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'Portrait': A Revealing Look at Lee Marvin

November 17, 1998|KEVIN THOMAS

In his terse and incisive "Lee Marvin: A Personal Portrait," director John Boorman shows us a clip from "Cat Ballou" and tells us that its dual roles reveal "the two faces of Lee Marvin, the actor: the buffoon with the perfect comic timing and the man of violence."

Boorman has only 49 minutes to paint his portrait of Marvin, who died of a heart attack at 63 in 1987 while suffering from emphysema after a 35-year, 55-film career, and the eminent British director uses it with the kind of economy and directness Marvin would have appreciated.

Boorman, Marvin's widow Pamela, his psychiatrist friend Dr. Harry Wilmer and his Marine buddy Robert Filkowsky all agree that the key to Marvin the man and the actor was that he was forever marked by his World War II combat experiences: In Saipan he and Filkowsky were among the handful of survivors in their battalion.

Whereas Wilmer says that Marvin was "dominated by a fear of being trapped and helpless," Pamela Marvin, Filkowsky and William Hurt, with whom he starred in "Gorky Park" (1983), all comment on his protectiveness--as a husband, fellow soldier and an actor.

Hurt remarks that as an actor, Marvin was like a soldier. "He said to me, 'You try to act; let me guard your flank.' "

Boorman chooses clips from the two films he made with Marvin, "Point Blank" (1967) and "Hell in the Pacific" (1968), to show us how the lithe, sinewy actor used his body expressively, and that he trusted his instincts, coming up with unexpected and contradictory responses that charged scenes with fresh meaning and dimensions.


* "Lee Marvin: A Personal Portrait" airs at 7 and 11 tonight on AMC.

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