Much like Humphrey Bogart before him, Lee Marvin rose through the ranks of movie stardom as a character actor, delivering expertly nasty and villainous turns in a series of B-movies before finally graduating to more heroic performances. Regardless of which side of the law he traveled, however, he projected a tough-as-nails intensity and a two-fisted integrity which elevated even the slightest material. Born February 19, 1924, in New York City, Marvin quit high school to enter the Marine Corps and while serving in the South Pacific was wounded in battle. He spent a year in recovery before returning to the U.S. to begin working as a plumber's apprentice. After filling in for an ailing summer-stock actor, his growing interest in performing inspired him to study at the New York-based American Theater Wing. Upon making his debut in summer stock, Marvin began working steadily in television and off-Broadway. He made his Broadway bow in a 1951 production of Billy Budd and also made his first film appearance in Henry Hathaway's You're in the Navy Now. The following year, Hathaway again hired him for The Diplomatic Courier, and was so impressed that he convinced a top agent to recruit him. Soon Marvin began appearing regularly onscreen, with credits including a lead role in Stanley Kramer's 1952 war drama Eight Iron Men.
A riveting turn as a vicious criminal in Fritz Lang's 1953 film noir classic The Big Heat brought Marvin considerable notice and subsequent performances opposite Marlon Brando in the 1954 perennial The Wild One and in John Sturges' Bad Day at Black Rock cemented his reputation as a leading screen villain. He remained a heavy in B-movies like 1955's I Died a Thousand Times and Violent Saturday, but despite starring roles in the 1956 Western Seven Men From Now and the smash Raintree County, he grew unhappy with studio typecasting and moved to television in 1957 to star as a heroic police lieutenant in the series M Squad. As a result, Marvin was rarely seen in films during the late '50s, with only a performance in 1958's The Missouri Traveler squeezed into his busy TV schedule. He returned to cinema in 1961 opposite John Wayne in The Comancheros, and starred again with the Duke in the John Ford classic The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance a year later. Marvin, Wayne, and Ford reunited in 1963 for Donovan's Reef. A role in Don Siegel's 1964 crime drama The Killers followed and proved to be Marvin's final performance on the wrong side of the law.