Before he was dead Marlon Brando had pretty much cornered the market in super rich morbidly obese, mad as a hat stand reclusive movie stars. He worked rarely, being very choosy over what he did. Not with artistic discretion like a geriatric Daniel Day-Lewis, but purely with an eye to how much he would be paid for the least amount of work.
Indeed he held the record for dollars to day rate for a very long time.
And before he had morphed into a ten tonne movie mad man, who’s unsightly corpulence had forced Coppolla to hide him in shadow for ‘Apocalypse Now’ , before he moved in with Jack Nicholson and before he had buttered up and Tangoed in Paris, there was Brando the Movie Star; and he was electric.
Watch those movies back now and despite the black and white and despite the expressionist lighting or the dodgy back projections, there is something so visceral about Brando that makes the scenes sing when he is on camera.
Take the classic “I could have been a contender” line from ‘On the Waterfront’, we hear it all the time in modern culture, people will say it and possibly not know it’s origins but it’s good line and it reflects so much of our own bitterness at our failure to achieve our hopes and dreams. Nice.
Watch the scene on its own and you think wow that’s a damn good line, damn well delivered by a damn good actor. Watch the whole film and it becomes something else, you don’t just think it’s a good line, you feel the power of the words and raw emotion punch you right in the guts. Not just nice, fucking incredible.
Then you understand for yourself power of Brando and why he is ground zero for the modern actor.
He did a bunch of quality films (look em up) movies and even directed one (the brilliant Western Noir, ‘One Eyed Jacks) and in even a lesser film like ‘The Fugitive Kind’ he is like a chained whirlwind, a man barely able to contain the force of his own physicality and spirit.
Based on one of Tennessee Williams’ deep south gothic hyper dramas ‘Orpheus Descending ‘, Brando’s Val Xavier swaggers into a new town determined to forget his life as a musician, entertainer or “night person” and get a regular job, but seemingly cursed by beauty and a sensitivity to the workings of the human heart he is unable to keep himself out of trouble – or is it that people cannot help but involve him in their crap?
Taking a job at the local convenience store he soon gets caught up in a masochistic love triangle with Lady (Anna Magnani) the manageress and her evil bedridden husband Jabe (Victor Jory). The events and tension build towards a fittingly hysterical and cruel finale.
Reading reviews from 1959, The Fugitive Kind is considered well. Sidney Lumet, only three films into what would become an influential and brilliant career is criticised for not understanding the work and being unable to get the best out of Brando.
Though no way near as good as On the Water Front or the outstanding A Street Car Named Desire, to my more modern eyes The Fugitive Kind is an absolute treat.
There are some brilliant performances from Magnani who more than holds her weight against Brando, as the passionate yet fragile ‘Lady’ while Victor Jory like a huge sweating lizard, dispensing violence and evil from his bed is quite terrifying.
It’s only Joanne Woodward who somehow lets the side down and it’s not even because she is particularly bad, more that her characterisation of ‘Carol’ the boozed up, wild child with her eyes on Brando’s bulge seems to go against the grain of the film and instead of eliciting sympathy for her travails and personal shortcomings, unfortunately just provokes irritation.
It’s kind of dumb to compare a ‘Citizen Caine’ or ‘Maltese Falcon’ to more modern classic like ‘Good Fellas’s’ or ‘No Country for Old Men’, after all classics are classic for a reason, they tend to be pretty good.
However if you compare a film like ‘The Fugitive Kind’ which was considered a failure at worst and only average at best to the mediocre movies produced now and it makes you realise how shockingly low the bar has been set. For a town that has seemingly become obsessed with Robert McKee’s ‘Story’ or Campbell’s ‘Hero’s Journey’ Hollywood pats itself on the back if it manages to vomit up something that has a coherent beginning middle and end.
If The Fugitive Kind is what was thought to be a bad movie in 1959, then get the flux capacitor out of the cellar and fire up the Delorian, I. Am. Off.
The Fugitive Kind is out on DVD from the 27th May