A History of Violence: Dwayne Epstein Aims POINT BLANK to Uncover the Real Lee Marvin in First Definitive Biography and The Plaza Screens CAT BALLOU

Posted on: Jan 31st, 2013 By:

CAT BALLOU (1965); Dir: Elliot Silverstein; Starring Jane Fonda, Lee Marvin; featuring Q&A by Dwayne Epstein, author of the new biography LEE MARVIN: POINT BLANK, including a book signing; Sat. Feb. 2 3:00 p.m.; $5; The Plaza Theatre; sponsored by Atlanta Film Festival and A Capella Books. Trailer here.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

Lee Marvin is an icon of 1960s cinema, a legendary screen tough-guy who punched hard and lived harder, or at least that’s how the story goes. Before he became famous on the screen, Marvin worked for years in thankless villain roles and bit parts, often outshining his co-stars, and it took over a decade of hard work and a few unhappy years in series television before he finally saw a reward for his effort. During his Hollywood peak, Marvin starred in a string of classics that rewrote the rules on screen violence and forever changed the landscape of American cinema: THE PROFESSIONALS (1966); THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967); POINT BLANK (1967).

Dwayne Epstein has spent almost two decades researching the life and legacy of Lee Marvin. Epstein had unprecedented access to the Marvin family and a mountain of records and personal letters, and the result is the first major biography of Marvin to dig into the roots behind the actor’s history of violence, his unusual family legacy, and the demons that drove him to alcoholism and hell-raising. Epstein will be signing his book—LEE MARVIN: POINT BLANK—at the Plaza Theatre on Saturday, Feb. 2 at 3 p.m. and provide a Q&A for the only film to gain Marvin any Oscar recognition, the western comedy CAT BALLOU. ATLRetro recently spoke with Epstein to ask him about the book and about Marvin’s storied career.

ATLRetro: You’ve written a large number of Hollywood biographies for the youth market. LEE MARVIN: POINT BLANK is the first adult biography that you’ve written.

Dwayne Epstein: That would be accurate. The other biographies I’ve written were for a company called Lucent, and they were for a series called People in the News. A lot of them were what you would call Hollywood biographies, but also about political figures. I wrote about Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi, as well as Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell, Denzel Washington. I wrote another book for Lucent called LAWMEN OF THE OLD WEST for a series called History Makers. That was just helpful and a way to pay bills while I worked on the Lee Marvin book.

Why Lee Marvin as the subject of your first major biography, then?

Lee Marvin has always fascinated me. I’m a baby boomer and I grew up watching THE DIRTY DOZEN on TV, way back when they were showing it in two parts. I can watch it now and distinctly remember when the first part would end and the second part would begin. Even when they show it on Turner now, uncut and all the way through. In all of his films, he was always very distinct to me, even when he was not the leading actor. Even more so after I decided to write a book on him, and the more I found out about him. He was much more than he was on screen, obviously, just like most people are. He was a fascinating man. When I researched the book, I discovered he really was the first of his kind, I mean of the post-war actors; he pretty much created the modern America cinema of violence as we know it. It came from him, not from Clint Eastwood. Lee Marvin predated Clint Eastwood by a couple of years.

You say you’ve been researching the book for a long time, and the research is obvious when you read it. How long did you research and work on the book?

I began in 1994, so that went on about 18 years. Many of the people I interviewed for the book are no longer with us, and it was a real saving grace in some ways that I was able to do it when I did. Such as his brother, who had never been interviewed before.

How did that come about?

That became kind of a cool story. Like I said, he had never been interviewed, and I found that his brother had worked for the New York City school district and that he was a teacher. I have a cousin in New York who works in the teacher union, and I contacted her and asked her if she knew of a way to get into contact with Robert Marvin, and she said if he had any connection with the teacher’s union at all, [she’ll] find him. And she did. At the time, he still lived in the Marvin family home up by Woodstock, NY. I took a shot and gave him a call, and lo and behold I wasn’t on the phone with him two seconds when I knew I had Lee Marvin’s brother. He sounded just like him.

Yeah, he had a distinct voice.

Yes, he did. That voice was one of his many, many great attributes as an actor.

Lee Marvin in POINT BLANK. MGM, 1967.

You mention in the book that there had been studio biographies written on Lee Marvin, but that they had inaccuracies. Why did it take this long for someone to get to the definitive Lee Marvin story?

When I say studio biographies, I mean something produced by the studio to promote the film. Not an actual print biography. Press books and press releases, what have you. Some of the misinformation that’s been put out there is a result of Lee Marvin himself. He loved mythology and he created his own mythology. One or two other books had been printed previously, and if there’s been misinformation there, it’s because Lee Marvin loved to tell stories. He was a heck of a storyteller. He knew a good story when he made one up, and he would promote it.

Your book is getting beyond all of that and collecting the facts from everyone else, though.

Right. As often as I could, I would verify a particular story from one source with another source. I would compare one version of a story to another, such as how he got started as an actor – him often saying he was fixing the toilet at the Maverick Theater in Woodstock when his destiny called. But there are several quotes from people in that same time period who say that would be pretty hard to do since the Maverick Theater didn’t have a toilet.

When reading the book, Lee Marvin’s family is just as important to the book as his career. He had the great uncle who died in Robert Peary’s North Pole expedition.

That’s one of the most fascinating things I discovered while doing the research. I was blown away to find out the true story behind Ross Marvin.

It’s kind of mind-blowing. Like, this guy had such a family history.

That was one of the early connections I made to create the theme of the book. If you believe in this thing about fate or destiny or what have you, it was there in Marvin’s life before he was even born. His trail was preset, as it was. It dates back even before Ross Marvin.

In what way?

I love this story, and Lee Marvin loved to tell this story, too. The earliest Marvins in America helped settle the colony of Connecticut, and there was a puritan named Matthew Marvin who would go on fiery pub raids to get the farmers out of the pubs and into the churches. There was fire and brimstone in Lee Marvin’s ancestry. He also had a varied history in terms of the colorful characters in it. He was related to George Washington and Robert E. Lee, which is why he has the name that he has. His older brother’s name is Robert, and he’s Lee. His mother was a very conscientious Virginia southern woman, and that kind of thing was important to her.

Lee Marvin in THE DIRTY DOZEN, MGM, 1967.

You talk about the theme of his family, and I noticed that there’s another theme running through his story about absent fathers. His father was always traveling, and his father was raised by his uncle who passed, and Lee Marvin was always traveling.

You’re right about that aspect, but to give it even more perspective, I would say that dysfunctional family was really a looming shadow in Lee Marvin’s life. The violence that was perpetrated during World War II did propel his career as an actor, but it wasn’t the end-all, be-all. Before that, he had travails in his family. There was alcoholism, there was abuse, all kinds of stuff. And like many families like that, there was still love. Everybody in the family loved each other, they just didn’t quite know how to handle their emotions.

I want to talk for a second about this interesting chapter that you wrote. Marvin is in the Pacific Theatre in World War II, and you construct his military career almost entirely through the letters that he was sending home. You have some commentary, but almost the whole chapter is just his letters. What was it about his letters that you found so compelling that you wanted to just let him take the stage?

I’m glad you mentioned that. That was a conscious choice based on a crisis I was facing. I knew how critical that chapter was. It was the very foundation to a lot of Lee Marvin’s life, and I didn’t want to screw it up. I’ve never seen battle, and badly written battles or wartime remembrances are untrue and they can really turn the reader off to the rest of the book. If it’s done well, listen, I’m not Ernest Hemingway. I can’t write that kind of thing. And it was quite a dilemma for me how to approach it, and then I realized while doing the research that if I put the letters that I had that had been previously given from Lee’s family in chronological order, I realized that he could write this chapter himself and he should. And that was the hardest part of doing that, deciphering what he wrote. He was dyslexic, and he had terrible handwriting. It was a lot like being an archaeologist, deciphering what he wrote. Putting them together, I realized this is Lee Marvin’s voice. Let him tell the story himself.

In one of those letters he writes, towards the end of his time in the war, he’s had his fill of war. But he spent a huge portion of his career recreating war and violence on film. Was he working through his experience, or was it just another job for him?

No, it was not another job for him, I can tell you that. There was something I discovered while researching the book, and I’ll take the heat for this if anyone gets mad at me. It was my diagnosis, for lack of a better word, that Lee Marvin had post-traumatic stress disorder. I had never read that anywhere, I came to that conclusion myself researching and reading about PTSD and reading about the symptoms. He pretty much matched all of them, and it really went unknown and undiagnosed until about 1980. Marvin died in 1987, so most of his life was spent without any knowledge of that. Consequently, in having these symptoms, he had to channel a lot of the anger and emotions and the symptoms of PTSD, nightmares, alcoholism, survivor’s guilt, a need for violence. All of these things kind of came together and he had to filter it somehow. Probably the most acceptable way to do so, aside from getting arrested on a daily basis, was becoming an actor. He prided himself on being able to do things on stage and on film that people weren’t allowed to do in everyday life.

Throughout his whole life, he had struggles with marriages and struggles with alcohol. There was that infamous Robin Hood party in Vegas. What is he, dangling women out of a window with bedsheets? Do you think his alcoholism was related to his PTSD?

I think there was a vicious circle kind of thing. He drank to forget, and when he drank, he became—there’s not any one thing, of course, but there was antisocial behavior, and being in Hollywood and being a big movie star in the 1960s, that kind of behavior became the talk of the town. People loved it. It’s not like working as a plumber in small time America, where it’s “did you see what Lee did at the party?” In Hollywood, it’s like “Wow! Wasn’t Lee great drunk at the party last night?” That kind of social strata encouraged it. It also ruined his marriages. A marriage, anyway.

A lobby card of the famous drunk on a horse scene from CAT BALLOU. Columbia Pictures, 1965.

I want to talk about CAT BALLOU for a minute. You’re signing books at a screening at the Plaza on Saturday. They’re screening the film that gave Lee Marvin his only Oscar.

One for one. One nomination, one Oscar.

The funny thing about that movie and it being his only Oscar is that it’s not really the kind of movie you’d associate when you think of Lee Marvin. Why CAT BALLOU? Why did it resonate?

It’s interesting. A few years before he passed away, a reporter said to Marvin “I don’t really think you deserve the Oscar for CAT BALLOU, it’s not really your best work.” He surprised the reporter by saying “You’re right. It wasn’t my best performance, and I don’t know if I did deserve the Oscar for that. But there is such a thing as being on the Oscar track, and I was on the Oscar track with that film.” He was as surprised as anybody to see how successful it turned out. But one of the reasons why it was as successful as it is, I interviewed the film’s director Elliot Silverstein, who told me some fascinating stories about the making of that movie. Lee didn’t play that movie for comedy. The main character, I mean, because it was a dual role. He played the main character of the drunken, burned-out gunslinger as a tragic figure. He played the character as someone who is past his prime, and what do you do with a gunslinger when nobody wants him anymore? He compared it to many things, an old soldier, a broken-down prize fighter, a retired athlete who had his day in the sun and is now making change, that kind of thing. There’s a wonderful moment when Jane Fonda tells her father, “How would I know he was going to be a drunk?” And when she says that, Marvin looks over his shoulder at her, with a look of pain in his eyes. It’s some of the best acting he’s ever done. But it’s not something that normally wins Oscars.

Lee Marvin in THE WILD ONE. Columbia Pictures, 1953.

Well, if the movie came out today, I feel like it would be the kind of role to get you an Oscar. It’s a dual role, which is difficult, and he’s playing outside of his type.

He is, but what’s interesting, too, is that he was cast because in a weird way he was making fun of the stuff he had done before. There’s a lot of Liberty Valance in Tim Strawn, Kid Shelleen’s brother. There’s a little bit of that in Kid Shelleen. Silverstein said that the reason he was casting Marvin in the first place is that a couple of nights before, he had seen Marvin in THE WILD ONE (1953), and he remembered the way he fell off his motorcycle. He did that in a very funny way; he knows how to move. There’s a little bit of a lot of other things Marvin had done on film that come across.

I noticed that myself, that dual role is kind of spoofing on his Liberty Valance role. If it was just the old coot, if it was just Kid Shelleen, does Marvin get the part, or does Jack Palance get it like he wanted?

The funny thing is, Palance let everyone know that he wanted the role. Apparently he wasn’t even considered for the part. [both laugh] And if Palance had done it, he would have been parodying the character that he played in SHANE, which is what put him on the map. But for Marvin, there were several major actors at the time that were considered and for some reason or another—well, we know specifically that Kirk Douglas passed on it. Jose Ferrar was considered, Burt Lancaster. Several others. As years go by, there’s a debate about how much of this is actual and factual and how much was urban legend. But I do know that once Lee Marvin got the part—and he had to be convinced, too, by his wife and his agent—and once he got the script, he started quoting the dialogue in the party circuit, because he thought it was the best dialogue he’d read in a long time. He had problems with the character because it was a physical character to play. You have to sell it broad, but with it being broad, you’ve got to be believable, or the audience is going to say a few seconds into it that this is just a cartoon. And yet, he was able to pull it off.

To me, he definitely deserved the Oscar.

That’s another thing, too. Comedies don’t generally win Oscars, and he pulled it off.

It was fairly late in his career when he won that Oscar, but it was also fairly late in his career when he became a household name. Why do you think it took so long for audiences to warm up to him?

There’s another question outside of film in general, and that’s do the times make the man or does the man make the times? With Lee, I think it was a combination of wonderful things converging at the right time. He wouldn’t have made it as a star in the 30s, 40s, and 50s because it was a different thing required by both the studios and audiences. The 60s were a very interesting time cinematically, culturally, in this country in that the rules were changing, both on film and in the culture at large. There was the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the generation gap, war, assassinations, rioting in the streets. This cultural basis helped Lee Marvin become a star. He wasn’t the only one, there were other stars at that time. You look at somebody like Steve McQueen. They’re different actors, but Steve McQueen wouldn’t have made it in the 40s and 50s. There’s always exceptions of course, Humphrey Bogart was the anti-hero of his time and didn’t look like a matinee leading idol, but Lee Marvin got something across to the audience that the audience wanted to see and hear, which is that man is a violent animal and I’m going to show you how violent he can be! And that was a component of the 1960s, a violent time. And movies like THE DIRTY DOZEN and POINT BLANK, which really wasn’t as accepted in its day as it became later on, a cult film, they were saying that guys in the middle class, with white hair and ties—they can do some pretty despicable things if they have to. And that’s what Lee Marvin was about. He was perfect for the 60s at that level.

Dwayne Epstein, author of LEE MARVIN: POINT BLANK.

One of the stories that jumped out at me from the book is that we talk about Lee Marvin redefining screen violence through his films, but another film that’s often credited with redefining screen violence was THE WILD BUNCH (1969). Now he didn’t star in that film, but there’s a bit in the book about him helping to write the screenplay!

He did. He was the one who introduced the story to Sam Peckinpah. A friend of Lee Marvin’s had been working on the script, and Lee would periodically go over and help him a bit and mold it. And that part—if ever a part had Lee Marvin written all over it, it was the role of Pike Bishop in the THE WILD BUNCH. But unfortunately, as things turn out, he made PAINT YOUR WAGON (1969) instead. And I think it’s one of the greatest ironies of all time, that a man who defined modern American screen violence missed out on making the most important violent film of all time. It changed everything. He missed out on that. You look at the American Film Institute [which] does that greatest 100 American films of all time, and Marvin has always just kind of missed the mark for being on those lists, for having his name-above-the-title type film in that list. It would have been THE WILD BUNCH, and he missed that, which is very sad.

So here’s a question, just for your opinion on his work. As he got older, a lot of aging actors go through that sad part of the career where they do a bunch of stinkers, and he did a few towards the end of his career. But he didn’t seem to sink as low as some have. He wasn’t Joan Crawford doing brain-dead horror movies.

Yeah, TROG (1970).

Yeah, yeah. So he had a knack for elevating material. Is there one film or performance in that forgotten section of his career you wish could be found again? Can you rescue something from the scrap heap?

The films themselves are of various quality—[but there are] ones that I think are worthy of being discovered. The film itself isn’t that good, but I thought he was wonderful in DEATH HUNT (1981). He did some wonderful things in that movie. Also, GORKY PARK (1983). It wasn’t a very good film; it wasn’t well-received. It was based on a popular novel, but he’d never played a guy like that before. He played an American businessman who was very rich and imports sable into the Soviet Union. He’s just this wonderfully deadly guy who can wear a three-piece suit and do something heinous at the same time. Just a great performance on his part. Like I said, something he had never done before. And probably the best of them all was THE BIG RED ONE (1980), which he did about five or six years before he died, Sam Fuller’s epic retelling of his own experiences in World War II. Lee Marvin is a nameless sergeant who—he does things in this movie that I’ve never seen him do, in that film acting. There are a lot of elements to film acting, and one of them is being able to convey without dialogue because it’s a visual medium. There’s a sequence at the end of the film where he’s helping a concentration camp refugee. He’s just liberated a concentration camp, and he helps a little boy. There’s almost no dialogue in that sequence for like 9 or 10 minutes, and it’s all played on Lee’s face. He’s very poignant, and he’s not over the top. It’s some of the best film acting I’ve ever seen. And it’s kind of being rediscovered. It’s important and it should be, because it’s a great performance and a great film.

Lee Marvin in THE BIG RED ONE. United Artists, 1980.

Actually, when I was young, probably about 9 or 10 years old, I would grab everything at the video store and try to watch it, and I saw THE BIG RED ONE then. I’m pretty sure it was my first Lee Marvin movie, and even as a kid watching it, I absolutely loved that movie. I still have a soft spot for it all the way to today.

I think in 2006, there was a restoration done.

I haven’t seen the restoration yet. I loved it in the original version, so I’d imagine I’d really love it now.

My personal opinion [is] I don’t think it was improved on all that much. I know it was meant to be a three-hour film and it got taken away from Sam Fuller, who by the way I got to know, he’s one of the many people I interviewed for the book. He loved Lee. That’s one of the tragedies, that they didn’t work together more. They worked together on television a couple of times. That was Sam Fuller’s opus, and he’s another film director being rediscovered. They discovered him in Europe first. He’s an American director, but in America he was considered a hack, and in Europe, he’s God. Now American film fans are starting to rediscover his work. He was quite an individual filmmaker. Nobody else could make a movie like THE NAKED KISS (1964) or SHOCK CORRIDOR (1963) or THE BIG RED ONE. There are things that are done in that movie that had never been done before in film, no matter how long we’d been making World War II films. The four lead characters with Lee Marvin looked like young soldiers. They don’t look like actors playing soldiers, they all looked to be the age 17 to 19, and they’re swimming in their uniforms, you know, the way it would be in real life. Things like that.

OK, so, it’s a topic that never seems to go away. Throughout his career, Lee Marvin had to field questions about cinema and violence in society. And unfortunately, your book is arriving at a moment when that conversation is back in the news.

Indeed it is. Unfortunately. The timing is badly fortuitous in terms of the book, but that conversation is out there.

Well, you quote Lee Marvin a couple of times in the book; basically his quote boils down to he wants the violence in his movies to be incredibly brutal and realistic because he thinks it acts as a deterrent. The rougher the violence, the less likely someone is to try it.

Right, that was his belief. I don’t necessarily hold to that belief, but Lee Marvin professed that. He believed that the more brutal you made it, the more you would turn people off. I don’t know if that’s necessarily the case. He made those statements before there were warfare videogames and things we see on the news on a regular basis that were much more graphic. The kind of violence Lee Marvin was talking about is not the kind of violence that, say, a Jason Statham action film has, where it’s quirky and cartoony, but it’s in your face every two seconds. It’s not like that MTV editing style that’s quick cutting, that’s not about the impact you would have on another human being. It’s like a videogame or cartoon. Let’s blow up as many cars as we can. Let’s shoot as many things as we can. Marvin’s point was, let’s show the threat of violence. I’m paraphrasing here, but he said, if I’m going to shoot somebody, I’m going to knock them down, walk over, shoot them two times, and then roll them over and shoot them again. And sell it! Not just have it happen quick and go on to the next thing. That’s not really what he thought violence was about. Violence is ugly, so show it to be ugly.

It’s funny. You have this image—well, before I read your book, Lee Marvin seems to appeal to a certain stereotype of a conservative tough-guy, pro-war cinema. Was Lee Marvin pro-war?

Let me tell you something, that’s one of my favorite things about this book. I’ve been reading blogs or comments about Lee Marvin. He’s often been called “America’s favorite badass,” “he’s not a wussy,” and “he would go out there and kick Obama’s ass!” Things like that. And people who say stuff like that don’t realize that Lee Marvin was not John Wayne. Most of his life, politically, Lee Marvin was a liberal Democrat. He worked for John F. Kennedy’s campaign in 1960. After Kennedy’s assassination, he kept his politics to himself, but the only thing he was really a hawk on was indeed gun control. He believed very strongly in the 2nd amendment and he would tell friends that, but politically, he was a liberal. I hate to disappoint John Wayne fans out there. By the way, John Wayne and Lee Marvin were friends. They worked together, but Lee Marvin would definitely not be put in the category of a Tea Partier. Another point, too, is that you can be a liberal and be a badass. [laughs]

In the book, there are two other actors that you explore the similarities and kind of dismiss those similarities with Lee Marvin, and that’s Humphrey Bogart and Clint Eastwood. If those two aren’t good comparisons, who is the best comparison to Lee Marvin, in your opinion, before and after his time?

There are elements in terms of being antiheroes—and by the way, what I wrote in the book about Bogart was really comparisons to Bogart before he was famous. Comparisons can be made, because Bogart’s career was very similar to Lee Marvin’s. He played a lot of bad guys and secondary roles before he made it with HIGH SIERRA (1941) and MALTESE FALCON (1941) and CASABLANCA (1942) and those films, but when Lee Marvin was doing supporting and secondary roles, he really tried to sell it and do the best job he could. If you look at Bogart in those early Warner Brothers films before he was famous, he looked so uncomfortable. He didn’t look like he was enjoying himself or having a good time. He looked like he was working, whereas Lee Marvin always tried to give a little more to the character, like saying to the audience, “I’m going to do something despicable here, and we’re going to have fun.” And that was a weird thing, too, that nobody had ever done before. There’s a lot of elements of Lee Marvin in other actors, you know? There’s a great quote by Errol Flynn in THE ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN (1948). He’s about to chase a girl, and he’d said he would never do that again. His friend says “I thought you weren’t ever going to do this again,” and Errol Flynn as Don Juan says “You know, there’s a little Don Juan in every man, and if I am Don Juan, there must be more of him in me!” The same goes for Lee Marvin. There’s a little Lee Marvin in a lot of actors, but there’s only one Lee Marvin, and there’s more of Lee Marvin in him than anyone.

One last question. Besides the obvious connection to one of his most well-known films, why choose the title POINT BLANK for your book?

I had a devil of a time coming up with a title. I had several things I was thinking of, but once I wrote the introduction, I realized that what Lee Marvin did that nobody else had done before him was that he presented violence on film like nobody had done before and consistently. That’s the other thing. There were moments of violence in American cinema that were pretty bad, like when Richard Widmark pushed a lady in a wheelchair down a staircase [in KISS OF DEATH (1947)], but after Richard Widmark did that, he never played that kind of character again which is, you know, a tragedy. But Lee Marvin, once he established himself, never walked away from how violent mankind can be. He was in your face with the way it was presented. I thought if I could come up with a name for that style, and that was point blank. Just that’s how he was. He was point blank, in your face, no excuses.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game writer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He writes at www.thehollywoodprojects.com and hosts a bimonthly screening series of classic films at theaters around Atlanta.

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Retro Review: Eastwood, Wallach and Van Cleef Blaze Trails and Guns This Saturday at The Plaza

Posted on: Aug 12th, 2011 By:

By Philip Nutman
Contributing Blogger

THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY (1966); Presented by AM 1690; Dir: Sergio Leone; Starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach; Sat. Aug. 13; 3 PM and 7:30 PM; Plaza Theatre. Trailer here.

1966. After shooting up a storm at the European box office between 1964’s A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and 1965’s FOR A FEW DOLLARS’ MORE, Italian movie-making maven Sergio Leone – against his deepest desires – agreed to make a third spaghetti western. Clint Eastwood, growing tired of filming in Spain, was skeptical, but with major US money (from distributor United Artists) and a substantial salary, finally agreed to reprise his role as “the Stranger.” With Eli Wallach on board as the sweaty, foul-mouthed, primal bandito, Tuco, and Lee Van Cleef returning at Leone’s request, too, the film was a “go.”

A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS established the tone of Italian Westerns to come with its callous violence. FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE provided Leone with an expanded lexicon of cinematic storytelling which turned the classic American Western on its head. But with THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY, well, Leone turned a TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE-like story, a quest for hidden gold, into a unique film which reinvented the pasta genre he had created and redefined the cinema-going experience.

Three men. One cache of Civil War gold buried in a coffin – story concepts don’t get more simple than this one. But it’s how Leone plays out the three strands of the stories, the three characters and their respective actions towards acquiring the goal which makes this movie special. Leone’s deliberate pacing – punctuated by shocking, explosive moments of unexpected violence – took a new turn. In certain sequences, seconds become minutes; preparation, psychologically and physically, became the calm before the storm. No director of Westerns had ever attempted what he achieved with THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY.

The Good (Clint Eastwood, L), The Bad (Lee Van Cleef, R), and The Ugly (Eli Wallach, center). Copyright United Artists, 1966.

Whether you love Westerns or the films of Clint Eastwood or not, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY also is a film which was designed to be seen and experienced on the big screen. The Civil War sequences are the most striking ever visualized, and the climactic scene will make your heart race (fans of the film know exactly what I’m referring to here; for those of you who haven’t, prepared to be wowed).

The copy screening at The Plaza this weekend is a pristine print of the 2004 remastered Director’s Cut,  struck from the original negative with the basic mono sound adapted into a crisp stereo mix. In 1967, when first released, United Artists cut 18 minutes from the original version to save on print costs and so they could squeeze an extra screening per day at US movie theatres. So this version of the film has barely been screened in American cinemas. A terrific experience all around. NOT TO BE MISSED!!!

ATLRetro Movie Trivia –

  • Although Leone’s first three spaghetti westerns are frequently referred to as the “Man With No Name” trilogy, Eastwood’s “Stranger” is called three different names over the course of the three movies: “Joe” in A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS; “Manco” in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE; and “Blondie” – as Wallach’s Tuco loves to derisively call Eastwood in THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY (although Clint’s chestnut-brown hair hardly qualifies him for Marilyn Monroe status).
  • Speaking of La Monroe, rumor has it that when Eastwood first saw the Italian version of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and heard how the Roman dubbing artist had changed his voice – slower, more whispery – he decided to start delivering his lines like Marilyn (but with balls instead of boobs). So without the inspiration of a real blonde and an Italian actor who made money redubbing Americans, Dirty Harry would have sounded quite different…

And don’t forget that between the 3 PM and 7:30 PM screenings of this classic, revisionist Western, The Plaza is giving a free show (donations encouraged; remember, The Plaza Theatre is a nonprofit entity): COMING SOON! 35 Minutes of 35mm Trailers at 6:35 PM, a special, rare opportunity to see some of Plaza Manager Ben Ruder’s private collection of retro celluloid teasers! Give generously or pig out at the concessions stand!

Contributing Blogger Philip Nutman is a regular broadcaster for the The Night Crew, a podcast created and run by film journalists Sean Smithson and Thom Carnell. Over the past few months, Phil has presented “Philip Nutman’s THE WILD, WILD WEST” a multi-part, eclectic primer on must-see cowboy movies. The final installment will be live within the next two weeks.

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Weekend Update, Aug. 12-14, 2011

Posted on: Aug 12th, 2011 By:

Friday, August 12

Hear some great garage rock and rockabilly, pose with a pin-up girl, see burlesque acts, win raffle prizes and support a great animal charity at Little Darling’s Pinups for Pitbulls Presents: Dog Days of Summer! starting at 8 p.m. at The Basement beneath Graveyard Tavern. Check out our first-ever Kool Kitten interview with April 2001 Pinups for Pitbulls Calendar model Brook Bolen here. Performers include ’60s girl group revivalists The F’n Heartbreaks (of which Brook is a bandmember) and The Hot Rod Walt Trio (read our Kool Kat interview with Hot Rod Walt here); local burlesque stars Talloolah Love, Barbalicious and Sadie Hawkins of Blast-Off Burlesque, and Pinups for Pitbulls charity-founder Little Darling herself!

It’s another honky tonk rockabilly Friday at Star Bar with Caroline & the RamblersVillain Family and The Serenaders. It’s also always good news to hear about a too-rare Subsonics show, so we’re happy to report Buffi Aguero & Co. will be garage-rockin’ it out at The Earl tonight with Carnivores and Howlies. Bela Fleck & the Flecktones and Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers are at Classic Chastain. Swing to jazz, earthy blues and a little rock n roll by vocalist Gwen Hughes and her band The Retro Jazz Kats at Callanwolde Jazz on the Lawn tonight. Catch an IMAX movie and dance to blues, jazz and a slight bit of funk courtesy of Derryl Rivers & the Flying Circus at Fernbank Museum of Natural History’s Martinis and IMAX.  Recent Kool Kat Julea Thomerson and the BareKnuckle Betties plays The Five Spot with Midnight Revival and Silent Coyote. And CineProv pokes good-natured fun at THE ROCKETEER at Relapse Theatre.

Saturday August 13

Yet another clone-worthy day and night in Retro Atlanta. It’s almost impossible to pick just one of the vintage wonderland of activities tonight. First, the good news is a couple of things are in the afternoon. Kids and their parents are in for tricks and treats as the Silver Scream Spookshow‘s Professor Morte teaches a Monster Make-Up Class at Main Street School of Art at 1 p.m. Learn how to turn your kid and you into a werewolf or zombie using classic monster movie make-up techniques from realistic bruises and oozing wounds to deathly ghoulish faces and how to apply latex and hair.

Meanwhile over at The Plaza Theatre, see Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood classic Western THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. as it was meant to be seen in glorious widescreen 35 mm. The movie is the last and best part of Leone’s “Man With No Name” trilogy, which the Plaza has been screening throughout the summer. Hurray for AM1690 for sponsoring! Be sure to hang around, come early or just stop by The Plaza at 6:35 p.m., too, for COMING SOON TO A THEATRE NEAR YOU!, 35 min. of rare 35 mm trailers from Plaza Manager Ben Ruder‘s private collection. Admission for the latter is free, but donations to support the nonprofit theatre are encouraged.

The Derby Strikes Back as the Atlanta Rollergirls‘ four teams face-off in their annual play-offs. The Apocalypstix battle the Toxic Shocks at 5 p.m. while theDenim Demons get one more shot against the undefeated Sake Tukas at 7:30 p.m. Both bouts, as always, are at the Yaarab Shrine Center on Ponce, and advance tickets are recommended for these sure-to-sell-out matches. Arrive early to browse the cool vendors.

The King may have passed away from this earth on Aug. 16, 1977, but oh, does his spirit live on in ELVIS ROYALE, an annual Vegas-style multimedia extravaganza staged by KingSized and the Dames Aflame at Variety Playhouse. Hear the one-and-only Big Mike Geier sing songs from every point in Elvis’s career and experience the glittery Cavalcade of Elvis during the fabulous finale. Read our Kool Kat exclusive interview with Big Mike here.

BURLESQUE WITH A HITCH, the latest in Mon Cherie‘s Va-Va-Voom series at Masquerade, celebrates the genius of film director Alfred Hitchcock with each act based on a different film by the master. Alabaster JuJu stars, with master of suspense and mystery Miss Mason hosting, and the all-star line-up of performers includes Sadie HawkinsRebecca DeShon (Hoop Essence)Stormy Knight, Fonda Lingue, Evil Sarah, The Chameleon Queen, magician Chad SanbornKatarina Laveaux (Birmingham, AL), Nicolette Tesla (Charlotte, NC), and Peachz de Vine (Greensboro, NC). Before and after, DJ 313 spins alternative dance, Allison Kellar offers body-painting, and there’s also a RAWKIN’ RAFFLE with lots of vintage-inspired vendors donating prizes. Cover is a bargain 5 bucks, and doors open at 9 p.m. In suspense about what’s happening? Click here for a sneak preview of this Spellbound affair from Chad Sanborn.

It’s Man Day at Twain’s starting with first-come-first-serve manly tattoos at noon, but the main event gets rolling at 5 p.m. with a night of live music, manly competitions (examples include Handyman Challenge and Best Beer Gut), aerial dance performances by Blast-Off Burlesque‘s Sadie Hawkins, boob cupcakes by Sugar Dolls, the Wheel of Destiny and much more.

And that’s not to mention Big Bad Voodoo Daddy swinging with theAtlanta Symphony Orchestra at Verizon Wireless AmphitheatrePsycho

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.

DeVilles rockabilly it up at the world-famous Dixie Tavern in Marietta. Little Joey’s Big Band is at Fat Matt’s Rib Shack. Blues pianist extraordinaire Ike Stubblefield plays Northside Tavern. And of course, DJ Romeo Cologne transforms the sensationally seedy Clermont Lounge into a ’70s disco/funk inferno late into the wee hours.

Sunday August 14

Chickens and Pigs plays blues “dunch” between 1 and 4 PM at The EarlThe Whiskey Gentry bring their misfit country-to-punk twang to the Park Tavern Unplugged in the Park series at Piedmont Park. Tony Bryant reps four generations of Georgia blues at Fat Matt’s. And the Michael Hutchence-less INXS brings back the ’80s at Chastain Park Amphitheatre.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Retro Review: Eastwood Returns to The Plaza FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE

Posted on: Jul 8th, 2011 By:

By Philip Nutman
Contributing Blogger

FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965); Presented by AM 1690; Dir: Sergio Leone; Starring Clint Eastwood, Gian Maria Volonte, Lee Van Cleef; Sat. July 9; 3 PM and 7:30 PM; Plaza Theatre. Trailer here.

In 1965, following the spur-burning European success of his second film as director, Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone returned to the genre he had unwittingly created with 1964’s A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS – the “spaghetti western” – again working with a young actor named Clint Eastwood. Eastwood was yet to become an international star and was still working on the hit US TV show, RAWHIDE, as cattle wrangler Rowdy Yeates. But outside of America, FISTFUL had been a huge box office hit, and Eastwood as “the man with no name” was already becoming a cinematic icon – so much so, Leone was immediately given the green light to make the second of what would become known as his “Dollars” trilogy (The Plaza will screen a restored print of the ne plus ultra of the sequence of films, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY on August 13).

Eastwood dons the poncho again, this time with Lee Van Cleef in A FEW DOLLARS MORE.

A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS can be considered the template all further spaghetti westerns would follow: mysterious, amoral, cynical stranger either arrives in a small town and upsets the status quo, playing the various sides against each other, or said amoral, ethically-questionable stranger is after the money…the only item of value in an emotionally and politically corrupt landscape where a fistful of dollars (or more) are the only things worth fighting for…and death is always lurking outside a saloon swing doorway. The first film in Leone’s trilogy can also be considered as an experiment; with FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, the director escaped the typical curse of a lame sophomore effort to transcend his groundbreaking western debut and set the stage for the cinematic shake-out which he would deliver in 1966’s THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY. The three films were finally unleashed on an unsuspecting American public in 1967, and Eastwood finally escaped his career doldrums and became a full-fledged movie star.

Lee Van Cleef in A FEW DOLLARS MORE.

The plot of DOLLARS MORE is as simple as that of A FISTFUL, but in this case, the film delves into a psychological/motivational grounding the former film lacked. It is the work of a filmmaker finding his footing as he reinvents a genre as old as American movie-making itself. The movie sets up a potential conflict between bounty hunters – Eastwood’s squinting, cheroot-smoking nameless stranger and Lee Van Cleef’s steely-eyed Colonel Mortimer.  After conflicts, the two loners team up to go after the psychopathic killer bandit, Indio (perfectly played by Gian Maria Volonte). The final scenes are killer – literally. But whereas Eastwood’s stranger is just after the money, Mortimer has a personal score to settle with scumbag Indio.  No spoilers on ATLRetro – go do yourself a favor and support the Plaza and enjoy a classic movie, even if you’re not a fan of westerns or Clint.

ATLretro Movie Trivia: Eastwood, who is highly anti-smoking, is on record as stating that if Leone wanted him to turn up his bad-ass volume, all the director had to do was get him to stick one of those stinky cigarillos in his mouth and light up. No wonder Clint had no problem shooting so many sleazy outlaws…

Contributing Blogger Philip Nutman is a regular broadcaster for the cinematic podcast The Night Crew, and for the past few months has discussed “The Wild, Wild West,” his eclectic, personal primer on cowboys movies every film lover should watch. His current verbal essay is on the other Sergio – Sergio Corbucci – director of MINNESOTA CLAY, THE HELLBENDERS…and one of the other greatest spaghetti westerns, 1968’s THE GRAND SILENCE (Here’s wishing the Plaza would screen that!)

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Retro Review: A Fistful of Eastwood at the Plaza This Summer

Posted on: Jun 9th, 2011 By:

By Philip Nutman,
Contributing Blogger

A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964); Presented by AM 1690; Dir: Sergio Leone; Starring Clint Eastwood, Gian Maria Volonte, Marianne Koch; Sat. June 11; 3 PM and 7:30 PM; Plaza Theatre. Trailer here.

Clint Eastwood shoots up Atlanta’s Plaza Theatre over the summer, screening Sergio Leone’s “Man with No Name” trilogy over the next two months. In 1964, the Western, as global audiences knew it as essayed by actors such as Audie Murphy and John “The Duke”” Wayne, changed forever due to the rebellious vision of a 34-year-old Italian writer/director, Sergio Leone. An unabashed, blatant “adaptation” of Japanese master Akira Kurosawa’s classic “chambara” (samurai film), YOJIMBO, Leone took American TV’s favorite laconic ranch hand sidekick, Rowdy Yeats from the show RAWHIDE,­ an actor named Clint Eastwood, ­and cast him as the amoral, mysterious gunslinger cinema audiences around the world would come to embrace as “the Man With No Name.” The film, A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, was so successful, it spawned two sequels: FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE and the stunning epic, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY.

Bullets and blood flew—Sergio never shied away from the sadistic nature of his vile characters—and A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS launched the “spaghetti western” and shot the spurs off the classic Hollywood visions of directors John Ford and Howard Hawks. Forget Monument Valley and Ford’s THE SEARCHERS (1956); farewell to Hawks’ RED RIVER (1948); goodbye Stevens’ SHANE (1953), or even Sam Peckinpah’s pre-THE WILD BUNCH (1969) old school saddle flicks like RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY (1962). Once Leone pulled the trigger, the cinematic genre which America created started to mutate as the bullet hit the bone. A once vibrant but now stagnant genre was forced to either evolve or die.

Nihilism. Blood. Sweat. More blood, more sweat. Ford and Hawks and their fellow saddle riders had created a paradigm of moral certitude in which good was GOOD and evil was EVIL, a landscape of moral regeneration whereby a Man With A Good Heart and a Moral Cause could save the day via a chivalrous, judicious use of a six shooter at high noon and win the arms of a Good Woman. Well, Leone shot the horse they rode into town on.

You’ve likely seen it on TV; maybe you’ve rented the DVD, and you think you know A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. But unless you see Leone’s widescreen vision in a movie theater, you ain’t seen dirt, cowhand.

FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE screens Sat. July 9, 3 PM and 7:30 PM.
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY screens August 13, 3 PM, 7:30 PM.

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