So said Mr Blonde in Reservoir Dogs. Well, who isn’t. Today would have been the late, great, Lee Marvin’s 90th birthday. One of the truly great character/lead actors of this or any generation. A hard drinking, tough looking hombre who graced our screens in over 100 films. I could pick so many great performances but I’ll select my favourites here.


Named after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, who was his second cousin three times removed. Prematurely white-haired character star who began as a supporting player of generally vicious demeanor, then metamorphosed into a star of both action and drama projects, Lee Marvin was born in New York City to Lamont Waltman Marvin, an advertising executive, and his wife Courtenay Washington Davidge, a fashion writer. The young Marvin was thrown out of dozens of schools bad behaviour. His parents took him to Florida, where he attended St. Leo’s Preparatory School near Dade City. Dismissed there as well, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps at the beginning of World War II. In the battle of Saipan in June 1944, he was wounded in the buttocks by Japanese fire which severed his sciatic nerve. He received a medical discharge and got menial work as a plumber’s apprentice in Woodstock, NY. While repairing a toilet at the local community theater, he was asked to replace an ailing actor in a rehearsal. He was immediately stricken with a love for the theater and went to New York City, where he studied and played small roles in stock and Off-Broadway. He landed an extra role in Henry Hathaway’s – You’re In The Navy Now and found his role expanded when Hathaway took a liking to him.

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Lee Marvin on Henry Hathaway and the war.

Returning to the stage, he made his Broadway debut in “Billy Budd”, and after a succession of small TV roles, moved to Hollywood, where he began playing heavies and cops in roles of increasing size and frequency. Given a leading role in Eight Iron Men  (1952), he followed it with enormously memorable heavies in:

The Big Heat (1953) opposite Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Carolyn Jones (Morticia from The Addams Family TV series) and directed by Fritz Lang.

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The Wild One (1953) opposite Marlon Brando.

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He could not ride a motorcycle at the time The Wild One was filmed but, determined not to be bettered by the star, Marlon Brando,  he quickly learned. He later became a keen competitor on his Triumph 200cc Tiger Cub in desert races.

He respected Brando “Brando is not exactly a generous actor, he doesn’t give. But he does make demands on you and if you don’t come through then he’ll run right over the top of you.”

Lee Marvin on M Squad and Marlon Brando

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) where he took on a one-armed Spencer Tracy (and lost). John Sturges directed a cracking cast that included Robert Ryan and Ernest Borgnine, both of whom would work with Lee in the future.

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Attack (1956) directed by Robert Aldrich with Jack Palance, Eddie Albert, Richard Jaeckel, Buddy Ebsen, Strother Martin.

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Lee Marvin on Robert Aldrich

They  established Lee as a major screen villain, and he began shifting toward leading roles with a successful run as a police detective in the TV series M Squad (1957). A few TV shows (Twilight Zone, The Untouchables, Bonanza, Wagon Train) and a few small films (Raintree County, The Rack, and The Comancheros with John Wayne) led to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance ((1962) with The Duke, James Stewart, Vera Miles, Ed O’Brien, John Carradine, Woody Strode, Strother Martin, Lee Van Cleef, and Denver Pyle.

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Another film with John Wayne in 1963, Donovan’s Reef. Marvin played Thomas Aloysius “Boats” Gilhooley, what a great character name.

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The Killers (1964) directed by Don Siegel featured Angie Dickinson, John Cassavetes, Claude Akins and an actor called Ronald Reagan (who didn’t really do very much with the rest of his life!)

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An Oscar for his dual role as a drunken gunfighter and his evil, noseless brother in the western comedy Cat Ballou one really saw coming. A fabulous cast, Jane Fonda as the eponymous Cat, a Greek chorus of Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye.

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Quite a line up for the main Oscars, Lee Marvin, Best Actor for Cat Ballou, Julie Christie, Best Actress for Darling, Shelley Winters, Best Supporting Actress for A Patch of Blue and Martin Balsam, Best Supporting Actor for A Thousand Clowns.

Lee Marvin Oscar Speech.

Ship of Fools in 1965 and then director Richard Brooks (who also produced) assembled a cracking cast for The Professionals (1966). Marvin, Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan, Woody Strode, Claudia Cardinale, Jack Palance, Ralph Bellamy. Shot outside Las Vegas in dreadful weather conditions, it remains one of the great westerns.

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Properly in his stride, next up was a seminal war film, The Dirty Dozen (1967)

While serving in the Marine Corps he became best friends with John Miara of Malden, MA. Miara became Marvin’s model for the character of Maj. Reisman in  The Dirty Dozen.

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Robert Aldrich assembled an amazing cast, headed by Marvin with old pal Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, John Cassavetes, Jim Brown, Richard Jaekel, George Kennedy, Trini Lopez, Robert Ryan, Telly Savalas, Donald Sutherland, Clint Walker.

He was not always complimentary about the films he made, he said this about The Dirty Dozen:

” I studied violin when I was very young. You think I’m a dummy, right? I’m only in dummies. The Dirty Dozen  was a dummy moneymaker, and baby, if you want a moneymaker, get a dummy.”

The following year he made one of the great noir thrillers of all time, Point Blank 91967) a truly superb film directed by John Boorman,

Point Blank trailer

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Donald Westlake writer of Point Blank

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John Boorman  film about Lee Marvin

Hell in the Pacific, in 1968 was a two hander with Toshiru Mifune set on a deserted island. Directed again by John Boorman, a stunning tale of survival. a suoerb anti-war film.

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Marvin on his performance in Hell in the Pacific – “Well, I tried to deliver the most realistic performance I could. It’s a story of survival in the South Pacific during World War II – not what berry to pick or what root to gnaw on but the psyche of survival, which is what really keeps you alive, aside from water and food. The plot concerns the confrontation between an American Marine fighter pilot and a Japanese naval officer who have been marooned on a deserted Pacific island. They’re men at war who have to learn to live with each other in order to survive, despite the barriers of race, ideology and language.”

Maybe he needed a break from the tough guy films of recent times.

Clint Eastwood singing? Enough to drive a man to drink. Well, also to the top of the charts. Wandering Star from Paint Your Wagon (1969) hit the top of the charts all over the world earing him a gold record for sales over 1 million.

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Lee Marvin – Wandering Star

Marvin then teamed up with old pal Jack Palance who starred with him in Attack and The Professionals for Monte Walsh.

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Monte Walsh clip

Monte Walsh frame

In 1972 he teamed up with Gene Hackman to star as a mob enforcer settling a debt with rancher Hackman. Violent and nasty, this also saw Sissy Spacek make her film debut a year before Badlands.

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Prime Cut trailer

Next came his role as A No 1 , super tramp in Emperor of the North (also known as Emperor of the North Pole). Once again teamed with Ernest Borgnine and a young Keith Carradine..

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Emperor of the North Trailer

In 1974 he made one of his most controversial films, Klansman, directed by Terence Young (Dr No, Thunderball) treading similar themes to In the Heat of the Night with racial tension, Marvin plays the local sheriff trying to keep the peace when O.J.Simpson is accused of rape. Strong supporting cast with Richard Burton, Linda (Dynasty) Evans and The Staple Sisters! Banned for years due to it’s racist content and use of language, it now serves as the sort of film that should never be made again.

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Lee Marvin on filming The Klansman with Richard Burton, who was very sick.  “It was a wonder he [Burton] could move at all, but you have to hand it to him, he had guts, and I admired that. He never complained of being in pain. I’d say “Rich, are you okay?” and he’d say, “Just a little discomfort.” Discomfort! Jesus, the guy was in fucking agony…. I said to him, “Rich, you can’t go on like this.” He gave me that defiant Welsh look of his and said “Just watch me”, but I could see tears in his eyes. He was crying out for help and I couldn’t do anything for him.”

The Klansman trailer.

Shout at the Devil in 1976 teamed Marvin with Roger Moore and the drop dead gorgeous Barbara Parkins.

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Great Scout and Cat House Thursday (1976) with Oliver Reed and Robert Culp, Avalanche Express (1979) with Robert Shaw and once again Linda Evans, The Big Red One (1980) featuring world superstar Luke Skywalker, Mark Hamill, Death Hunt with old pal Charlie Bronson then Gorky Park (1983).

A softer role, as an American “fixer” in Moscow with William Hurt and Brian Dennehy, Michael Elphick and Joanna Pacula.

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Lee Marvin talks about Gorky Park
He then lined up with Chuck Norris for The Delta Force (1986) alongside Martin Balsam, Robert Forster, Joey Bishop, George Kennedy, Bo Svenson, Robert Vaughn, Shelley Winters (three out of the four Oscar winning stars from 1965).
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Almost as interesting as that list of great films is the list of films he turned down:
He was Steven Spielberg’s first choice to play Quint in Jaws. He turned down the lead role of Gen. George S. Patton Jr. in Patton (1970) because he did not want to glorify war (George C Scott won the Oscar that year for his portrayal of Patton).
 He was offered the role of Col. Douglas Mortimer in For A Few Dollars More (1965), but turned it down to star in Cat Ballou. Lee Van Cleef did a great job in that role thankfully. He was offered the lead in The War of the Worlds (1953).
He turned down William Holden’s role in The Wild Bunch (1969) in order to make Paint Your Wagon  (1969), for which he had been offered $1 million plus a percentage of the profits. However, the movie was a notorious failure on release. He turned down the role of Col. Trautman in First Blood  (1982), as he didn’t want to play a colonel. He turned down two movies directed by William Friedkin, The French Connection and Sorceror (1977). He turned down Salvador  (1986). He turned down Dirty Harry (1971) and Death Wish  (1974), both vigilante-themed movies. Marvin was director Sidney Lumet’s first choice for Paul Kersey in “Death Wish”, but Lumet dropped out and Marvin was no longer interested because of it.
Michael Winner took over directorial duties, in came Charles Bronson and hey presto, massive hit.
      Lee Marvin 4 Pocket Money, pic by Terry O'Neill
Sadly, Lee Marvin died of a heart attack on 29th August 1987. Just 63, he could have made some great films in later life.