MCN Columnists
Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on DVDs: Pick of the Week, Box Set. Marlon Brando


Greatest Classic Legends: Marlon Brando (Four Stars)

U.S.: Various Directors, 1951-1967 (TCM/Warner)

Marlon Brando, America‘s finest movie actor by general consensus, began his career at the top, in his early 20s, with a revolutionary stage and film performance — as Stanley Kowalski in playwright/screenwriter Tennessee Williams’ and director Elia Kazan‘s classic American drama “A Streetcar Named Desire.” “Streetcar” vaulted young Brando to the leading position among the actors of his generation, and made “Method“ and “Stanislavsky” synonyms for the new postwar trends in movie and theatrical realism. And Brando followed Stanley with a string of great performances that climaxed with his powerhouse Oscar-winning role as washed-up boxer/longshoreman Terry Malloy in Kazan and writer Budd Schulberg’s On the Waterfront.

Then, after hitting what most people regarded (wrongly) as a long dry spell, Marlon reclaimed his champion’s belt with two extraordinary 1972 performances, as the fatherly, menacing Don Vito Corleone in Francis Coppola’s and Mario Puzo‘s The Godfather, and as the sensuous and self-destructive expatriate Paul in Bernardo Bertolucci‘s Last Tango in Paris.

Those roles sealed his reputation, and his fate. Most actors and critics, if not always audiences, worshipped Brando to the end. (He died in 2004.) But by the time he’d made his last movie in Montreal, The Score (a Frank Oz-directed comedy heist film costarring Robert De Niro and Edward Norton in the larger roles), he’d long demonstrated a kind of weird contempt for the profession that had made him a legend — neglecting to learn his lines, having his speeches sewn into the clothes of his costars (a problem for poor nude Maria Schneider in “Last Tango“), eating himself into a mountainous 300 pounds, sometimes going for years without acting professionally at all.

The young Adonis-like Brando was the actor whom critics and Britons believed would be the American stage and screen’s prince, maybe its great Hamlet (but he never even tried); the player for whom Tennessee Williams wrote play after play (but Brando turned them all down, except for the underated Sidney Lumet movie of “Orpheus Descending,” retitled The Fugitive Kind); the star for whom Coppola intended The Godfather II and Kazan intended The Arrangement (but he turned those down as well); the producer/star for whom Calder Willingham wrote and Stanley Kubrick was set to direct Brando’s own pet project One Eyed Jacks (but he fired Kubrick and dirrected it himself); the great but perverse artist whom every director and every writer wanted for their films, but who always found reasons to turn projects down and go his own way.

In his latter years, Brando no longer tackled the challenging roles of his youth, and he gradually stopped trying for his oddball later triumphs like The Missouri Breaks or Apocalypse Now. Instead, he parodied himself, parodied his great role of Don Corleone in movies like The Freshman, camped it up in shows like John Frankenheimer’s bizarre horror film The Island of Dr. Moreau. He was brilliant there, too.

I sometimes have a nightmare in which Marco Ferreri’s dark film comedy La Grande Bouffe — the movie in which Marcello Mastroianni, Michel Piccoli, Philippe Noiret and Ugo Tognazzi eat and debauch themselves to death in a private banquet-orgy  room — has been remade especially for Orson Welles (who also directs), and for Gerard Depardieu, Robert De Niro (who has pulled another Jake La Motta especially for this production) — and for Brando. You don’t want to watch or dream this movie; sheer flatulence alone makes it a nightmare. At one point, Brando insists on having his speeches scribbled written over the torsos of all his co-stars, who willingly submit, though Welles insists on being decorated with Hamlet’s soliloquies in a vain attempt to jar his fellow actor back to greatness. Ah, folly folly! Brando and everyone else, cracks up on “Oh, that this too, too solid flesh would melt…”

There’s something sad about Brando’s strange lack of ambition in his later career, his odd contempt for the whole tradition and discipline, along with the whole vanity, of acting. But he never lost his great talent, even when he seemed to be perversely hurling away his career. His roles may have become smaller and less interesting. But he himself was never uninteresting, never remotely run-of-the mill.

This box set contains two of his premier film performances — as Stanley in Kazan‘s preferred cut of “Streetcar,” and as Marc Antony in Joseph Mankiewicz’s surprisingly faithful film of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Great roles. Great performances. Of course.

The box, which borrows from Warner’s earlier Brando Collection, also contains one of his finest, most underrated films, and roles: as the sexually ambivalent Captain Penderton in John Huston’s preferred vision (with the intended golden-tinted cinematography) of his superb film of Carson McCullers’ novel “Reflections in a Golden Eye.” And it contains one of his oddest, but most congenial performances, as the wily Japanese translator Sakini in Daniel Mann’s movie of John Patrick‘s high-spirited postwar stage comedy “The Teahouse of the August Moon.” It’s an excellent set, even if Brando’s puckish Sakini bothers you. (He’s no Toshiro Mifune. No Beat Takeshi either.)

In Brando’s most famous scene and speech, in the back of the cab in On the Waterfront, Terry Malloy cries out to Rod Steiger as his crooked shyster brother Charlie, mouthpiece of Lee J. Cobb’s labor union boss mobster, “You don’t understand! I coulda had class! I coulda been a contender! I coulda been somebody!” We’ll always remember that electrifying confession of failure, from the young brilliant actor who started out at the top. Because he was more than the contender; he was the champ. He had more than class; he had genius. He was more than somebody. He was Brando.

How odd that the actor hailed since his youth as the greatest in his profession should have so carelessly thrown it all away time and again. But talent is a curse as well as a blessing, It always came back to him. So let’s raise a glass to Marlon, the patron saint of all actors, players and comedians — and make sure that the speeches scribbled on our jackets and cuffs are clearly legible. After all, this isn’t just anybody. This is the champ.

Includes: A Streetcar Named Desire (U.S.: Elia Kazan, 1951/1993) Four Stars. Elia Kazan‘s peerless staging of Tennessee William’s masterful play, set in a steamy New Orleans where Eros and death (“Flores para las muertos!”) dance their first tango.

This movie has one of the all-time great movie casts (three of whom, but not Brando, won Oscars). Brando is the brutal, animalistic but charming Stanley. Vivien Leigh is the fragile, sensual, haunted Blanche DuBois. Kim Hunter is Stanley‘s wife and Blanche’s sister, the screamed-over Stella. And Karl Malden is Blanche‘s kind and respectful suitor Mitch. This is Kazan’s preferred cut, with the more downbeat ending, one which gives full power to Blanche’s wrenchingly poignant last line “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” No arguments: A masterpiece.

Julius Caesar (U.S.: Joseph Mankiewicz, 1954) Four Stars. In a great cast — which includes John Gielgud as Cassius, James Mason as Brutus, Deborah Kerr as Portia, Louis Calhern as Caesar, Edmond O‘Brien as Casca, and Greer Garson as Calpurnia, Brando’s Antony (for which he received special help from Gielgud) stands out for its sinewy cunning and devious eloquence. This is a Shakespearean film of real power and glory. And yes, Brando should have done that Hamlet. And Macbeth. And Henry V. And Cleopatra’s Antony. And Iago. And, God help us, Falstaff.

The Teahouse of the August Moon (U.S.: Daniel Mann, 1956) Three Stars. John Patrick’s very likable comedy about how the “conquered“ Japanese turn the tables on their often gullible Yank conquerors, was a Broadway showcase for David Wayne as Sakini and John Forsythe as Capt. Fisby, the roles taken here, very likably, by Brando and Glenn Ford. Machiko Kyo, the beauty of Rashomon and Ugetsu, plays a geisha, and Paul Ford repeats his Broadway hit role in his specialty: a dithering, whining boss. (Bilko!) You don’t want Brando to make too many light comedies, but one Sakini is fine.

Reflections in a Golden Eye (U. S.: John Huston,1967). Four Stars. A neglected classic. In fact, John Huston‘s silky, menacing, finely wrought adaptation of Carson McCullers’ eerie novel of obsession and murder on a Southern Army post — with Brando as the punctilious Captain Weldon Penderton, Elizabeth Taylor as his lusty, busty wife Leonora, Brian Keith excellent as Leonora’s remorseful Army guy lover Lt.-Col. Morris Langdon , the peerless Julie Harris as Langdon’s sensitive soul wife Alison, Zorro David as Alison’s outrageous manservant Anacleto (who paints the peacock with the golden eye), and Robert Forster as Pvt. Williams, the enlisted man object of Penderton‘s desire — was the movie that actually opened up McCullers’ fictional world for me. I love it.

Horribly reviewed in 1967, this movie was nevertheless admired by McCullers and regarded by Huston himself as “perfect,” one of his own favorites among all his films. This is the rare golden-tinged print Huston intended. You can find the “normal” color release version, shot by Oswald Morris  — which is also quite beautiful — in the earlier Warner Brando collection. (They should have included both “Reflections” here.)

Extras: Commentary on “Streetcar” by Karl Malden, Rudy Behlmer and Jeff Young; Documentary and Robert Osborne intro on Julius Caesar; “August Moon” Featurette, “Golden Eye” backstage footage; Trailers.

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments are closed.


awesome stuff. OK I would like to contribute as well by sharing this awesome link, that personally helped me get some amazing and easy to modify. check it out at All custom premade files, many of them totally free to get. Also, check out Dow on: Wilmington on DVDs: How to Train Your Dragon, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Darjeeling Limited, The Films of Nikita Mikhalkov, The Hangover, The Human Centipede and more ...

cool post. OK I would like to contribute too by sharing this awesome link, that personally helped me get some amazing and easy to customize. check it out at All custom templates, many of them dirt cheap or free to get. Also, check out Downlo on: Wilmington on Movies: I'm Still Here, Soul Kitchen and Bran Nue Dae

awesome post. Now I would like to contribute too by sharing this awesome link, that personally helped me get some beautiful and easy to modify. take a look at All custom premade files, many of them free to get. Also, check out DownloadSoho.c on: MW on Movies: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, Paranormal Activity 2, and CIFF Wrap-Up

Carrie Mulligan on: Wilmington on DVDs: The Great Gatsby

isa50 on: Wilmington on DVDs: Gladiator; Hell's Half Acre; The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Rory on: Wilmington on Movies: Snow White and the Huntsman

Andrew Coyle on: Wilmington On Movies: Paterson

tamzap on: Wilmington on DVDs: The Magnificent Seven, Date Night, Little Women, Chicago and more …

rdecker5 on: Wilmington on DVDs: Ivan's Childhood

Ray Pride on: Wilmington on Movies: The Purge: Election Year

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon