Theme Song: Bad emotive piano music.
Interesting Dated References: Lots of New York scenery in the early 80s. I recognized some famous places but I can’t really think of their names because I live in the midwest. I can tell you the location of 4 different Target stores though if you need me to. I could even tell you the subtle differences between said locations. I think one place in New york I recognize from the movie is that place where MTV used to have all their music awards shows back when people other than 12 year old girls watched the MTV Music Awards.
Best Line: “Rarely does one drink for the taste, however they still do it. Sometimes I drink to get high, to cool my nerves. Or when I need a little courage. Uh … you drink to forget. I guess I’ve used every one of those excuses at one time or another. Oh, I don’t need the drink, I don’t have to … I just don’t have a good reason to stop.”
Social Context: Plenty about race, family, age, and the like as represented by the relationship between an old drunk and a young orphan. A relationship that is totally implausible these days.
Summary: Marvin & Tige is essentially a made for television Hallmark Special type of movie. For some reason in the late 70s, and before the kidnapping scares of the early 80s, America was obsessed with the loving friendships that old crabby men can form with young lost boys. Movies like
The film begins as we follow the adorably black Tige arunning around New York finding food for his mom. The kid playing Tige is named Gibran Brown and aside from this movie, he never really did anything else. So, when Tige arrives home his sick mom acts all motherly. She’s got the worst fake “I’m sick” make-up job in the history of moviemaking, and by morning she’s dead. Tige sulks and pouts around the apartment while we learn from the neighbor lady that he has no other family and will have to go to an orphanage. That night, Tige goes to the park to slit his wrist with a switchblade and up walks John Cassavetes playing the overly-disheveled Marvin. You know Marvin, he’s the friendly drunk who picks up bottles and invites young boys back to his house for chili. Hey, in 1984 that was acceptable.
So the adorable Tige goes back to Marvin’s house, which is filled with glass bottles set aside for recycling at a later date. Marvin explains to Tige all about sad thoughts and in the process burns the chili he was preparing.
Cassavetes and the kid bond over a cheeseburger Tige had in his pocket and they proceed to form a relationship. Tige explains that his dad isn’t around and then Marvin offers him a bed to sleep in. Next thing you know it’s the morning and the two are sleeping fully clothed in a bed. Tige gets up early and leaves to wander the streets some more. He watches kids play with their dads and then hangs out at the 70s equivalent of Best Buy:
This truly is a movie of the early 80s because everyone is nice to the kid. No one yells at him or tells him to get out of their store. That night he returns to Marvin’s house where Cassavetes is adorned in a fluffy pink robe. He offers Tige a few fish sticks and then they play cards. You know how nowadays when a film crew wants to make an apartment look dirty they buy a new apartment and use painting techniques to make it look all dirty? Well not back in the 70s and 80s. Back then, they actually filmed in a dirty apartment, which is why even the most terrible films from back then still look authentic. It was called atmosphere and it doesn’t exist anymore.
The next day Marvin and Tige go to the mall, people watch, and catch some Christmas carols. There’s actually some pretty nice dialogue going on here. Tige asks Marvin why he isn’t married and if he’s a “fag.” Tige also uses the word “nigga” several times, so even if this was a made-for-television type movie, it’s still rated PG and just goes to show how the standards have changed as far as what can be said.
The two become fast friends and form some type of father/son dynamic. Sure sleeping in the bed is weird, but let’s remind ourselves that these were different times. The two quickly slip into regular domestic life shopping for groceries, doing puzzles, and other father/son things. The whole time Marvin is seen drinking and eventually Tige asks him about it, which leads to the excellent monologue cited above. So things go on, Christmas comes, Marvin buys Tige some roller skates, Marvin reveals his wife died, Tige reveals he can’t read, and a bunch more shit happens.
Then Cassavetes uses his pink robe and a stick to teach Tige how to skate while really bad jazz music plays. Eventually Marvin goes to see about adopting Tige, but in order to do so he has to find Tige’s father whom, as stated before, wanted nothing to do with him. But since that got too serious, the director decided Marvin and Tige should go to some type of theme park where they are chased by a giant Pac-Man and ride a rollercoaster.
That’s actually a good scene because they mount a camera to the front of the car. So the duo debate about whites and blacks and literacy and other things about life. This eventually leads to an argument and the drinking thing comes up again. Tige pulls a knife on Marvin and they part ways as a bunch of dramatic piano music plays. Then over a bunch of shots of early 80s New York, Marvin runs around looking for Tige.
Eventually he finds him and as the next few days go on, Tige becomes really sick. This leads Marvin to try to track down Tige’s father. Just when I was starting to think, “Where the hell is Billy Dee Williams?,” he shows up as Tige’s father. Williams is a well-to-do businessman. Marvin asks him for a little help with getting Tige to a doctor and keeping him out of state custody. Williams eschews the idea of helping and Marvin returns home to find Tige near death. At the hospital Tige is found to be in a coma and suffering from malnutrition and pneumonia. Marvin repeatedly tires to contact Billy Dee Williams who is too busy getting finger waves put into his hair to care.
Eventually Williams shows up at the hospital and he and Marvin have some coffee. They discuss how Williams has a new family and no one knows about Tige being his son. They decide to slowly introduce Tige to the family.
So life goes on with Marvin and Tige, and eventually Marvin takes Tige to meet with the new adoptive family he has been talking about. Billy Dee Williams and Marvin have some scotch and talk to Tige in a surprisingly well-done scene where the kid calls out Billy Dee. Then they eat, which is followed by Billy Dee retreating to the den and having more scotch. Marvin soon joins him. They argue about the kid and then Marvin bails in a cab, abandoning Tige, but not before a dramatic goodbye where Marvin does the whole “I don’t need you” thing. I think I’m getting a little teary-eyed, but I have some other financial stressors going on at the moment so I’ll attribute it to that.
Flash forward a few weeks and the lonely drunk is wandering the streets again. Marvin gets home to find Tige standing in the doorway, well-dressed and healthy looking. They talk about life and happiness and then Tige invites Marvin to his 12th birthday party. Oh, and Tige tells Marvin he loves him right as Marvin is going for the liquor cabinet. Marvin accepts the invite and smooth jazz starts blaring at full volume.
Poster and Box Art: Judging by all the perfectly timed breaks in action and the lack of a formal poster, I’ve established this was in fact a made for television movie. The Betamax box is pretty lame, but hey, they weren’t trying to attract a huge audience here. Oh, and not that it matters, but Marvin & Tige was a book before it was a movie.
Availability: Used VHS are all over the place for really cheap. If you are a fan of Cassavetes, Billy Dee Williams’ hair, or men sleeping in bed with boys, you may want to pick one up. And I say that in all seriousness to the Cassavetes fans. This is a good movie, despite it’s somewhat cheesy subjet matter.