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
not Williams, Lumet, or Brando's best, but it's still pretty damn good!
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.
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