According to biographer Dwayne Epstein, Lee Marvin made it possible for future action stars like Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood to blast their way on to the screen. It was Marvin who brought the level of violence to a new and realistic level that had never been seen before. Think Vince Stone in “The Big Heat” when he tosses a hot pot of boiling coffee into Gloria Grahame’s face. Oh sure, there was screen violence before, Paul Muni machine gunning his way to the top of the crime world in “Scarface” and Cagney blasting his way through “The Public Enemy,” famously smashing a grapefruit in Mae Clark’s face. But Lee Marvin made it look real and dangerous, it was never fun.
I recently had the opportunity via telephone to interview Mr. Epstein, author of the new Lee Marvin biography “Lee Marvin: Point Blank.” The interview was conducted on March 5th. As you read you will see Mr. Epstein is admittedly a big fan. That said the book is a well balanced look, both public and private, at the rugged actor and World War II Marine veteran. His filmography reads like a list of essentials. A partial list includes “Bad Day at Black Rock,” The Big Heat,” “The Wild One,” “Attack,” “Violent Saturday,” “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” “The Killers,” “Cat Ballou,” “The Dirty Dozen,” “The Professionals,” “Point Blank” and “The Big Red One” among many others. Continue reading →
Like her character, Karin in “Stromboli,” Ingrid Bergman found herself ostracized in real life from Hollywood and America after making this film with her director/lover Roberto Rossellini. Their affair and out of wed-lock child caused a scandal that found Bergman unable to find work in the United States for six years. In the film, Bergman is a Lithuanian refugee, released from an internment camp when she marries Antonio (Mario Vitali), an Italian and former prisoner of war. They go to live in his home in Stromboli, an almost deserted village located on a small volcanic island off the coast of southern Italy. Marriage and life in the poor village is far from what Karin envisioned for herself. Most locals who were born there have left. The ones who remain are a stoic group unwelcoming to strangers. Her attempts to brighten up their home by decorating are met with indifference from Antonio. Continue reading →
“Out of the Fog” is based on a 1939 play called “The Gentle People” by Irwin Shaw. The play ran for a respectable four and half months on Broadway and had one heck of a cast that included Franchot Tone, Lee J. Cobb, Sam Jaffe, Sylvia Sydney, Elia Kazan, Martin Ritt and Karl Malden. It was produced by the legendary Group Theater and directed by the visionary Harold Clurman. The play was an anti-fascist parable (Shaw subtitled the play, A Brooklyn Fable) of the meek overcoming the arrogant and the powerful. In the play the two main characters were elderly gentle Jewish men, Jonah Goodman and Philip Anagnos, who are shaken down for five dollars a week in protection money by a smart aleck, stylishly dressed, wise ass gangster named Harold Goff (Tone). Goff also awakens the dreams and sexuality of Jonah’s bored daughter Stella (Sydney) who has hopes of leaving her meaningless existence for a more exciting life. When Goff learns the two fishermen have money saved to buy a boat, he demands they hand the savings over to him too. In order to rid themselves of Goff’s extortion and threats, the two fishermen lure him into their boat. Once they are out in the ocean they kill him and toss him overboard but not before taking his wallet filled with the money. Continue reading →
At this point in his career, Henry Fonda was not happy with most of the films he had made. Steinbeck’s classic novel, “The Grapes of Wrath,” was certainly one he was proud of, and thanks to John Ford, he got the role of a lifetime. Like Brando as Stanley Kowalski, or Cagney as George M. Cohan, it’s hard to imagine anyone else fitting the role of Tom Joad other than Henry Fonda. But there was a price to be paid for getting that part. 20th Century Fox honcho, Darryl F. Zanuck would only give him the role if he signed a contract with the studio. One of the films he made for Fox during this period was “The Ox-Bow Incident,” based on Walter Van Tilbert Clark’s extraordinary novel. Directed by William “Wild Bill” Wellman, the film is an oddity in westerns of the period. In 1943, the war was on and most films focused on lightweight escapist entertainment, a two hour break from worrying about husbands, fathers, sons and the horrors of what was happening in the world. “The Ox-Bow Incident” was not lightweight entertainment, it was a downbeat, ugly look at humanity with little gun play, focusing on vigilantism, group mentality, reducing men to the lowest primal level of thoughts and deeds. It is also possibly the first psychological western ever made. Continue reading →
More than seventy years after its release “Sabotage” remains relevant, in fact, it is even more relevant today, considering the world we live in, than in 1936 when it was first released. Based on Joseph Conrad’s short novel, “The Secret Agent,” the plot focuses on Karl Verloc (Oscar Homolka), a foreigner from an unnamed country. Verloc owns a local cinema in London and is a member of a terrorist group set on crippling London. His wife (Sylvia Sidney) is completely unaware of her husband’s underground activities. Living with Mr. and Mrs. Volker is Mrs. Volker’s younger brother, Stevie (Desmond Tester) whose death in the film sparks its most famous sequence and is the centerpiece of the film.
Hitchcock sets up the opening moments with a nice sequence of shots. A dictionary page explaining the definition of the word sabotage as the opening credits appear followed by a series of shots as the city of London loses its electric power. Two investigators identify the cause, the result of sabotage, and then a quick cut to a close up of Karl Verloc (Oscar Homolka) our saboteur. Continue reading →
The early years of sound in the 1930’s, those pre-code years, were William Wellman’s most inspired and also his most productive. He was a man who dived into the modern age of sound filmmaking and the mechanical age. An aviator in World War I, he continued on with his love affair for airplanes throughout his career, from “Wings” to “Island in the Sky,” “The High and the Mighty” up to his final film, “Lafayette Escadrille.” Wellman’s work from this period also addressed the Great Depression head on with serious works like “Heroes for Sale” and “Wild Boys of the Road.” Like many film pioneers in the early days, Wellman worked fast and he worked best when he had actors who kept up with his speed, performers like Cagney, Stanwyck, Lombard and Frankie Darro. Later in his career his films developed a slower pace and the actors he worked with reflected that too e.g.; Henry Fonda in “The Ox-Bow Incident” and Robert Mitchum in “Track of the Cat.” Continue reading →
By 1957, “B” film director Jack Arnold had already made some of the finest sci-fi films of the decade; “It Came from Outer Space,” “The Creature from the Black Lagoon,” and “Tarantula,” but the best was yet to come, 1957′s “The Incredible Shrinking Man.” Ignore the silly title this is one of the greatest existential science fiction films ever made. The 1950′s would turn out to be Arnold’s best decade. With the dawn of the 1960′s most of his career sadly, would be in television with only an occasional foray back into film.
We meet Scott Carey (Grant Williams) and his wife Louise (Randy Stuart), sunbathing on their small boat. It’s a beautiful day and the couple are playfully content soaking in the tranquility of the time spent together. When Louise goes down below to get a bottle of beer, Scott suddenly finds himself coming face to face with a bizarre, threatening cloudy haze that quickly falls upon him and then disappears just as quickly into the distance. After Louise returns she notices shiny specks have landed on his chest. They think nothing of it and soon it is forgotten. A short time later he is also accidently sprayed by some insecticide. Continue reading →