Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Brando: Last Post for June (sadly posted on July 2nd)

All right, all right, all right, so I wasn't quite as organized as I'd hoped for this first go-around! I'll do better in the future. Cross my heart!

Sooooooooo, instead of long individual posts for Brando's movies, I'll squeeze three movies into a single post.

This post contains: A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), On the Waterfront (1954), and Guys and Dolls (1955).


The defining scene of Stanley and Stella's volatile relationship

Starting with A Streetcar Named Desire from 1951, directed by Elia Kazan! This is the crowning glory of Brando's career, and he'd barely even begun his career so that tells you how incredible he is in this movie. Streetcar declares the rawness of human degradation and loneliness in a cruel world that just doesn't care. Brando is Stanley Kowalski, the brutish, desirable husband to Stella (Kim Hunter), brother-in-law to Blanche du Bois (Vivien Leigh), the frail Southern girl who lives in a world of dreams, pretending to be something she is not, in a word, respectable. Stanley is cruel and hard, shaped by the society in which he lives, but he and Stella are happy together until Blanche arrives to stay and reminds Stella of their proud roots. Only when Stella begins degrading Stanley, chastizing him, does the situation start to turn ugly.

This movie is not for the faint of heart. Lost souls always move me to compassion, which is why I watch, and yes, even enjoy Streetcar. It's not easy, and it's not fun, but it is an interesting look at lower society in Louisiana in the 1940s. This film is about a barbaric, gorgeous man and the woman who cannot bear to leave him. For the fullest experience of this story, watch the movie first and then read the play. I had the glorious opportunity to see the play performed live a few weeks ago, staring one of my friends as Stella, and it renewed my love of it all the more. So, watch the film, read the play, and be surprised at the little changes that were made to the story in order for it to be socially acceptable to the censors.

And keep in mind that the Stanley you see in the film is the same Stanley that was on the stage. Brando brought Stanley to life on the stage, and the film was born out of the play's phenominal success. Marlon Brando is Stanley Kowalski, and no matter how good any other version of the character may be, none can ever, ever top him.

Terry and Edie in On the Waterfront
Next is On the Waterfront, another brilliant piece, also directed by Elia Kazan in 1954. As a bit of back history on the director, Kazan directed during the infamous witchhunt for communists in Hollywood and he did the unthinkable, he actually named names. Himself having been a member of the American Communist Party in the 1930s, he named other prominent individuals who had also been members. And for this, Kazan became much-hated by the notoriously liberal Hollywood. The loathing continues on, even today, but Kazan still has his supporters, one of which is the famed playwright, Arthur Miller, who was also called before the court, but declined to name community party members and was fined and incarcerated. Miller, despite having the exact opposite experience as Kazan, acknowledges "My feelings toward that terrible era are unchanged, but at the same time history ought not to be rewritten. Elia Kazan did sufficient extraordinary work in theater and film to merit acknowledgement."

On the Waterfront is a defense of Kazan's actions. He stood up against corruption and testified in court against members of the communist party. And he was forever blacklisted because of it. In the same vein, our simpleton hero, Terry Malloy, is called upon to do the right thing, to name names, to squeal on the guilty. I use simpleton to describe Brando's Terry because that's what he is, a simpleton. Terry's a boxer, none too smart, one too many hits in the head, and now he's relegated to a thug for corrupt union bosses because he took a dive and lost a fight. When Terry witnesses a murder, he finds himself caught in a web by people who want to stop the corruption, one of which is the girl (Eva Marie Saint) Terry likes who is also sister to the murdered young man, and the local Catholic priest, Father Barry (Karl Malden). Terry just wants to forget anything happened, but the few good people in his life won't let him.

Where do I start proclaiming the glories of this movie? Okay, first, there is Father Barry. He is strong and forthright, preaching the gospel of righteousness to anyone and everyone who will listen to him and it's partially because of him that Terry testifies in court. I love seeing Christians in a positive light as Hollywood so rarely portrays them. Then there is Terry. Brando was sexy and volatile in Streetcar, slow and plodding in Waterfront. Roles that are polar opposite of one another, which is really what defines the brilliance of Brando's acting. This movie always has me on the edge of my seat, desperate to keep the good guys safe and put the bad guys behind bars. Brando sucked me in to liking Terry, cheering as he struggled with the concept of doing the right thing, grieving with him in his fear of being on the bullying end of the union bosses.

If you were to watch any of Brando's films, the two I recommend above any of his other filmography are On the Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire. These are his best roles, winning him an Oscar for Waterfront and a nomination for Streetcar. You just can't go wrong with either of these films.


Sergeant Sarah delivering a kiss to Sky Masterson
 Now, Guys and Dolls (1955) is lyrically one of my favorite musicals EVER, but morally one of my LEAST favorite. Weird, I know. Marlon Brando is wealthy and lazy playboy/gambler Sky Masterson in the glitz and glamour of 1950s New York City. Playing opposite him is Frank Sinatra in the role of Nathan Detroit, the man who heads up the most popular floating craps (YES, that's the real term) game in the city. Throw into the mix Sergeant Sarah Brown (Jean Simmons) of essentially the Salvation Army and a nightclub performer, Miss Adelaide (Vivian Blaine), and you have a star-studded cast of mult-talented individuals.

The character basics are these: Sky Masterson, who will never give up gambling, EVER, takes it upon himself to fall in love with virtuous, spiritual Sergeant Sarah. He woos her and wins her affection, and even flies her to Cuba for an evening of dining and dancing, albeit to fulfill a bet, where he really does fall in love and she loosens her oh-so-tightly wound morals to accomodate him. Sky and Sarah are the typical scoundrel/virtuous woman romance, although really, Sky isn't that much of a scoundrel, just a compulsive gambler. Where Nathan Detroit is concerned, he has been engaged to Miss Adelaide for somewhere around fourteen years, long enough that she actually fabricated a wedding and children to tell her mother back home in Rhode Island. Needless to say, Mumsy never warrants a visit! The plot of the film revolves around Nathan needing to find a place for his craps game because all the gamblers in New York are desperate for a little action. However, these types of gambling arenas are illegal, and the crackdown is so tough that Nathan's having a pretty hard time finding somewhere that'll take him. Woe is him!

What I LOVE about this musical are the songs. I mean, these are incredible musical numbers, from Marlon Brando's shockingly polished Luck, Be A Lady Tonight to Jean Simmons' rendition of If I were a Bell to the ever-popular Fugue of the Tinhorns topped off Frank Sinatra nailing it with his Guys and Dolls number! These are incredible songs! I just wish the the story itself had less moral ambiguity. How does a religious girl just walk away from her values to marry a gambler? I don't care if he does look like Marlon Brando! So, the acting is superb, the songs are terrific, but the storyline (for a Christian at least) leaves a little something to be desired. So why do I still own this movie? Because, despite all of the cons, I still LOVE IT!

2 comments:

  1. I can't even imagine Brando in a musical. The Godfather?! Singing?! Dancing?! No way!

    We watched A Streetcar Named Desire together -- did we also watch On the Waterfront? I can't figure out if I've seen it, or just have heard a lot about it!

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  2. I don't think he really danced other than what I think was a Tango when they're in Cuba. It's mostly singing and Brando only has 2 major numbers. He's got a tenor voice of all things! And so soft, very soft!

    Yep, we watched Streetcar, but somehow missed Waterfront. Maybe I'll just bring that along with me if you wouldn't mind watching it. I actually didn't rewatch any of these films for this post! All from memory and a helpful little site called IMDB! ;)

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