31 March 2005 | inspectors71
Lee Marvin vs. Ronald Reagan--What a matchup!
One of Hollywood's greater contract directors, Donald Siegel, brought Hemmingway's short story to TV, but NBC turned it down because, for 1964, it was too damn brutal. Although it pales in comparison to the 1946 original, this cheap (thanks to the gawd-awful production values of Universal in the sixties) remake holds it own.
When button-men Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager show up at a school for the blind to empty their silenced revolvers into former race-car driver John Cassavetes, they don't expect him to just stand there and take it. Marvin, exuding clean-smelling and lean menace and Gulager, a carrot-juice swilling sociopath travel cross-country in their search for Cassavetes' story. They find that the race driver, washed up after a near-fatal crash gains employment with mobster Ronald Reagan (I can just see Ronnie giving Gorbachev the same look at the 1986 summit that he gives Cassavetes when the driver challenges the mobster for control of Reagan's girl, Angie Dickinson). After lots of double-crosses and a fair amount of "why did he or she do that?," Marvin comes calling at Reagan's door.
Lee Marvin was excellent when portraying a killing machine and he holds the movie together. He and Gulager are there to punctuate the sometimes good and sometimes not-so-good flashbacks and they are suave and eerily debonair grim reapers. If anything, they're more interesting than the flashbacks; all good action flicks need good bad guys and Reagan looks too bored with the whole thing. Is it possible that, after seeing him so successful and upbeat for eight years in the White House, a grim and petty Reagan seems anachronistic? Yet, it really is Marvin who makes this movie rise above the cheap production values, the cheesy matte photography, and the canned John(ny) Williams score.
Marvin was about to begin a string of successes that would last into the early seventies. That voice is so distinctive! When he talked, he sounded, as another reviewer once said, "like a dinosaur growling." He is so evil and you can't stop liking him. Although Marvin and Robert DeNiro are completely different actors, they both have the same effect on me when they inhabit the screen--I stop doing everything else and just watch them. Pure charisma. When asked by David Letterman why he was so popular, Lee Marvin simply grinned and, with his index finger extended, growled, "Ratatatat!" Don Siegel would go on to make other tough movies; his style was clean, tough, and with just enough style to leave the audience with a satisfied taste in it's mouth. Under his direction, Clint Eastwood would establish himself as a superstar. One can only imagine how far Marvin would have gotten under the command of the button-man director!