Off Topic Messages

Brando fest on TCM

Fri Aug 19, 2005 8:04 am

Bust out the VCRS. Turner Classic Movies is having an all day salute starting at 6am today to the man who virtually invented modern acting. The fest features Brando the usual Brando suspects "The Wild One", "Streetcar Named Desire" and "On the Waterfront". However, the festival features some rarities like "The Formula" with George C. Scott and tomorrow at 3:30 am and "Mutiny on the Bounty" at 12 a.m tomorrow. You also have lost gems like the tremendously underrated "Reflections in a Golden Eye" 2 p.m. and "Julius Caesar" 6 a.m. today that have yet to appear on DVD. In fact none of the past four films I've mentioned is now available on DVD in the United States.

Check it out.

Fri Aug 19, 2005 9:46 pm

How are you LTB?

Did you ever hear the story about how Montgomery Clift was supposed to star in 'Reflections in a Golden Eye', but in the end Brando got the part? Imagine Clift playing that kind of role ...
I think it's a very dark film, and pretty heavy to digest.

Brando's costume films (like 'Julius Caesar' and 'Desiree') are not among my favorites, but I always liked the financial flop (and very colorful!) 'Mutiny On The Bounty'.
Earlier this year I watched the Laughton version of the Bounty, and did you know James Cagney makes a cameo-appearance in that film??

Fri Aug 19, 2005 11:46 pm

I guess Clift was all set for the role but he was in such bad shape that they couldn't get insurance on him. I think Brando was better suited for the role because his physicality provided a greater contrast for the major's weakness, feminiity and eventual break down.The speech in front of his class is one of his finest acting moments. It's an especial favorite of mine because it is the only collaboration between Brando and John Huston who was also down and out at the time of filming. They got along quite well and I wish they would have worked together again.

I have always liked "Julius Caesar". It bogs down when it hits the battle scenes but I think Brando does a fine job on the "Friends, roman, countrymen" speech.

I did not know Cagney had a cameo in the original "Mutiny" because unfortunately I haven't yet seen that classic. I'll look for it though.

The main flaw with the Brando version is overlength and a dopey ending. Ironically, if the movie had not been so expensive it might have been a hit. It made something like $9 million but it was so expensive that was only a drop in the bucket. It was popular enough with the public that it was even mentioned in a "Leave it to Beaver" episode.

Bob- Have you read Sam Staggs' new book "When Blanche met Brando" which details the entire history of "A Streetcar Named Desire" from its conception until the present day? It's a swell book. Lots of good juice on Brando, Kazan, Williams etc.

Sat Aug 20, 2005 12:33 am

I haven't read 'When Blanche met Brando' yet, but I would be especially interested in learning more about how the movie managed to survive half a century without losing it's magnetism. For some reason this seems like a film that everybody has heard about, but actually not that many have seen it. 'Stella!'.
Next to that I am very interested in the work of Wiliams. Have you seen The Fugitive Kind, based on another of his plays? This is one of the most underrated Brando-films, if you ask me. And that snakeskin-jacket just had to be reason why David Lynch gave Sailor Ripley his 'symbol of individuality and believe in personal freedom', but I never read anything about this link between these two movies.

While Cagney was on holiday he met up with the director of the Bounty who was shooting on location, and, just for fun, he put up a fake moustache and played pirate all day. He was not credited because of contracts (although I believe he was under contract with the same studio at the time).
This version of the Mutiny is my favorite. But the Brando version is overwhelming because of the colors and landscapes.

I've read in a book about Clift that he actually hated John Huston, but that indeed his failing health caused Clift to withdraw from the movie. He died that same year. I thought about that quite often, how would he have looked (a man in his 'position') in a role like that ....
I agree with the contrast between Brando and Clift with regard to this role. Brando was very likely to be a much more convincing major.
Clift starred in only a few movies, but Reflections could have been yet another major role opposite Liz Taylor. Have you ever seen off-camera shots (on movie sets) of Taylor and Clift? Most of them are really beautiful and speak a thousand words. Just like the off-camera shots on the The Misfits set with Monroe. Absolutely worth checking out!

Sat Aug 20, 2005 1:36 am

I saw "Fugitive Kind" about 20 plus years ago late night on television. Unfortunately, I was too young to understand it. Even then though I liked the look of the movie. It is also one of the many Brando titles currently unavailable on DVD. I don't know if it was on VHS or not but as Brando fan I would have snapped it up if I had ever seen it.

Interestingly, the director of this movie Sidney Lumet has speculated on how good Elvis could have been in Brando's role in the movie.

I was just reading the TCM bio on Brando and its comment about the relatively few classics he was in. This is often attributed to Brando's disdain for acting. It's fair to say this about his post "Apocalypse" career but in the '50s and '60s you can mark it down to his desire to say something relevant. "Ugly American", "Young Lions", "Burn", "The Chase" are all statement films and you could see what attracted Brando despite the flaws in the movies. And a "Countess from Hong Kong" was a chance to work with Chaplin. Have you seen this one Bob? I saw it twice in the late '80s and thought it was rather dull. It has a rep as Brando's worst. Yet in Entertainment Weekly's tribute to Brando when he died, they gave it a rave review.

I haven't seen the clips of Taylor and Clift off stage but I have heard they were close and I enjoyed them both on screen. I recently saw "Suddenly Last Summer" for the first time and I thought it was excellent. I thought Clift was only ok but I thought Taylor was the best she's ever been on screen. I read some reviews about how the play/screenplay was bowdlerized but I thought Williams' intentions came through clearly.

I am surprised Clift did not get along with Huston. He was generally considered an actor's director. Still he was also a "man's man" type Alpha male and maybe he'd rubbed Clift the wrong way.

BTW- There was a terrific documentary about the making of "The Misfits" making the rounds of PBS recently. Someone commented about Arthur Miller's passion for Monroe. In one scene, he complimented on somebody about how Marilyn's close ups came out great. The person commented that they weren't doing close ups and the scene also featured the other actors. That's love man.

Great story about Cagney and Mutiny.

Sat Aug 20, 2005 2:45 am

I have seen the documentary on 'The Misfits', and I must say it made me change my opinion about Arthur Miller even more. I used to see him as a coldhearted man, but indeed his love for Monroe was very visible and you could clearly feel the warmth between the two. And I also believe Monroe was really in love with him. Very sad Miller couldn't cope with his new status as 'Monroe's husband'. What if ....
This movie shows Monroe's acting skills more than any other film.
In the book 'Beautiful Loser' are some terific shots of Monroe and Clift together in really touching poses. If you look at them you get the impression Monroe is the (much) stronger of the two, as she holds him like he was a little baby.

I also saw 'Suddenly Last Summer' last month (for the first time in about 10 years) and indeed Clift only acts in the shadow of the two leading ladies (both Oscar nominated for this movie). I had forgotten about the bit over the top ending, which struck me pretty odd this time around.
There is little chemistry between the actors, and they merely act in their only little movies. 'A Place In The Sun' is another vehicle with Taylor and Clift, and much better (if comparible at all). There is an excellent dvd on the market.
Last month I received Kazan's 'Wild River', but I haven't seen it yet. Look forward to that.
I will look up that part about Huston's contact with Clift. About the same goes for his contact with Spencer Tracy. Tracy hated Clift. I guess you are right about the Alpha male thing, because someone like Tracy is of course also on top of the foodchain.

'Countess From Hong Kong' I have seen once, and I have no real desire to see it again. Just like 'Morituri' I had problems to get into the thing. It just didn't work for me I guess. Yes, it's funny how terrible films can easily reach the status of 'classic' ....
The other Brando's you mention are all great, especially 'The Chase': what a cast!

Elvis would have looked excellent in that snakeskin jacket, but I'm afraid Anna Magnani would have stolen each scene with him, just like other mature actresses have stolen their scenes with Elvis (Stanwyck, Del Rio).

Sat Aug 20, 2005 8:27 am

That's a good point about the interaction between the actors in "Suddenly Last Summer". I think part of this can be attributed to the divisions on the set. Writer Mark Viera said Hepburn spit in Director Joseph Mankiewicz's face at the end of her part in the production. Clift and his drinking and behavior were allegedly at the source of his dispute. Interestingly, Mankiewicz had Taylor try and get through to the actor but it didn't work and Clift wound up forming a friendship with Hepburn after the director befriended Taylor. Mankiewicz slighted Hepburn in favor of Taylor throughout the production.

The movie Hepburn and Taylor are in is very interesting. I loved the scene where Taylor tries to kill herself in the insane asylum. I also got a kick out of seeing Hepburn so uncharacteristically mean and wicked in a role even though I didn't believe procurement for her was as easy as the movie made it to be.

Did you get "Wild River" on DVD? That is a movie I've been dying to see for a long time. The premise has always intrigued me even before Kazan and Clift.

Have you heard the Clash's great Clift tribute "The Right Profile"? REM also recorded a good Clift tribute called "Monty Got a Raw Deal" but it's only a shadow of the Clash record.

I think Elvis had wonderful chemistry with Dolores Del Rio. I love the scene where she mentions about Elvis "falling hard on his knuckles". Elvis only has a reaction but it is wonderfully gentle and authentic.

Sat Aug 20, 2005 2:37 pm

You said: "I loved the scene where Taylor tries to kill herself in the insane asylum".
Do you mean that scene on that bridge-type thing? Yes that was indeed a good scene, and I must admit I could feel her fear when those men started to close in on her. A great scene that practically stands on his own in this movie. It was about the only scene that got me on the edge of my seat.

Clift was an extremely vulnarable person, and he clearly needed others (women!) to give his life the needed structure. Taylor being preoccupied by personal problems, Clift had to turn to Hepburn. She tried very hard, but in the end she was quoted saying 'I thought he was weak. Simpatico but weak' and she gave up on him as a lost cause. Mankiewicz had him chauffeured to the studio every morning to make sure he would show up, and many times he was found passed out in his apartment. Sam Spiegel threatend to drop him from the movie, but Taylor kept him in (and she later also got Clift the part in 'Reflections').
It is probably because of his personal problems that Clift's role is a very passive one, and for the most part of the movie he is only listening to the ranting and hysterical Hepburn and Taylor. And he is also too zombie-like to absorb any of their problems.
The story of the making of 'Suddenly Last Summer' is a very sad one, and after reading about this this morning I don't think I will want to see that movie again in the next years.
I also read about the facespitting-adventures of Hepburn, and that half of the spit was on behalf on Clift, and that both of them were extremely relieved that shooting was over.

I wasn't able to find that passage about Huston and Clift in regard to 'Reflections', but there's a pic in the book of them together (on the set of 'Freud') and the text says "... with the exasperated and sadistic John Huston, late 1961". According to the book Montgomery Clift became Huston's scapegoat for all that went wrong in that film. The book says Huston was quoted saying that Clift used his friends, and that Huston was impatient with Clift and pressured him, with terrible results.
I am not sure if the writer of the book (Barney Hoskyns) is trying to get back at Huston, or if this is all in fact true. But I do know Huston and Clift had nothing in common and opposites do not always attract.
Funny enough the passage about Freund continues into Clift's next project ('Wild River') and the writer immediatly praises Kazan for giving Clift the needed space and make him feel safe enough to cut down on drinking/pills. Brando was unavailable for the part (I did not know this!) and Clift got it.
Here's a Lee Remick quote that says it all: "He inspired in me, as in most women, the feeling of wanting to look after him. He was incapable of being the dominant partner in a male-female relationship, and in every love scene his head would end up on my shoulder. It was very touching, very moving, and also very sad".

Yes, 'Wild River' is available on a R2 dvd from the UK's Optimum Classic label. It was because I was finally able to get hold of 'Pickup On South Street' that I learned the same label had also released 'Wild River'. The dvd holds no extra's and the aspect ratio is 4:3 full frame.

I did not know about The Clash and REM! But I will look for those songs this weekend.

I hope you are able to find some of those excellent photo's of Clift together with either Taylor or Monroe. They are definitely worth checking out, and they tell a million stories.

Thu Aug 25, 2005 11:37 am

In the meantime I have found the songs by REM and The Clash.
I like them both very much, for different reasons obviously.
Especially the song by The Clash is very confronting and (sadly) realistic.

"He said go out and get me my old movie stills
Go out and get me another roll of pills"

Thu Aug 25, 2005 1:38 pm

That's great to hear Bob. I like it especially because it clearly means a lot to Joe Strummer. A lousy singer from a tecnical standpoint but he really gets the point across.

Did you watch "The Formula" when they showed it? Ugh it was bad. Such a dull police procedural disguised as a topical mystery. It's the kind movie where people talk in slogans instead of words. "You're not selling oil, you're selling oil shortages." I like Marlon in it though. I feel he has kind of a satiric mocking tone. I love when he offers Scott the milk duds and says "Mighty good." It's such a totally whacked out gesture of folksiness. Still, I can't help but wonder what made the makers of this movie feel that their story was important enough that they had to get Marlon Brando and George C. Scott to put it across.

I've been thinking all weekend about your question about the longevity of "Streetcar". There are several things at least if I'm talking about the movie version that make it stick. One is the overall sense of claustrophobia of being in a box too tight with people. That's a very involving feeling and a very true. I have had experience with too many people stuck in close quarters and while it wasn't as brutal as Stanley and Blanche, it always ended up nasty. I had some cousins who had to stay with us when I was a kid and we had maybe ten people staying in our three bedroom home. It lasted a week before my mom kicked them out.

It's more than that though I think the message is timeless as well because if you do have the delicate instincts as Blanche had you can see them getting crushed everyday by the reality of the world. And it's tragic in a way. Of course in the film this point is somewhat obscured by the censored ending.

Staggs argues though that Kazan cheats a little in the movie. By playing music and voices in Blanche's head and underselling Blanche's alcholism, he makes it clear that Blanche is mad even before the rape. However, Williams is much more ambiguous in the text of his play. Before Stanley rapes her, he makes it clear that one of the reasons Blanche is in the tiara and fancy clothes is at least partly because she had been drinking.

Plus, you have to consider how well done the film is. I was watching the other day and when the rape scene came on it was just a spellbinding piece of movie making. Not only the staging and the acting but the music score just sweeps you up into the moment. In some ways it's not even logical. I think that's part of the reason why even though the source material is very tame by today's standards it still carries a jolt. That cracking of the mirror is just a brilliant metaphor. It's actually a case of great artists not only overcoming censorship but using it to an advantage.

The acting is also stunning. Brando and Leigh inhabit their roles. In her flightier more precious most moments Leigh is hard to take although that is the character. However, when she dives on that lantern cover at the end she tears your heart out. It's a moment almost too alive, it makes your flesh move.

Brando- I don't what to say about him in this role. He's just defined it in a way that maybe no other actor has defined a role that originated on the stage. Most people today will not be able to tell you that Lee J. Cobb originated the role of Willy Loman in "Death of a Salesman" or even about Jason Robards (who also immortalized his role on film) in "Long Day's Journey Into Night" but even people who have never seen the movie know Brando in "Streetcar". Every nuance that Williams had in this play and script (and it's a play filled with nuance) is captured by Brando. He humanizes Stanley in a way that no other actor can even close to. I don't mean any way he turns him into a sympathetic figure but he makes him a human figure. The sexiness, the incredible violent energy, the biting sarcasm (he really makes Stanley funny), the gentleness and devotion towards Stella, the slow but calculating instinct, even his brief gestures of compassion or self-explication. Look at the breathe he takes right before he starts to tell Blanche about how a husband has to look after his wife according to the Napelonic code. It sells us the idea just for a second that he really does care about looking after his wife's interest letting our guard down along with Blanche's. Then he zings with the baby news as an after thought. Damn it's good.

Remember that scene with the cat and he does that little "raarooowww". He's so impish and funny. It's easy to see what keeps Stella around in between the sex. In the text of the play he just comments that it's a cat. He breaks the tension a few lines later with a crack about Stella falling in the tub and a smile. The movie version works much better.

One of the most underrated parts of the performance is the way that Marlon catches Williams whenever the playwright makes Stanley just a little too literate. Although his dialogue is greatly respected by Brando and Kazan and is brilliant and generally captures plain spoken manner, every once in awhile his Stanley's speech becomes just a little too formal and deliberate. Brando tightens up these lines.

I could go on and on. I just rarely, rarely see an actor bring such dimension to a role.

Anway I think that's why it's lasted. Plus there's quotable lines and memorable scenes. It's dated but it is just such a magnificent entertainment with aspersions to art that it occasionally meets.

On an off-note, I know you're a fellow Cagney buff. Is "13 Rue Madeline" worth checking out?

Thu Aug 25, 2005 5:08 pm

I've seen 13 Rue Madeline. Its pretty good - Cagney is prety solid as a spy. Its sort of like the movie Blood on the Sun, which he starred in in 1943.

Fri Aug 26, 2005 12:35 am

IIs it worth repeat views?

Fri Aug 26, 2005 2:07 pm

When I first saw 'The Formula' (many many years ago, must have been around the time my interest in Brando first started to grow) I thought to myself 'man, Brando is getting old!'. More than for instance his role as Corleone (in my opinion you can still clearly see the younger Brando in Corleone's eyes) and especially as Kurtz since it's from about the same era, this time he really was an old man playing an old man. Of course he was made to look older with the shaved hair and hearing aid and everything, but still.
I read once Brando received a couple of million for a few days work (which was pretty normal from now on, with Superman in the pipeline and so on) and he only has a very few scenes, doesn't he? I can remember his 'money talks and bullshit walks'-talk with Scott and I can also remember Brando was obviously enjoying himself in this movie.
But, no, this is not a film that made a lasting impression on me, and because Brando's scenes are only limited this is also not a film I will want buy on DVD.
How about that other 'much much older Brando' movie 'The Score'? Brando's scenes with De Niro are magnificent! It's like them two are having a private conversation and I almost felt like a voyeur! Absolutely brilliant, in my opinion.

Your excellent views on 'Streetcar' made me run to the store and search for the DVD, since I haven't seen the film in quite a long time. Too bad I couldn't find it, so I had to get the old videotape from the shed in which I keep them all stocked. I will watch it one of these days and get back to you about this.
I did stumble upon the remake with Jessica Lange and many other big names. Have you seen it yet? I haven't, since I was never really interested in this, but, interesting enough, it doesn't even get all that bad reviews, so maybe I will give it a chance.

'13 Rue Madeleine' is good enough to buy, when you're a Cagney-fan, but I can't recommend it to the avarage filmfan. Also I don't think you will want to watch it again within the next 5 years.
Personally I'm also not a big fan of the huge wave of US wartime dramas, especially those from after '45.
But, on the other hand, when it comes to Cagney, I welcome each role that is not along the same line of the many typecast films he did (even though these are my favorite Cagney's!).
From about the same era I can really recommend 'The Time Of Your Life'. A totally different Cagney in a totally different little movie.
When you talk about typecasts, how about Richard Conte who also stars in '13 Rue Madeleine'? Once you've seen him in 'The Big Combo' you will want to see him in every movie he ever made!