No action movie star in the business today moves like Lee Marvin. Marvin was a panther. He was fast and brutal and because he didn't care if he looked cool, he was the coolest man in any movie. Marvin knew that not talking was scarier than talking, that grunting was better than bragging, and that you punch with your whole body if you want someone to go down hard. He knew these things because he lived them: He was a Marine in World War II, he had an anger problem, and when he drank, he got aggressive (and he drank all the time.) I sure wouldn't have wanted to be his friend, but watching Marvin transform his inner demons into movie tough guys is a huge cinematic pleasure.
Dwayne Epstein's biography Lee Marvin: Point Blank is a fairly adoring look at the actor. It's not a myth-making book—Epstein notes that Marvin liked to exaggerate in his interviews to sound more like a tough guy—but it does take Marvin's side. It's a great life story, ranging from the battlefield to the barroom and packed with bad decisions. Marvin was a plumber who got into acting almost as a mistake (he stayed in the plumber's union his whole life, in case the acting thing fell through) and suffered from PTSD for his entire adult life. He screwed over loved ones and he got in over his head a whole lot. These are the kinds of lives you want to read about.
Point Blank opens with an account of Marvin storming out of Lee Strasberg's famous Actor's Studio while bellowing "fuck you!" and it continues in that way through the very last page. Marvin finds success in TV shows, but he gives such honest interviews about his intentions in promotional interviews that it's a wonder he doesn't get fired: "Cops and robbers series sell. You don't make TV shows for fun—you make them for money." And this:
When asked if the show had a message or a purpose, he said, "The purpose is to enable me to get rich so I can quit the show in three years knowing my wife has a paid-up insurance policy of $100,000 and my kids are taken care of. Then I'll go to Tahiti, take it real easy, and do the Gauguin bit with the paints. As for the message, I have only one—watch the show!"
Epstein's writing is clear and simple. There aren't any sentences that will stop you with their beauty, but there aren't any huge clunkers, either. The research is sound, the chronology is breezy, and the subject is world-class. Lee Marvin may have been an asshole, but he was a unique asshole, and in Hollywood, that makes all the difference.