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Orpheus Descending (1990)

Val Xavier is a drifter in 1940's Mississippi who brings new life to an Italian immigrant woman trapped in a loveless marriage.


Peter Hall


Tennessee Williams (play), Peter Hall
1 nomination. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Kevin Anderson ... Val Xavier
Brad Sullivan ... Jabe Torrance
Manning Redwood ... Talbot
Vanessa Redgrave ... Lady Torrance
Sloane Shelton Sloane Shelton ... Beulah
Patti Allison ... Dolly Hamma
Pat McNamara Pat McNamara ... Peewee
Michael McCarty Michael McCarty ... Dog Hamma
Buddy Saba Taweel Buddy Saba Taweel ... Papa Romano
Jaquilin Sadler Jaquilin Sadler ... Lady as Child
Doyle Richmond Doyle Richmond ... Conjure Man
Miriam Margolyes ... Vee Talbot
Anne Twomey Anne Twomey ... Carol Cutrere
Marlene Cameron Marlene Cameron ... Eva Temple
Peg Small Peg Small ... Sister Temple


Val Xavier is a drifter in 1940's Mississippi who brings new life to an Italian immigrant woman trapped in a loveless marriage. Written by John Sacksteder <jsackste@bellsouth.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Drama | Romance


Not Rated | See all certifications »






Release Date:

24 September 1990 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Tennessee Williams' Orpheus Descending See more »

Filming Locations:

Jacksonville, Florida, USA

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Michael Emerson's TV & Film debut. He played a clown in a brief scene toward the end. See more »


Val Xavier: Nobody ever gets to know *no body*. We're all of us sentenced to solitary confinements in our own lonely skins for life.
See more »


Version of The Fugitive Kind (1960) See more »

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User Reviews

Are Vanessa Redgrave and Meryl Streep Actually One and the Same?
23 September 1999 | by alicecbrSee all my reviews

Vanessa, an Italian in lower Slobovia, I mean Lousiana or Mississippi.....what a background to play against. This Tennessee Williams classic has great allusions to 'crossing the river', so read up on your Greek mythology before watching this movie. All of us with Southern accents cringe at the dead-on representation of the hypocritical upright citizenry of this pitiful town. The dying husband/Klansman who had burned out his wife's father many years before (and burned her father, as well, we find out) comes to life in the finale as he applies the torch to the hero. The hero, a young man in a snakeskin jacket, gives new life to three downtrodden women. One of them, driven crazy by the town's abuse, shows acute intelligence warped beyond redemption by her suffering.

This one is not a light excursion into escapist fare. The fact that most of Tennessee Williams' plays pull back the mask from Society's hypocritical face is certainly emphasized here. We make our compromises with what we learned in Sunday School and one day, we join a gang that strips and sets fire to those who are 'different' among us. When they in turn go berserk, as in Columbine, we blame the movies !!(?). Who is truly insane here?

Right on characterizations by the four townswomen, each one familiar to us. The artist who escapes into religious visions after facing lynchings and chain gangs, supervised by the brutality of her sheriff husband, fills the screen with her plain soul-beauty. We were taught of 'Southern Schizophrenia' in Sociology: the cleaving in two of our brains in order to co-exist with going to church three times a week and twice on Sunday.... and our savage mistreatment of the 'different', usually black, Jewish or Catholic. That was then and now is now......are we any different?

See it. Find yourself in it. Not an easy trip, because the 'Orpheus descending' is you and me.

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