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The Dirty Dozen Review

Can The Dirty Dozen really be 40 years old? Well, almost. This watershed film paved the ways for bad-guys-as-heroes flicks ranging from The Wild Bunch to Reservoir Dogs, and its influence is still felt today. Yet how can The Dirty Dozen feel so tired when viewed in this millennium? Maybe its a cast that, though exquisite, is a bit much. The Dirty Dozen also appears to have paved the way for the Airport movies, studded with megastars and short on plot. Viewed today, too much of Dozen is schlocky and trite, reliant on stereotypes that border on Hogan's Heroes-level characterizations to tell the WWII-era story. (Writ large: 12 career criminals are given a last chance to pull off a major anti-Nazi mission.) The film is pioneering, daring, and very well made. But there's a bit much to go around, and now you can see the actors jockeying for notice among each other. Still a good film, though its impact is now starting to fade.

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7 Men From Now Review

It's with a heavy heart that I admit this, both to readers and myself: nobody cares about westerns anymore. Well, maybe Tommy Lee Jones, but he's that all-too-rare exception. It's hard to imagine that not too long ago (the 1940s and '50s) westerns were considered high entertainment, only exceeded by comedies and musicals. And though the genre was dominated by masters like John Ford and Howard Hawks, a film like Budd Boetticher's 7 Men from Now still got some attention from viewers. These days, without major critical hype and publicity, you wonder if it would even make a bleep on the radar.

An obvious forbearer to Clint Eastwood's groundbreaking Unforgiven, 7 Men concerns Ben Stride (Randolph Scott), the former sheriff of Silver Springs and a recently widowed drifter. Not a drifter without purpose, however. When seven men held up a Wells Fargo office, they killed Stride's wife and ran off with twenty grand. In a chilling opening scene, Stride kills off two of them in a small cave and then heads off to find the rest. Early in his mission he runs across Annie and John Greer (Gail Russell and Walter Reed, respectively), a couple heading to California to find their fortune. He also runs across an ex-con that he locked up once, Bill Masters (the ever-brilliant Lee Marvin), who agrees to help Stride for the possibility of picking up the stolen loot. But, as always, nothing is as it seems.

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The Professionals Review

This classic but largely forgotten Western is pretty risque for its time, offering not only brief nudity but a damsel in distress who may not be as dainty and innocent as she makes herself out to be. Hired to rescue this "kidnapping victim" from the clutches of evil Mexicans (led by Jack Palance!), a gang of four war veterans (including Burt Lancaster and Lee Marvin) head to their compound, encountering misadventure along the way. It's a little dated and has a few shot-on-bad-studio-set moments, but on the whole it's an impressive film, even if you don't normally care for Westerns.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance Review

James Stewart and Lee Marvin square off in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, the Citizen Kane of westerns -- about a Senator (Stewart) from the old west who returns who for the funeral of an old cowboy friend (the inimitable John Wayne), whereupon he is quizzed about his rise to power as a politician, thanks to his slaying of the evil highwayman Liberty Valance (Marvin). What follows is an unraveling of the legend behind the infamous shootout, when Stewart's pantywaist lawyer somehow outdid the rough-and-tumble villain.

A classic John Ford film (and one of the last black and white westerns to be made), Wayne and Stewart make a great Odd Couple in the podunk town of Shinbone. Unfortunately, the middle of the film sags under the overly patriotic history lessons we are given when Stewart takes it upon himself to teach the locals how to read and write. The ensuing fight for statehood isn't much better, except when Valance comes a-knockin'.

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Paint Your Wagon Review

Having never seen the play or the film, I always figured Paint Your Wagon was about a plucky family of settlers who overcome incredible obstacles as they head across the great, wild west.

Boy, was I wrong. What with Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood's singing, a whorehouse being built, a criminal tunnel being dug under "No Name Town," and a polygamous relationship among Marvin, Eastwood, and local honey Jean Seberg, Paint Your Wagon is so chock full of debauchery one might think Sam Peckinpah had been involved.

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The Wild One Review

When rival motorcycle gangs descend upon a small town, chaos ensues. A great look at how two-wheelers got demonized in the 1950s, featuring what now looks like a cutesy performance by Marlon Brando, before his career went belly up. While it's a reluctant classic and was edgy in its time (and banned for 12 years in Finland), on the whole, The Wild One is now mostly silly.

Prime Cut Review

A guy who turns his enemies into hot dogs and dopes up girls to sell as sex slaves?

Sounds far more interesting than it really is, and as the lead villain, Gene Hackman gets far too little screen time. Prime Cut is Lee Marvin's story, the mob enforcer sent from Chicago to collect half a million dollars in debts from Hackman's "Mary Ann," and decides to rescue poor Poppy (Sissy Spacek in her first speaking role) from Mary Ann's clutches.

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Gorky Park Review

America's obsession with all things Soviet gave us this movie, the inevitable mystery set in the snow-shrouded, fur-hatted land of Russia (though actually shot in Helsinki). With William Hurt and Lee Marvin in the lead roles, it's hard to see how this film could go wrong, and yet it does, quite horribly. Joanna Pacula is wooden in her first movie appearance, as a Russkie ingenue who basically knows everything about why there are three bodies in a Moscow park with their faces ripped off, though she isn't talking to the cops (led by Hurt). Ultimately a mystery is revealed, and boy is it a doozy: it involves fur coats! If I ever have to hear the phrase "the sables" again I think I'll shoot myself. Hopelessly dated and morose -- and much is lost from the bestselling novel.

Point Blank Review

Classic cinema badass Lee Marvin gets a whole movie to strut his stuff in Point Blank, the first cinematic version of the book originally called The Hunter, which was later made into the improbably hit Payback. (The Hunter, of course, can now be found under the title Payback as well.)

The story is almost obliviously simple: Lee Marvin is a mafioso who's been turned on and left for dead. But not quite dead: He comes back (from the grave? who knows...) to get his vengeance. Or more precisely, to get the $93,000 he is owed by his former bosses.

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The Big Red One Review

The cult of Samuel Fuller, while abated somewhat in recent years (if for no other reason than a lack of new films to carp about), is still in full force in most corners of filmdom, and for good reason. Unlike the precious auteurs of the latter part of the century, with their idealistic rages against the monolith of Hollywood, Fuller was a guy who knew how to work within the system, for a time at least, and make movies both his way and in a way that would get the suits to pay for them. While Fuller's heyday was the 1950s and '60s, his last hurrah (with the exception of a couple smaller film and TV projects) didn't come until 1980, when he was almost 70 years old. The Big Red One was meant to be the culmination of a life's work, an epic story that would allow Fuller to use his ugly experiences as a veteran to puncture the hallowed fictions of World War II cinema, while still delivering a rock 'em, sock 'em Lee Marvin war movie.

It didn't come to pass.

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