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Val Xavier, a drifter of obscure origins arrives at a small town and gets a job in a store run by Lady Torrence, a sex-starved woman whose husband Jabe M. Torrance is dying of cancer upstairs. Val is pursued by Carol Cutere, the enigmatic local tramp-of-good-family, who covets his snakeskin jacket as much as his body and tries to seduce him in the cemetery. Val is more attracted to the mature Lady and gets her pregnant. Written by
Anna Magnani was hot to sleep with co-star Marlon Brando, but he did not find her attactive. The tension that was created between the two co-stars did not help the film but subtracted from it, as her failure at conquest made Magnani unhappy. Tennessee Williams was angry with Brando, convinced that he was deliberately slurring his dialogue to punish Magnani, who did not speak English. Magnani was playing the role phonetically and had trouble picking up her cues from Brando. See more »
Juking? Oh! Well, that's when you get in a car, which is preferably open in any kind of weather. And then you drink a little bit and you drive a little bit, and then you stop and you dance a little bit with a jukebox. And then you drink a little bit more and you drive a little bit more, you stop and you dance a little bit more to another juke box! And then you stop dancing and you just drink and you drive. And then, you stop driving.
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I suspect that Tennessee Williams probably agreed to change the title of his classically sounding play Orpheus Descending to The Fugitive Kind in order to insure box office. Possibly some of Marlon Brando's fans garnered from The Wild One might pay their admissions thinking they were seeing something like that. I can think of worst ways to be exposed to one of America's most respected playwrights.
This was Brando's second time doing Williams for the screen, the first time being A Streetcar Named Desire. Curiously enough this was Anna Magnani's second time doing Tennessee Williams for the screen as well, she won an Oscar in 1955 for The Rose Tattoo. So the combination of Brando and Magnani seemed a natural for the screen. I don't think The Fugitive Kind is as good as Streetcar or The Rose Tattoo, but the parts are meaty enough roles for both these honored players.
Characters seem to drift in to The Fugitive Kind from other Williams work. Brando's Val Xavier is quite like Chance Wayne in Sweet Bird of Youth, in fact in the review's title is the illusion Brando himself makes of his character. He's an early 30 something drifter with a talent for sex and music, the former probably more than the latter.
Unlike Chance, Xavier doesn't have a female keeper, but he'd like to find one. He passes up liaison with the town trollop played by a third Oscar winner in the cast, Joanne Woodward for the older and married Anna Magnani.
Magnani is trapped in a loveless marriage to a dying Victor Jory, a petty tyrant who runs the town general store. Like Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Jory is dying of cancer at a much more advanced stage of the disease than Burl Ives had. Picture Big Mama from that play hot to trot for Chance Wayne and you've got the essence of The Fugitive Kind.
Joanne Woodward has an interesting part. Part of her loose behavior is in rebellion against the time honored tradition of institutional racism that is the south that Tennessee Williams grew up in. I'm not an expert on Tennessee Williams, but of the works I've seen that are revived frequently, this is the only one where Williams directly brings up racism.
Orpheus Descending on Broadway only ran 68 performances in 1957. Two members from the Broadway cast made it to the screen, R.G. Armstrong as the sheriff repeating his role and Maureen Stapleton who had Joanne Woodward's part on stage, essays the part of the sheriff's wife who also is married to another middle aged tyrant. Considered a lesser work of Williams at first, Orpheus Descending is now revived frequently by stock theater companies everywhere. A critically acclaimed revival on Broadway in 1989 with Vanessa Redgrave and Tammy Grimes and Kevin Anderson helped bring Orpheus Descending into its proper place in the sun.
Maybe if a remake is ever done, it will even be done under its proper original title. Till then we can be well satisfied with this version.
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