Lee Marvin in Canicule

As a big Lee Marvin fan, I have seen a large amount of his work on TV and the screen, even many of the early roles in the fifties when he was an unbilled bit player or an extra in such films as the war drama Teresa (1951) or the suspense thriller Diplomatic Courier (1952). As he moved into larger supporting roles, usually playing the heavy, he often became the most electrifying presence in the film, whether it was a noir (The Big Heat, 1953), western (Gun Fury, 1953) or drama (The Wild One, 1953). But he really hit his stride in the early sixties starting with his fearsome gunslinger in John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) and moving into starring roles with a string of iconic performances in The Killers (1962), Cat Ballou (1965), a dual role which won him the Best Actor Oscar, Ship of Fools (1965), The Professionals (1966), The Dirty Dozen (1967) and the cult favorite Point Blank (1967). Nobody, however, even Marvin himself, could have predicted that one of his final movies would be made in France with an international cast and the result – Canicule (English title: Dog Day, 1984) – is certainly one of the oddest films of his career, if not the most eccentric.

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The Eternal Search for Paradise

What is it about human nature that makes men want to climb the highest mountains, explore unknown regions in search of a rumored paradise or challenge their perceptions of the world in the name of self-discovery? It is this eternal quest that drives the narrative of  La Vallée (English title: The Valley, 1972), Barbet Schroeder’s second feature film after More (1969), a drug addiction drama that explores a similar theme of people who go too far in seeking ultimate experiences and sensations. Both films were made at a time when the youth culture of the late sixties was becoming more pessimistic and cynical about the hippie lifestyle. While More is a deep dive into hedonism that has the structure of a traditional drama, The Valley is a stranger affair. It combines ethnographic documentary elements with a loose storyline about a small group of hipster explorers who are intent on discovering an unexplored area on a map of Papua, New Guinea that is marked as a valley obscured by clouds.  

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