and-detective-show fanatic, I never thought much of Dickinson as a beauty, a body, or an actress. Well, Point Blank changed my mind, particularly one scene.

Richard Brooks’ The Professionals (1966). An American railroad magnate (Ralph Bellamy) hires four specialists, led by Marvin (Burt Lancaster, Woody Strode, and Robert Ryan) to go to Mexico, to rescue his beautiful, kidnapped, Mexican wife.

Listen to Marvin’s diction, in the early scene with Bellamy. It’s exquisite!

I’ve dubbed this Wild Bunch I, because Sam Peckinpah stole much from it, in making The Wild Bunch (1969). However, Peckinpah is poetry to Brooks’ prose.

Originally, Peckinpah tried to get Marvin to star in Bunch, and it’s a darned good thing he didn’t. Marvin’s presence would have served as a constant reminder that Peckinpah had ripped off Brooks. Besides which, Bill Holden gave one of his greatest performances as Pike Bishop.

1 comment:

David In TN said...

The story given by a TCM introduction was that Billy Wilder picked Tyrone Power for the lead in Witness For the Prosecution as a form of "casting against type." Power usually played heroes and Wilder thought the audience would expect Power's character to be innocent. This would make the twist ending more powerful. Or so Billy Wilder thought.