Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on March 21, 2013
Lee Marvin was a lot of things. He was an Oscar winning actor, a decorated soldier, a devoted father, an avid big game fisherman and a heavy drinker. He was also a great storyteller and this is apparent when you watch interviews with the man or read the personal account of his WW2 experiences included in Lee: A Romance by his second wife, Pamela Marvin. Unfortunately Lee Marvin didn’t write an autobiography before he died in 1987 but a group of creative writers working with the independent publisher Crime Factory have recently combined their talents to bring us LEE, a hardboiled fiction anthology based on the life and times of Lee Marvin. As a longtime admirer of the actor I was skeptical when I first read the book’s description. Could LEE hold my attention? Would these fictional stories contain any of the elements that had originally made Marvin such a mesmerizing screen presence? The answer to both of these questions is a resounding yes.
LEE is a surprisingly smart, fun and downright entertaining read. It has an undeniably pulpy feel and a masculine edge that’s reminiscent of early crime fiction but it’s also laugh out loud funny at times, as well as thoughtful, perceptive and engaging. The book contains a lively introduction by Mike White, author of Impossibly Funky: A Cashiers du Cinemart Collection, which I previously reviewed for the Movie Morlocks and the list of contributors include Andrew Nette, Scott Phillips, Heath Lowrance, Roger Smith, Johnny Shaw, Jenna Bass, Adrian McKinty, Jake Hinkson, Ray Banks, James Hopwood, Erik Lundy, Eric Beetner, Luke Preston, Nigel Bird, Ryan K. Lindsay, Cameron Ashley and Jimmy Callaway. When I dove into the book I quickly discovered that these writers are devoted Lee Marvin fans and their appreciation for the man and his movies is apparent in every story. Many of them have clearly studied his speech patterns and emulate the way Marvin turned a phrase or tossed off a joke. Movie buffs will enjoy spotting the generous references LEE makes to some of Marvin’s films such as SHACK OUT ON 101 (1955), THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (1962), SHIP OF FOOLS (1965), POINT BLANK (1967), HELL IN THE PACIFIC (1968), PAINT YOUR WAGON (1969) and POCKET MONEY (1972) as well as the nods to various directors and costars he worked with throughout his career. The authors of LEE maintain that the book is purely fiction but there are components of truth that run through many of the stories. And observant readers should appreciate the inventive ways these writers deconstruct and reimagine the actor’s very real history.
If you want to know who Lee Marvin was there are some great documentaries and biographies available about the man but LEE offers his fans something completely different. Something that’s almost transcendent and occasionally more insightful than you might expect. This fictional look at Lee Marvin’s life gets inside the actor’s head and allows us to imagine him taking a bullet for director John Ford, exchanging jokes with Richard Burton backstage during the 1966 Academy Awards, attending one of Vivian Leigh’s dinner parties, getting drunk with Murray Hamilton, coming to blows with the Feds over their treatment of Jean Seberg, fishing for marlin in Queensland and tripping on drug laced cigarettes given to him by Andy Warhol. It’s historical fiction that should appeal to classic movie fans who don’t mind salty language and adult situations. These are stories about Lee Marvin after all and he wasn’t a saint but he was a fascinating man and a truly talented performer. In its own very unique way LEE manages to successfully capture some of Lee Marvin’s rugged appeal and gritty charm.
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