Thursday, October 21, 2010

Tom Carson on Lee Marvin

Lee Marvin is alarmingly at home in The Dirty Dozen. He almost makes its cynical point of view look respectable, not by finding it profound but simply by enjoying himself in a way that amounts to an endorsement. Facing a crop of newbies all eager to go over big — John Cassavetes and Donald Sutherland, for two — he looks as amused by the idea that they can compete with his serene underplaying as an elephant surrounded by chimps. They're all playing murderers and head cases, but to him it's a given that he's more formidably frightening, because he doesn't need to be psychotic to act this way — just to trust his superior acquaintance with how the world works. He sells the movie by finding nothing in it surprising.

"The Big One" by Tom Carson, GQ, April 2005. With fab illo by Tavis Coburn.


DarkoV said...

IMHO, Lee Marvin is the most American of all actors. Even more so than John Wayne.

...and I get this opinion strictly from seeing some of Lee Marvin's movies with the natives in other countries.

Do you ever notice how he handles guns? He tends to bounce them from hand to hand or simply juggle them, like hot marbles. It's as if he knows that if he simply lets them settle motionless in one hand, someone's going to get shot. Dead.
Have you ever seen Point Blank, an oldie from 1967? I'd recommend it highly.

Whisky Prajer said...

Marvin is one of the few actors to ever cross over from playing the sullen heavy (his 50's meal ticket) to playing the hero, and what makes the shift from villain to protagonist telling is that, from Bogart to Ahn-old, it always means the audience's demands have changed. So far as Marvin goes, you get one guess which shift in America's tectonic plates was responsible for our need to think of this happy ogre as one of the good guys. When Lyndon Johnson's Great Society went up the waterspout in Vietnam, Jack Lemmon became a tragedian. Marvin turned into screen violence's greatest joker.

In terms of what he brought to the party, which was a kind of obscene knoledgeability, it's not irrelevant that he probably saw more World War II combat than any other star. John Wayne, of course, famously never served at all. Ronald Reagan fought the Battle of Culver City, and Jimmy Stewart, to his vast credit, flew B-17 missions over Europe. But they were all famous
before Pearl Harbor. Marvin fought the war as a grunt.

... he knew World War II had to be fought; everyone did. But he also knew that winning it had let loose a new kind of psychosis in American life, and audiences needed his baleful, antic face to let us somehow rationalize that without admitting it. If the war damaged him, no wonder; it damaged everybody. The reason he's disturbing and indelible is that the damage was the making of him.

Most of Tom Carson's work as a columnist is very of-the-moment (as it should be), but this one is a keeper. It's quite a shame it's not available on-line, or in a David Thomson sort of publication, because it's definitely a keeper.

Whisky Prajer said...

Deconstructing Point Blank was one of my foremost priorities when I started this blog, actually. Guess it's time I got to it.

DarkoV said...

That's some heady goal. Mine was simply to see if my ten monkey digits could clang together a posted sentence or two.