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Tennessee Williams was a stunning writer for the theater... The impact
of his plays can overwhelm an audience with its superior force...
Written in 1957, "Orpheus Descending" is a reconstruction of Williams' 1940 "Battle of Angels," filmed under Sidney Lumet's direction as "The Fugitive Kind."
Williams subtracted elements of the ancient myth of Orpheus and Euridice to examine the sadistically patriarchal Southern Gothic town and to create a violent plot, involving ruined love, weakness, sex, betrayal, vengeance and lingering hatreds... "Orpheus Descending" shows how social prejudice threatens the lives of identified outsiders...
This classic play is not quite his masterpiece... "A Streetcar Named Desire" is... It lacks some of the regretful charm of "The Glass Menagerie" and the entire impact of "Cat On a Hot Tin Roof." Nevertheless it is a deeply moving work of art...
Williams was known for his compelling dialog and themes that - for their time - often seemed strange or shocking... He vividly suggested the sexual tensions and prevented violence of his tormented character, usually with compassion as well as irony...
The film focuses on a handsome drifter from New Orleans, named Val Xavier, wearing a snake skin jacket - Williams' trademark of a rebel, non-conformist - Val is a "fugitive kind" who comes in off the highway... He is a rural Orpheus who descends to rescue his love, not in Hades precisely, but among the intrigue, chatter, and violence of the hot-tempered town of Two Rivers, Mississippi... He is a wandering guitar player who embarks on an affair with a lonely frustrated unhappy storekeeper's wife Lady Torrance...
Anna Magnani is intelligently sensual and charming as Lady... Joanne Woodward is the hungry grotesque drunken Carol who tries to seduce Val in a cemetery... Both women are so intense, that they force you to become involved with them...
The genuine community provides also interesting watching: Victor Jory, positively magnetic as the brutal oppressive husband Jabe Torrence; the vindictive sheriff R. G. Armstrong; and the soft-hearted Vee (Maureen Stapleton).
Lady Torrence is a study of the immigrant woman who has acquired a patina of resilient toughness but who slowly admits her sensuality... She catches perfectly contradictory emotions of one who is wary of the stranger but who longs for his healing touch...
With handsome magnetism, Brando is no less compelling... He is quite convincing avoiding all the clichés of the drifting Don Juan... With some kind of lucid intensity, he mixes his character's predatory and uncivil arrogance with flashes of sweet tenderness...
The film (definitely worth seeing) is extremely poignant and captivating... The direction is excellent and the action moves very smoothly, never allowing you to relax...
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.
While The Fugitive Kind suffers from inconsistent pacing and some over-blown dialog, it is worth watching for the peerless performances delivered by Anna Magnani and Victor Jory. Magnani's desperate vulnerability and passionate need for love and vindication are so powerfully and truthfully portrayed that even the great Brando seems pale and insubstantial beside her. Without Jory's vilely hateful depiction of the dying husband, however, even Magnani's powerhouse performance couldn't save the film. Seldom has such wanton cruelty been so effectively captured on screen. Brando is a bit mannered at times but the sheer animal magnetism he possessed at this point in his career transcend the script's pretensions. Woodward wrings more than could rightfully be expected from her over-written part. R.G. Armstrong as the corrupt sheriff and Maureen Stapleton as his kind-hearted wife shine in supporting roles, but it is Magnani and Jory who transform the film into a riveting cinematic experience.
The Fugitive Kind is a hot story of desire and loss and craving and
heartbreak between a man and two women set in the deep south. Sounds
like quintessential Tenessee Williams, and it is in spurts. Sometimes
Williams leans towards being a little preachy, however true (little
moments like when Brando and Stapleton have a quiet back and forth
about racism via her painting kind of nails it on the head much), but
it's his skills at doing melodrama that strike up the coolest beats. In
fact, this is one of those super-cool movies of the late 50s that could
have only starred someone like Brando, who looks at times disinterested
in the scene but at the same time completely engaged, curious, smooth,
harsh, and knowing of what life can bring with his trusty
Ledbelly-signed guitar. It's not necessarily a towering work for the
ages ala Williams collaboration 1 Streetcar Named Desire. But that
doesn't mean it should be much under-looked either.
As an early effort for Lumet it's also a scorcher dramatically; he's so good with the actors that whatever little missteps the script might take in pouring on the poetic prose in how some of the characters talk (there's a scene between Brando and Anna Magnani's characters by some ruin of a spot where she says people used to make love that is actually quite boring) can be usually forgiven. Magnani especially is interesting because she should be a case of miscasting, which, apparently in later years, Lumet admitted to. She seems low-key at first, but her strengths bloom out tenfold when it comes time to act like the hard-knock-life kind of woman she is, who's in a crap marriage and had a horrible affair with a man who didn't do anything after the summer they spent together. Now she's put into a situation where she does and doesn't want this drifter, and vice versa, and she's sometimes just as cool (though also quite tough and demanding in that big Italian mama way) as her counterpart.
Meanwhile there's also Joanne Woodard, who has the kind of part many actresses love to chew on; feisty, outspoken, loud but also emotionally moody to the point that she admirably tries (and doesn't quite get to) the heights of Vivien Leigh with her classic Blanche Dubois. Overall, Lumet gets a good feel for the period- and shot in New York state no less- while working with good material and an even better cast. It won't ever be as revered as his other work, and at the same time it's much better than some would give it credit for, where the tragedy acts like another sweaty Southern caricature bemoaning existence and fitting on a bad pair of shoes.
This story flopped as a play and as a film. That's too bad because that happens to be Tennessee Williams' most revealing play about the dark underbelly of racism, violence, vigilantes, lynchings and social injustice in the Deep South. Be warned: This ain't "Gone With the Wind". Its subject matter couldn't have been very popular with American audiences at any time or any place. Even today, Jabe (Hades), the king of the Underworld, where he keeps his Persephone/Eurydice (Lady) prisoner, sounds an awful lot like what George W. Bush will probably sound like in his declining years, uttering curses and maledictions against life, knowledge, science, progress, social change and uppity Negroes. I think the film works because it makes no concession to realism and frankly asserts the story's mythological elements. Lumet, Magnani, Brando, Jory, Stapleton, Armstrong and Woodward make it work and deliver a film and performances that are bigger than life and worthy of the best European art films of the period. Kudos for the set design, the art direction, the music (by Kenyon Hopkins) and the photography. This is a film you can't help but watch in absolute awe at the guts it took.
Tennessee Williams and Meade Roberts co-adapted Williams' play "Orpheus Descending" about a reluctant stud drifting through backwater town, stirring up the passions of an Italian shopkeeper who's married to a cranky invalid. Eerie and fabulously atmospheric piece gives the women in particular (Anna Magnani, Joanne Woodward, Maureen Stapleton) great roles to play. Marlon Brando, well-cast as the guitar-strumming gadabout with the bedroom eyes, doesn't seem as fully involved, and his focus tends to wander. Overall, an intriguing soap opera for mature audiences, beautifully photographed by Boris Kaufman and nimbly directed by Sidney Lumet. *** from ****
The Fugitive Kind (1960)
This is one of those great movies that slips its way into that big gap between the great Hollywood Golden Age to the great New Hollywood of the late 1960s. An awful lot of films from the period between (1955-65) are weak or even downright bad, big budgets and all. The Hollywood gems in that time are usually a little gut wrenching, and many are based on plays, or push political issues (I'm thinking of "The Apartment" and "The Manchurian Candidate"). The famous directors coming to their own during time include Elia Kazan and Robert Wise, and of course Sidney Lumet, who directed this one.
This is all working class, plainspeaking, emotive material. Right from the get-go with leading man Marlon Brando doing a long take as he stands before a judge, we are filled with heart-wrenching stuff, people who want to be something and don't know how, or people with big hearts that are broken or dirty. The cast, beyond Brando, is terrific: Joanne Woodward as a young floozy with a sharp sense of independence, Maureen Stapleton as a simple and faith filled wife of the sheriff, and Anna Magnani, intense and troubled but superior in her own out of place way.
There are powerful displays of white narrow-mindedness (call it bigotry, but it is largely aimed at just anyone they don't like) that don't quite fall into clichés, there is love that shouldn't be and that never is, there is old world morality and inbred local gossipy immorality. Things are bound for collision even by twenty minutes in, and there are innuendoes and hidden histories waiting to blossom.
Lumet has a knack for the serious, with his 1957 breakthrough film "12 Angry Men" a template for his career. As lively and even crazy as this movie is, it's also probing deeply into human woe and maladjustment (often deliberate). The core of the writing belongs to Tennessee Williams, who of course is all about inner troubles and outward misunderstood or mistaken actions. There is nothing superficial here, not in the acting, the filming, or the scenes (set in the South but filmed near Saratoga Springs, New York). And if the wet, dark nights scenes and interiors with people quarreling and fighting aren't enough to suck you in, the story, about wanting to live, nothing more, is beautiful and important. All four of the main characters are deeply good people, and all flawed in small but debilitating ways.
Which should sound familiar. As over the top as it sometimes seems, you'll identify with the position some of the people end up in. Brando is temperamental but patient and with a profound sense of justice. Woodward is a free spirit misunderstood (and punished) by the uptight and hypocritical society around her. The themes are frank for 1960, including an implication of a male so manly and irresistible the women want him (and get him) even when it's completely wrong. And when it's right. The sexuality, partly pumped up by the writing of the openly gay playwright (Williams), is all over Brando's face and in his scenes. And this is his movie.
High high drama, but from within. And explosive. Don't miss it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"The Fugitive Kind" plays like Tennessee Williams' B-side, the
second-half of a "Streetcar" double feature... Director Sidney Lumet
does a fantastic job tapping into the loneliness, desire, and humanity
that were the hallmarks of Williams' writing. And Brando is still
smoking from his "Streetcar" heat...
Marlon was still in his golden era, and he's the reason to see this movie. His performance here is pure sexual magnetism, as he effortlessly plays a man whose every move oozes eroticism. How much so? At one point in the movie Anna Magnini watches him walk by with a cigarette in his hand and blushes, asking why he's so dirty. At another point, he confesses his gift/curse for being able to "wear women down." Let the levees break...
This is the Brando everyone talks about, and every tired cliché is absolutely true: you cannot take your eyes off him. Smoldering, strong, and yet embarrassingly vulnerable- both physically and emotionally. This is the stuff dreams are made of.
Joanne Woodward gives a brilliantly naked performance as a beatnik, and she reminded me strongly of Jessica Lange. Anna Magnani is suitably raw, and Victor Jory appropriately evil.
The show here is Marlon, and if you don't know why he's considered the best film actor of all time, just take a look at him here.
Indeed this movie is a bit wordy at times,particularly the scenes with
Anna Maganani but the Quality of the Acting and the
Photography/Lighting is at times second to none.In fact the lighting of
the the graveyard scene inspired me years ago to become a Photographer.
The Marlon Brando/Joanne Woodword scenes are superb throughout,the scenes of the two of them ripping down the "Dixie" Highway in her beater Jaguar Convertible are priceless.Maureen Stapleton portrays an Artist with real emotion.You can feel/smell the presence of the the sweaty,racist invalid Jabe.'The Juke Joint' scenes are classic.Even the Soundtrack is good.
You must see this Outstanding movie.It will stay with you.
i cannot believe that i had never heard of this movie. the only possible explanation is that it was spun out of a play that bombed. that said, Sidney lumet does an amazing Job of lithely sprinkling the classical over northern Mississippi (without screaming 'look were being classical now') from a historical perspective the themes dealt with here are amazing both for their envelope pushing and their subtle overlay. the acting is the best I've seen. Brando is third best, Anna M. is next. both are outdone by Woodward. The character actors Jorie and Stapleton are better than all of them.
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