by Dwayne Epstein, afterword by Christopher Marvin
(Schaffner Press, $27.95)
Reviewed by Larry Cox
Much of what we think we know about Lee Marvin is gleaned from his tough-guy film roles. Some of his performances remain as chilling as when they were first released. For example, who could forget Marvin in John Ford’s “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” the brutality of “The Big Red One” and his impressive turn in the iconic “The Dirty Dozen.” Then there’s his Oscar-winning dual role in “Cat Ballou.”
Although his work helped establish Marvin as one of the industry’s most impressive actors, not much has been revealed about his personal life, even his combat experiences as a Marine during World War II.
What makes this new biography so intriguing is that author Dwayne Epstein researched Marvin for several years, interviewing dozens of members of the acting profession in addition to his closest friends and family members. The result is a balanced book with even more depth than the previous full-length biography of Marvin, which was published before his death in 1987 at age 63.
According to Epstein, more than 100 people were interviewed for this project. Two standouts include Lee’s brother, Robert, and the actor’s first wife, Betty. Others who offered insight include actors Angie Dickinson and Jack Palance, and directors John Frankenheimer and Stanley Kramer.
A critic for The New York Times nicknamed Marvin “The Merchant of Menace” after seeing him shoot a scene in “The Big Heat.” This film was notable for the scene where Marvin’s character tosses a pot of scalding coffee into Gloria Grahame’s face. It was only a supporting role, but the actor left his indelible mark on the final product. Ironically, it wasn’t feature films that made Marvin a household name, but a TV series, “M Squad,” which debuted in 1957.
“Point Blank” is a rollicking narrative that comes about as close to the authentic Marvin as we are apt to get.