There are few celebrities who both fascinate and scare me in equal measure. These are the people I would love to spend time with, but would still be like a cat on a hot tin roof around for fear that my jaw could be dislocated at any moment should the mood strike them. If you’re reading this review, it should go without saying (but I’m saying it anyway) that one of these people is Lee Marvin. Here was a man who lived life large; who drank and fought and whored around with a seemingly gleeful, unapologetic abandon. Yet he was a man who could do all of those things all night long and never let that stop him from giving every ounce of his being in his performances (or perhaps because he lived his lifestyle the way he did). You believe every word that comes out of this man’s mouth onscreen, because he doesn’t care if you’re impressed by him. Though I’m by no means a Marvin expert, I feel confident in saying that his was a life of true freedom. We were simply allowed a vaguely tinted window onto it from time to time. But I’d still pack some brass knuckles if we ever went out drinking.
And so the good folks over at Crime Factory came up with this anthology, a chronological collection of seventeen fictional stories based on, perhaps, not Marvin the person so much as Marvin the idea. And it’s a great idea. Most (but not all) of the stories use Lee’s filmography as, at the very least, a backdrop (and no Delta Force story?!), and each piece very wisely tries to include multiple aspects of Marvin’s personality. Some, like 1954: Out On The 101 by Jake Hinkson and 1980: The Big Red One by Johnny Shaw are total flights of fancy, while others, such as Jenna Bass’s 1964: A Sort Of Intellectual and 1968: Gone Fishing by Andrew Nette are more grounded, though there’s more than enough imagination and skill on display to keep the reader involved throughout each of the variegated narratives.
Of course, when you have multiple authors attacking one subject, their approaches are going to vary (why else have a collection of writers?), and they certainly do here. Some tales are more lyrical, others more understated; some are coarse, others almost genteel. For as much as the parts are their own, though (and you could certainly read the book out of order without detracting from the experience), the pieces fit together snugly by the end. Every author herein has certainly brought their A game to LEE, and their care for the subject shines through, whether they’re talking about the proportions of Marvin’s manhood or the strength of his moral character. As with the totality of humankind, Lee Marvin was more than any one thing. This wonderful anthology embraces all of the man’s aspects, even (perhaps especially) the uglier ones and it does it with verve and dexterity, creating a verisimilitudinous portrait of a complex personality. Even the most casual of the actor’s fans will find themselves wholly intrigued and thoroughly captivated by this engrossing album. This is Lee Marvin done right.