Tag Archives: Lee Marvin

Is ‘Big Red One’ a lost classic?

Luke Skywalker, Lewis from 'Revenge of the Nerds' and American badass Lee Marvin kick the Germans of out of Northern Africa and follow them the whole way back to their homeland in 'The Big Red One.'

Luke Skywalker, Lewis from ‘Revenge of the Nerds’ and American silver screen badass Lee Marvin kick the Germans out of Northern Africa and follow them the whole way back to their homeland in ‘The Big Red One.’

The Big Red One is the longest continuously serving division in U.S. Army history, constituted in 1917. In World War II – the period covered by this particular film – the division saw action in Northern Africa, was part of the invasions of Sicily and Normandy, and clashed with the Nazis at the Battle of the Bulge. Yeah, this film has an epic sprawl going on, and it serves the story well.

The Sergeant (Lee Marvin) is a WWI veteran tasked with leading his fresh-faced soldiers through some of the most dangerous theaters of WWII. Private Zab (Robert Carradine, Revenge of the Nerds), a budding author, is the narrator, a wise-ass who is usually the one doing things to lighten the mood. Mark Hamill (Star Wars) is Private Griff, who struggles periodically in combat to keep it together, freezing at inopportune moments. An assortment of other soldiers come and go over the course of their odyssey.

For comparison, I’d call The Big Red One a low-budget Saving Private Ryan. The story and the scenery have the broad scope that Spielberg put together in his film, even going further than Ryan in that “The Bloody First” cover a lot more territory in the Eastern hemisphere over the course of their adventures. The budget … well, let’s just say The Big Red One‘s landing in Normandy is significantly less impressive than Private Ryan‘s.

But, again, like Ryan, it’s the focus on the characters that makes the film, particularly the Sergeant and Private Griff. The Sergeant has seen war before and has clearly been hardened by it. But there are moments, between the bombs and bullets, where the Sergeant finds peace and displays great compassion. He understands the importance of small gestures in the midst of terrible violence, and he finds solace in that.

Griff is torn by fear and his desire to not let down his comrades. The first time he freezes, no one notices amid the smoke and explosions. But at Normandy, his deer-in-the-headlights moment is on display for everyone. He overcomes it, but it’s not exactly a kumbaya moment that snaps him out of it.

The only thing that holds back The Big Red One is Carradine’s narration. While it occasionally serves as a bridge between scenes, particularly when a change of territory or passage of time comes into play, it doesn’t add much and at points is a bit annoying. The film really didn’t need it.

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‘Point Blank’ an uneven entry in Boorman’s portfolio

If you're going to steal Lee Marvin's money and leave him for dead, you better make damn sure you finish the job.

If you’re going to steal Lee Marvin’s money and leave him for dead, you better make damn sure you finish the job.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think director John Boorman’s overrated.

Deliverance is OK, but people only really remember it for the one intense scene in the woods that made Ned Beatty famous. The problem is that intense scene happens early, and the rest of the movie – a trip through the back country in the south while living in fear of being killed by rednecks – fails to match that intensity, until it just sort of sputters to an end. The Tailor of Panama is solid, but its success really hinges more on the quality performances of stars Geoffrey Rush, Pierce Brosnan and Jamie Lee Curtis and John Le Carre’s story than it does Boorman’s direction. Excalibur has its moments, but it now feels dated, not so much because of its Arthurian storyline than the cheesy 1980s-ness that overwhelms the production. And Zardoz … sweet Jesus, I don’t have the time or the inclination to tear into the hot mess. I hope Sir Sean Connery collected a big, fat check for that, because otherwise he was wasting his time.

Point Blank is another example of Boorman coming up short. The film stars Lee Marvin as Walker, a guy who partners with his girlfriend and a pal to steal some illegal funds, then is double-crossed, shot and left for dead. But Walker doesn’t die. And he wants his $60,000. And he doesn’t much care which lowlife gives it to him, either.

Marvin is terrific, all stony rage and clear-headed vengeance. Angie Dickinson is gorgeous and grave as Chris, the sister of Walker’s now-dead ex. Carroll O’Conner does a nice supporting turn as one of the criminals Walker confronts in an attempt to get his cash. There are also a lot of amazing, late-1960s settings and cars that really give the film a unique look.

But it’s not a great film by any means. In this case, the script doesn’t help Boorman much. It’s old-school, low-brow sexist, in one case putting Chris in the uncomfortable position of getting naked with a crime boss and trying to delay any further advances until Walker shows up to save her just before penetration can occur. And there is one sequence where Walker and Chris wait at the home of a criminal for him to return that is just ridiculous, making no sense whatsoever. Behind the camera, Boorman relies on a series of repetitive, quick-cut flashbacks throughout. He seems to be attempting to note the fatalism of it all, that this violence is a cycle which will only lead to more violence. Or maybe history repeats itself. Or karma something. None of which are bad ideas in and of themselves, but it’s vague and clumsy in a way that undercuts Point Blank as a total package.

Maybe I’m too harsh, but sometimes in Hollywood a reputation is earned at one point and continues to exist without being challenged, despite evidence that is contrary to said reputation. I think Boorman looks like someone who falls under that heading.

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