Lee Marvin's name appeared twice on movie marquees in 1972. He had already put 20 years into the entertainment industry, had won its most prestigious award and was at the top of his game. That February he turned 48. He had had a dozen more feature films ahead of him and fifteen years to live.

" />

Lee Marvin's name appeared twice on movie marquees in 1972. He had already put 20 years into the entertainment industry, had won its most prestigious award and was at the top of his game. That February he turned 48. He had had a dozen more feature films ahead of him and fifteen years to live.

" />

Lee Marvin's name appeared twice on movie marquees in 1972. He had already put 20 years into the entertainment industry, had won its most prestigious award and was at the top of his game. That February he turned 48. He had had a dozen more feature films ahead of him and fifteen years to live.

" />

At The Top, Looking Down: Lee Marvin in 1972

 

“They say that every man has his star, that a guy should find his star out there. Unless he doesn’t have one… which is maybe the case with me. If what they’re sayin’ is right, then guys could just follow their stars. But not me, ‘cuz I don’t have one.”

From Pocket Money

In 1972, Lee Marvin had been active in film and television for over twenty years. The WWII veteran was an Oscar®, Golden Globe and Silver Berlin Bear winner (for Cat Ballou) and a two-time recipient of the tony British Academy of Film and Television Award (for The Killers and Cat Ballou). He had produced and starred in his own television series (M-Squad for NBC) and had since 1965 been granted name-above-the-title status. In the years following his Oscar win, Marvin pounded out signature performances in The Professionals (1966), Point Blank (1967) and The Dirty Dozen (1968). Late life success had given him the cachet to pick more offbeat projects, from John Boorman’s rugged two-hander Hell in the Pacific (1968) with Toshiro Mifune to William Fraker’s revisionist western Monte Walsh (1970). Ever his own man, Marvin had turned down a role in The Wild Bunch (1969) to sing and dance as the star of Joshua Logan’s Paint Your Wagon (1969). In February of 1972, Lee Marvin turned 48. He had a dozen more feature films ahead of him and fifteen years to live.

Lee Marvin in POCKET MONEY

Lee Marvin’s name appeared twice on movie marquees in 1972. Both films were produced for and distributed by National General Pictures, an independent outfit acquired by Warner Brothers. NGP snuck Pocket Money out in February, typically a time of year in which studios dump their most unpromising product. Costarring Paul Newman and directed by Newman associate Stuart Rosenberg, Pocket Money followed a pair of lovable losers as they try to make a buck in the cattle business. John Gay’s adaptation opened up the novel by Tucson-based wrangler turned wordsmith J.P.S. Brown to make the property a buddy picture. (Even with this tailoring, Marvin doesn’t make his appearance for over 20 minutes.) Terence Malick’s shooting script is rich in comically meandering dialogue that fell flat on 1972 ears but plays better post-Jarmush, post-Coen Brothers. Two character studies for the price of one, Pocket Money evinces a negative capability bordering on Heideggerian gelassenheit, with its laconic antiheroes showing, for all their frustrations and failures, a core faith allowing uncertainty to remain uncertain. The film stops rather than ends, leaving Newman and Marvin as holy fools in a Waiting for Godot limbo. Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert called Pocket Money “all style, no movie” and nobody showed. The film’s poor reputation has followed it to DVD, where one critic branded it “the weak link” of Warner Home Video’s Paul Newman Collection. Another Internet wag evaluating the box set went on to declare that, although Pocket Money was the only Lee Marvin film he had seen, The Dirty Dozen was the "only film he's been in that still seems to be relevant.” Kid, you just had to be there.

"You haven't changed a bit, Nick."
"Nobody does. Not where it counts."

from Prime Cut

Lee Marvin in PRIME CUT

In June of 1972, NGP (in conjunction with Cinema Center Films) released Michael Ritchie’s Prime Cut, a bizarre take on the gangster genre that manages to be highly stylish and pared down to comic book efficiency. Barely feature length, the film follows Marvin’s Chicago enforcer Nick Devlin to Kansas to collect a fortune in skimmed profits from renegade wheeler/white slaver Gene Hackman. Playing former good friends who let a bad woman (Angel Tompkins) between them, Marvin and Hackman share a couple of strong scenes with ripe, quotable dialogue courtesy of Robert Dillon (who went from this to the Hackman starrer French Connection II) yet the bulk of Prime Cut is taken up with a string of improbable and mostly wordless setpieces that play by their own lunatic logic: a dead Mafiosi being reduced to sausages, a cattle auction of drugged, naked runaways (one of them Sissy Spacek), Marvin and Spacek scrambling to avoid a predatory wheat thresher, said reaper’s consummation of a Cadillac and Marvin piloting a big rig through a greenhouse as long as a football field as he makes a beeline to skin Hackman’s hide.

From PRIME CUT title sequence

While the hopeless hardcases of Pocket Money were perpetually on the outside looking in, Prime Cut is a story of insiders, with Devlin realizing his world is dead and that life is only possible off the grid, in the arms of Spacek’s winsome naïf. (Director Ritchie and titles designer Don Record suggest that all the world’s a slaughterhouse as early as the title sequence, in which the principal players have their names neatly bisected.) While Hackman’s progressive, civic-minded gangster seems to be the face of the future of organized crime, his world is in-bred (Plan 9 from Outer Space star Gregory Walcott is a hoot as Hackman’s meathead brother Weenie) and cannibalistic to boot, paving the way for the horrors of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) two years later. While characters throughout mourn the passing of the good old days, Prime Cut ends on an unexpected hopeful note, as Marvin rides into Missouri to free the virginal inhabitants of the “orphanage” where Spacek was kept in captivity and prepped to feed a world hungry for flesh and dope. Critics and audiences were once again left scratching their heads. Prime Cut was both squarely of its time and ahead of its time, leaving us with the paradox that, while present day audiences are more comfortable with its sense of the absurd, no present day studio chief would dare release it.

“I only make movies to finance my fishing.” Lee Marvin

Post-1972, one senses that Marvin had a notion that things were all downhill from where he stood. To play Eugene O'Neill's periodical drunk antihero in John Frankenheimer’s adaptation of The Iceman Cometh (1973), Marvin no doubt took a considerable pay cut, the price of prestige. And the curse of Paint Your Wagon old coot roles even though he was not yet 50. He was a wily old hobo in Emperor of the North Pole (1973) and an aging outlaw in The Spikes Gang (1974), leading a an outfit of kids as his Man Who Shot Liberty Valance costar John Wayne had done in The Cowboys two years earlier. Marvin sat out the rest of the decade in bum assignments, from the astonishingly wrongheaded The Klansman (1974) and the Cat Ballouesque comedy The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday (1976) to the all-star, no-stars espionage bomb Avalanche Express (1979). Like a condemned man waiting for the axe to fall, Marvin's best work was when he was the most distracted.  In the triptych of The Big Red One (1980), Death Hunt (1981) and Gorky Park (1984), the old Marvin magic shone through but after that it was all glum paychecks, just fishing money. Yves Boisset’s Canicule (US: Dog Day, 1984) references Prime Cut’s wheat field scene in its opening frames, with Marvin an American bank robber on the run in rural France. The opening does have a startling visual quality but Marvin spends too much of the flick hiding in a barn. The made for television The Dirty Dozen: The Next Mission (1985) was a pointless sequel and Menahem Golan’s The Delta Force (1986) pushed Marvin aside to make room for action star Chuck Norris. With the Norris the shape of the new American hero, there was no place at the table for Lee Marvin. He died the next year, on August 29, 1987, twenty years ago today.

6 Responses At The Top, Looking Down: Lee Marvin in 1972
Posted By Mark U. : September 4, 2007 7:55 pm

I watched POCKET MONEY recently and it still doesn't quite click. It must have been a complete enigma at the time. Your reference to Jim Jarmusch's films is completely appropriate but this one still falls flat. Maybe in another 20 years it will seem like a post-post-modern masterpiece. PRIME CUT, however, is a major guilty pleasure. Not a date movie. The scene with the drugged underage cuties in a bullpen waiting to be selected by gangster thugs would turn any woman into a raving feminist. Angel Tompkins, on the other hand, is one tough cookie and a fantasy sexpot to rival the great Claudia Jennings.

Posted By Mark U. : September 4, 2007 7:55 pm

I watched POCKET MONEY recently and it still doesn't quite click. It must have been a complete enigma at the time. Your reference to Jim Jarmusch's films is completely appropriate but this one still falls flat. Maybe in another 20 years it will seem like a post-post-modern masterpiece. PRIME CUT, however, is a major guilty pleasure. Not a date movie. The scene with the drugged underage cuties in a bullpen waiting to be selected by gangster thugs would turn any woman into a raving feminist. Angel Tompkins, on the other hand, is one tough cookie and a fantasy sexpot to rival the great Claudia Jennings.

Posted By Jimmy : January 12, 2009 11:25 am

I don’t understand the hate that gets tossed at “Pocket Money” – the movie is wonderfully quirky and full of low-key humor (see, for example, Marvin’s split-second, hung-over freakout over a pidgeon sitting on the piece of soap he grabs in the opening few minutes; it is absolutely terrific). Marvin’s insane, lovable loser proves once again that “bad guys” playing against type make for great comedy.

Posted By Jimmy : January 12, 2009 11:25 am

I don’t understand the hate that gets tossed at “Pocket Money” – the movie is wonderfully quirky and full of low-key humor (see, for example, Marvin’s split-second, hung-over freakout over a pidgeon sitting on the piece of soap he grabs in the opening few minutes; it is absolutely terrific). Marvin’s insane, lovable loser proves once again that “bad guys” playing against type make for great comedy.

Posted By Phil : August 25, 2009 2:24 am

Yep, Pocket Money “doesn’t click” and it’s “all style, no movie” and just about everything else bad said about it, but it’s also great. It IS about two nobodies who go nowhere and do nothing, so what did people excepct? Well, they DID do “something,” but it didn’t amount to much. The Jarmusch/Coen comparisons are valid, I have been making them for many years. What do people WANT from movies, anyway? Ever think that it’s your EXPECTATIONS that are the problem? Most films, even the good ones, just disappear in the memory. Question: what won Best Picture five years ago? Ten years ago? Only an obsessive movie nerd could answer that and most can’t. Time makes things like an “exciting plot” irrelevant for most movies and what was thrilling yesterday is usually less-so as time goes on. What if Pocket Money had an exciting plot? Would it be just as exciting today? Would that have changed anybody’s mind about it? Probably not, and it would be just as forgotten today. I can squeeze more useful lines and memorable scenes out of Pocket Money than I can many a supposedly “great” film. That’s enough. The only “bad” thing I could say about Pocket Money is that it’s a bit of an “acquired taste” but somehow that doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. Millions thought and continue to think that Forest Gump was utterly fantastic, but I thought it was crap. Some people’s dismissal of Pocket Money has no greater weight than my dismissal of Gump. Case closed.

Posted By Phil : August 25, 2009 2:24 am

Yep, Pocket Money “doesn’t click” and it’s “all style, no movie” and just about everything else bad said about it, but it’s also great. It IS about two nobodies who go nowhere and do nothing, so what did people excepct? Well, they DID do “something,” but it didn’t amount to much. The Jarmusch/Coen comparisons are valid, I have been making them for many years. What do people WANT from movies, anyway? Ever think that it’s your EXPECTATIONS that are the problem? Most films, even the good ones, just disappear in the memory. Question: what won Best Picture five years ago? Ten years ago? Only an obsessive movie nerd could answer that and most can’t. Time makes things like an “exciting plot” irrelevant for most movies and what was thrilling yesterday is usually less-so as time goes on. What if Pocket Money had an exciting plot? Would it be just as exciting today? Would that have changed anybody’s mind about it? Probably not, and it would be just as forgotten today. I can squeeze more useful lines and memorable scenes out of Pocket Money than I can many a supposedly “great” film. That’s enough. The only “bad” thing I could say about Pocket Money is that it’s a bit of an “acquired taste” but somehow that doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. Millions thought and continue to think that Forest Gump was utterly fantastic, but I thought it was crap. Some people’s dismissal of Pocket Money has no greater weight than my dismissal of Gump. Case closed.

Leave a Reply

Current ye@r *

Streamline is the official blog of FilmStruck, a new subscription service that offers film aficionados a comprehensive library of films including an eclectic mix of contemporary and classic art house, indie, foreign and cult films.