Friday, Aug. 29, on Turner Classic Movies: some find Marlon Brando the greatest film actor ever. I'm assuming those people have never watched a movie with Edward G. Robinson, Pierre Brasseur, Claude Rains, or Max von Sydow.
Anyhow, Brando could be good – or even great. He was excellent in A Streetcar Named Desire and did capable work in Queimada, The Godfather, and Last Tango in Paris. He could also be godawful: Désirée, The Young Lions, Viva Zapata!, and, especially, as the I'm-so-hot biker in dire need of a mirror in The Wild One.
I find him quite mannered as the longshoreman hero in On the Waterfront, the film that earned him his first best actor Academy Award. (The second one was for The Godfather.) On the Waterfront, about the aforementioned longshoreman and his fight against corrupt union bosses (he must come out and accuse them), also won Oscars for best film, best direction (Elia Kazan, who'd denounced alleged Communist sympathizers to the House Un-American Activities Committee), best story and screenplay (Budd Schulberg, who'd also named names), best supporting actress (Eva Marie Saint, who delivers the film's best performance), best black-and-white cinematography (superb work by Boris Kaufman), best black-and-white art direction (Richard Day), and best editing (Gene Milford).
Now, when I think of Julius Caesar I think of Greer Garson, Deborah Kerr, James Mason – even Louis Calhern. It's as if Marlon Brando had never set foot in MGM's Ancient Rome. In Pictures Will Talk, a biography of Joseph L. Mankiewicz, author Kenneth L. Geist writes that when “Brando finally invited Mankiewicz to his apartment […] to play him the tape-recorded results of a month's intensive study of every recorded Shakespearean actor from Barrymore to Olivier,” Mankiewicz remarked that the actor sounded “exactly like June Allyson.” It's too bad that Brando didn't retain Allyson's throaty inflections when Julius Caesar was made; had he done so, I'm sure I'd have remembered his Mark Antony.
The Chase is a heavy drama that was despised by critics at the time. From what I remember – it's been a while – Brando delivers a mannered performance (what a shock…), but Jane Fonda and Robert Redford are quite good. (Director Arthur Penn would bounce back the following year with Bonnie and Clyde.)
Guys and Dolls is proof positive that Brando was no singer (his role had been intended for Gene Kelly) and that Joseph L. Mankiewicz was no director of musicals; The Formula is a pedestrian – if timely – mystery melodrama about giant corporations, greed, and gas; and Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now is one of those Greatest Films Ever Made That I Can Do Without. Martin Sheen, however, is a revelation as the going-mad American military man hunting an already-mad American military man gone native in Vietnam. Based on Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.
Schedule (Pacific Time) and synopses from the TCM website:
3:00 AM Fugitive Kind, The (1960)
A drifter ignites passions among the women of a Mississippi town. Cast: Marlon Brando, Anna Magnani, Joanne Woodward. Dir.: Sidney Lumet. Black and white. 121 mins. Letterbox Format
5:00 AM Chase, The (1966)
A convict's escape ignites passions in his hometown. Cast: Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda, Robert Redford. Dir.: Arthur Penn. Color. 133 mins. Letterbox Format
7:15 AM Julius Caesar (1953)
An all-star adaptation of Shakespeare's classic about Julius Caesar's assassination and its aftermath. Cast: Marlon Brando, James Mason, John Gielgud. Dir.: Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Black and white. 121 min.
9:30 AM Teahouse Of The August Moon, The (1956)
An Okinawan translator introduces U.S. occupation forces to the joys of local life. Cast: Marlon Brando, Glenn Ford, Eddie Albert. Dir.: Daniel Mann. Color. 123 mins. Letterbox Format
11:30 AM Guys And Dolls (1955)
A big-city gambler bets that he can seduce a Salvation Army girl. Cast: Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Jean Simmons. Dir.: Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Color. 149 mins. Letterbox Format
2:00 PM Brando (2007)
The two-part original documentary on the larger-than-life actor's life on-screen and off. Features interviews with Robert Duvall, James Caan, Jane Fonda, Al Pacino and Martin Scorsese. Black and white. 162 mins. Letterbox Format
5:00 PM On The Waterfront (1954)
A young stevedore takes on the mobster who rules the docks. Cast: Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Rod Steiger. Dir.: Elia Kazan. Black and white. 108 mins. Letterbox Format
7:00 PM Mutiny on the Bounty (1962)
Lavish remake of the classic tale of the villainous Captain Bligh who drives his crew to revolt during a South Seas expedition. Cast: Marlon Brando, Trevor Howard, Richard Harris. Dir.: Lewis Milestone. Color. 185 mins. Letterbox Format
10:15 PM Apocalypse Now (1979)
An Army captain travels to Cambodia during the Vietnam War to terminate a renegade officer. Cast: Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall. Dir.: Francis Ford Coppola. Color. 153 mins. Letterbox Format
1:00 AM Formula, The (1980)
A detective is in jeopardy after discovering a synthetic formula for gasoline. Cast: George C. Scott, Marlon Brando, Marthe Keller. Dir.: John Avildsen. Black and white. 118 mins. Letterbox Format