Until his major success in films (after a stint as a supporting player and the lead of a early 60's Cop show called "M Squad") Marvin played a great variety of characters, from heroic parts in movies like "The Dirty Dozen" (1967), to the American black market fur-dealer in Michael Apted's Moscow -based crime drama "Gorky Park" (1982) to the anti-hero Walker in director John Boorman's "Point Blank", made in 1967. Marvin could hold his own on screen with all major actors he played opposite--including John Wayne, who probably wished he could had Lee Marvin real life biography.
Marvin knew a lot about terror and brutality. As a young man, he was a combat Marine in the Pacific Theater, and received a Purple Heart medal valor in the Battle of Saipan in 1944. The effects of the war left him, according to a recent biographer, with what would today be called post-traumatic stress disorder. He led a hell-raising, heavy-drinking lifestyle in the early post-war years--trying to erase the incredible terrors he saw on the faces of his comrades.. Returning to his hometown of Woodstock, New York, he worked as a plumber with his father and, as legend has it, found his way into a local theater company when he showed up to fix a leaky sink and the director saw the coiled potential for violence and raw energy he needed for the part of a tough guy in play set in a saloon. Whatever the truth of this, that streak of violence and rawness mixed with a quiet and believable authority worked. Twenty year later, Marvin, an international star, would return to Woodstock to care care of his ailing father and, after two failed marriages and several affairs with his leading ladies, reconnected with his high school sweetheart and married her. He turned his back on the Hollywood scene apart from his film roles and lived the rest of his life in New York state and a comfortable suburb of Phoenix, Arizona.
In this next clip Marvin waxes melancholy singing an off-key version of "I Was Born Under a Wanderin' Star" from the California Gold Rush musical "Paint Your Wagon". The film is uneven and too long, but it has its moments and Marvin "sells" this ballad of wanderlust with a great mix of sadness and gusto. Few actors other than Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney could have brought such conviction to this scene.
Marvin's quintessential role for my money is as "Walker" in John Boorman's film noir classic "Point Blank". The material is from a Donald Westlake novel. Walker is a determined man, a career criminal who has been double-crossed by his friends in a heist job. He comes out of prison looking to get his share of the money he is owed and extract a calculated revenge. Marvin's character is a man who only wants what is due to him. It turns out that the crime group he once worked for has gone corporate and crime is now in the hands of white collar operators who can't understand why a man would want butt his hard head against this new Corporate Crime Establishment? Why won't Walker change, and accept his place as part of The System? He is a man out of place in the new order of American White-Collar Crime. It is that unwillingness to do so that makes him an American Rebel, AKA, a figure to root for despite his violent nature.
Walker is a haunted man--an old-time robber lost in a world of the late 1960's Los Angeles psychadelica, with the criminals now faux hipsters toting wallets full of credit cards and living in penthouses, sheltered from their crimes by pay-offs to the law made with money managed by fat, sharp -eyed accountants who have twenty-year mortgages on a house in the valley, nice offices with corner views in the city and pretty secretaries. The world has moved on and his kind of "eye for an eye" restitution befuddles these suburban crooks and bagmen who just want a quiet life. Walker moves too fast, is too single-minded and unreasonable, and won't stop. He wants $93,000, what he feels is his due, and nothing more.
Marvin went on to other major parts and made a lasting mark in American cinema and with critics all over the world. There may be a few "Lee Marvin" types around today , but only one was the genuine article.