Valentine "Snakeskin" Xavier, a trouble-prone drifter trying to go straight, wanders into a small Mississippi town looking for a simple and honest life but finds himself embroiled with problem-filled women.
Having fled New Orleans to avoid arrest, the undeniably alluring Valentine "Snakeskin" Xavier (Val), a trouble-prone guitar-playing drifter, wanders into a small Mississippi town aiming to go straight and lead a quiet, simple life. He gets a job in the dry goods store owned by a sexually-frustrated middle-aged woman named Lady Torrence, whose sadistic elderly husband, Jabe, is dying. With an obscure past and passions of her own, Lady finds herself attracted to Val, pulsating with passion anew, as he presents an arousing antidote to her bitter marriage and small-town hum-drum life, but also vying for Val's attention are the alcoholic, sex-crazed Carol Cutrere and the unhappily-married Vee Talbot. Each bring their share of problems into Val's plans, himself equally tempted by these women though he succumbs to the charms of Lady. But the jealous Jabe is friends with Sheriff Talbot, who's also Vee's wife - things can't possibly end well for Val and Lady. The screenplay by Meade Roberts ...Written by
Of the cast of the 1957 Broadway production, Maureen Stapleton and R.G. Armstrong made the transition to the screen. While Armstrong reprised his role as Sheriff Talbott, Stapleton took the supporting role of Vee Talbot. Interestingly, Stapleton also was the original Serafina in Tennessee Williams' "The Rose Tattoo," a role that also was played by Anna Magnani on-screen. See more »
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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