Looking back at movie legends Jack Palance, George Kennedy, and Lee Marvin.
We thought we’d spend some quality time with three legends whose birthdays happen to fall during this Presidents Day weekend. But rather than recommend their more high-profile movies, we opted to dig a bit deeper for a few overlooked or underrated westerns from Jack Palance, George Kennedy (pictured above), and Lee Marvin. Just click on the titles, and you’ll see where to find them.
Jack Palance in The Desperados
Long after he scored an indelibly intimidating impact as hired gun Jack Wilson in the classic 1953 western Shane, Jack Palance (born Feb. 18, 1919) continued to be a fearsome presence in several Spaghetti Westerns (and Spaghetti Western-flavored, American-produced oaters) throughout the 1960s and ’70s. Exhibit A: The Desperados, a 1969 filmed-in-Madrid action drama featuring Palance as Josiah Galt, the fanatical leader of Southern-sympathizing marauders who continue to wreak bloody havoc long after the Civil War ends. Directed by Henry Levin (Where the Boys Are, Journey to the Center of the Earth), the movie focuses on the efforts of David Galt (Vincent Edwards), Josiah’s conscience-stricken son, to leave the ranks of his father’s outfit, even as his brothers Jacob (George Maharis) and Adam (Christian Roberts) remain loyal to dear old dad. After barely escaping execution as a “traitor,” David reunites with his wife Laura (Sylvia Syms) and their young son to start a new life under assumed names in a Texas town. Life there is peaceful — for a while. But then comes the day for a fateful family reunion.
George Kennedy in Guns of the Magnificent Seven
George Kennedy (born Feb. 18, 1925) enjoyed a brief run as a top-billed movie lead after earning an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor for Cool Hand Luke (1967). Indeed, he possessed sufficient star power to take over Yul Brynner’s role as gunslinger Chris Adams in Guns of the Magnificent Seven (1969), the second sequel (after 1966’s Return of the Seven) to The Magnificent Seven (1960). Kennedy rides tall as the straight-shooting hero, who rises to the occasion when asked to free an imprisoned Mexican revolutionary (Fernando Rey), and he’s capably backed by co-stars Monte Markham, James Whitmore, Joe Don Baker, Bernie Casey, Reni Santoni, and Scott Thomas. Better still, composer Elmer Bernstein repeatedly reprises his original Magnificent Seven theme on the soundtrack. As the original advertising tagline promised: “The Magnificent Seven Are Back… And They Don’t Aim to Please.”
Lee Marvin in 7 Men from Now
Originally conceived as a vehicle for John Wayne, director Budd Boetticher’s gritty 1956 western drama — written by genre specialist Burt Kennedy (Support Your Local Sheriff! ) — is an exciting tale of revenge and redemption. Randolph Scott stars as Ben Stride, a man on a mission: He’s furiously determined to track down the seven outlaws who killed an innocent clerk — Stride’s wife — while robbing a Wells Fargo freight station. But Lee Marvin (born Feb. 19, 1924) is the one who steals every scene that isn’t nailed down as a former nemesis who’s surprisingly helpful to Stride — but only up to a point. As film historian Jeremy Arnold writes on the Turner Classic Movies website: “Casting Lee Marvin was Burt Kennedy’s idea. As Boetticher later wrote in his memoir, ‘Burt and I agreed that western heavies over the years had been portrayed as much too heavy. They rode black horses and wore black hats. You never saw anything good about any of them. Well, we set out to make our villains extremely attractive. Sure they were going to get killed — eventually — by our hero, but we wanted our audience to really love ’em while they were still kickin’.”