Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Damme Words: Lee Marvin Point Blank

A few flights ago I purchased Charles Bronson: Menacing Face Worth Millions on my Amazon Kindle. They recommended I also look into Lee Marvin: Point Blank as it was on special for only a couple of bucks. Cut to my most recent flight to and from Oklahoma City and I finally cracked open Point Blank and polished it off in just a few sittings. Billed as the first full-length, authoritative and detailed account of the iconic actor's life, Point Blank is an incredibly entertaining and quick read on the great and gruff Lee Marvin. In short, Lee Marvin was a badass, an American man and a true individual. Dwayne Epstein goes way back in the Marvin family history to discuss ancestors with the same ornery, unique personality that Marvin would eventually inherit. Mainly in the form of a relative who embarked on a trek to the north pole and died in the cold. Marvin's father Lamont never did too well in life but served in both World War I and II.

Marvin's upbringing is highlighted by his troubles with authority and school. Today you could dub it Attention Deficit Disorder and Dyslexia but back then he was just a shit starter. Bouncing around a dozen schools on the east coast, Marvin dropped out and signed up for the Marines during World War II. After participating in 21 invasion missions in the Pacific, Marvin was injured and had had enough of war. Back in New York and having already dabbled in acting, Marvin set out to land in a Broadway play. Forces would take him to Los Angeles where he slowly built up his career working for directors like Don Siegel, Fritz Lang, Raoul Walsh, John Sturges and Richard Fleischer before latching onto tough guy helmers Robert Aldrich, John Ford and John Boorman playing opposite the likes of Marlon Brando, Charles Bronson, Jack Palance and John Wayne. Frustrated at playing villains and second banana, Marvin hit leading man status at age 40 with western comedy Cat Ballou and would go on to win the Oscar for Best Actor. The 60's were Marvin's go-go years with The Killers, The Professionals, The Dirty Dozen, Point Blank and Paint Your Wagon highlighting his most lucrative era. Known for starring in violent pictures, Marvin never tried to glamorize action or death, feeling that as filmmakers they could show how horrible violence could be to dissuade audience members from enjoying it. Never setting out to be an actor-producer or director a la Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, Steve McQueen or James Garner, Marvin was at the whim of Hollywood's ebbs and flows. The 70's and 80's saw him working but never at the same level as his peak. Notable roles in Emperor of the North, Prime Cut, The Iceman Cometh, The Big Red One, Death Hunt and The Delta Force were largely ignored by audiences and only embraced years later.

On the personal side, Point Blank delves into Marvin's tumultuous lifestyle of drinking and rabble rousing. There's plenty of pages devoted to his wife Betty, mistress Michelle and later wife Pam. Marvin's excessive drinking is present through his adult life with the man himself claiming if you gave him a bottle of any booze, he'd drain it himself before the night was through. Surprisingly, his drinking never affected his work too much. Many a witness states that Marvin could drink all night but once he was on set and cleaned up, he'd always give his best. Today we'd call it Post Traumatic Stress but for Marvin, painful memories of the war would manifest themselves after many a drink leading to violence in the forms of fighting or waving guns around before accidentally discharging them in the house. Marvin's candor was always appreciated by the press and his likeable yet terrifying demeanor is highlighted by crude come on's to women, picking on fellow actors to make them look bad or in one case, seeing his competition on Oscar night crying after losing. Marvin's solution? Getting his attention, smiling wide and showing off his statue.

There's a good deal of information surrounding the development, production and release of Marvin's films but I could have used a more facts, figures or interview snippets as each film gets maybe a couple pages. Tidbits like Marvin developing The Wild Bunch, selling it to Sam Peckinpah but then passing on the film to make Paint Your Wagon are great. As are his examples of telling it like it is. One great case is describing co-star Charles Bronson's less than sunny demeanor and constant droning about working in coal mines as a kid. Marvin would mock Bronson for not being in a mine for 30 years and riding around in a Rolls Royce. In a bid to cut down on the craziness of Hollywood and Malibu, Marvin and wife Pam moved to Tuscon, Arizona. Marvin loved to fish and would act occasionally to get out of the house. His last role was in Cannon Films' Chuck Norris hostage rescue vehicle, The Delta Force. After making a million bucks for Paint Your Wagon, Marvin allegedly accepted $50,000 for Force after the producers described it to him on the phone for 15 minutes, made a deal with his agent in 20 then shortly after put him on a plane where he shot the flick in 8 weeks. No fuss, no muss.

I was surprised to read that Marvin was only 63 when he died as he looked much older. Prematurely gray at 40, Marvin looks frail and weak in Delta Force from his years of drinking and 5 packs of cigarettes a day. Fading fast, Marvin was hospitalized in 1987, suffered a heart attack and died on August 29th after living a very full life. For any fan of Marvin or macho, honest films from the 50's and 60's, Point Blank is definitely a must read. Format wise, there's photos peppered through but nothing too rare and the content is actually only 200 of the 300 page length with the remaining 100 devoted to notes and index.

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