Saturday, May 23, 2009

Brando - Rating his Movies - 1953-1955

240. The Wild One 1953

Why Brando Took the Role
Another Socially conscious role with Stanley Kramer. Further, Brando was fascinated with these "outlaws" and wanted to show how why young people gathered in groups that seek expression in violence.

Brando Performance
Brando is miscast as the "outlaw" Biker. He's simply too pudgy, soft, and mannered to be the head of an outlaw biker gang. Comparison to Lee Marvin (as his rival Chino) highlights this inadequacy. Surround Brando with women and beta males (as in the "Streetcar" and "On the Waterfront") and he comes off as the vulnerable brute. But along side true tough guys like Lee Marvin - Brando's softness becomes obvious. However, Brando had his heart in the movie and is obviously trying his best. His interactions with Mary Murphy are excellent. Rating ***

The Movie
Controversial, and popular when released, the movie was condemned for its "shocking" violence, and banned in Britain until 1968. The Daily News called it "filled with horror and sadism" Brando himself was disappointed in the movie, stating that all the meaning had been drained from the original script leaving only the violence.

From a 21st century perspective the movie's violence is incredibly mild, and the bikers are as threatening as a 4-H club. They buzz around town on their bikes, are rude to old people, and play their loud "boogie music", but pay for their beers and coffee and dance with each other. Brando's gang includes Alvy Moore (Mr.Kimbal), Gil Straton, and Jerry Paris (Jerry Helper) - not exactly a bunch of dangerous thugs. Some look like Junior high school kids, others like High school teachers. As for the direction, the movie was filmed in Columbia' back lot on a low budget, & looks like a 1950s B movie. Finally, The "Hipster" lingo is laughable :

"They going to do a cement job on Crazy -- We going to sit around scratch ourselves? Hey, let's get a scramble going here! Blow those squares -- have a scramble for ourselves!"

Like, Dig it, Daddy-O. Without Brando the movie would be forgotten. Rating **1/2

241. On the Waterfront 1954

Why Brando Took the Role
Originally promised to Sinatra (who was mad to do it) - producer Sam Spiegel really wanted Brando. But Brando had already sent the script back - twice. Undeterred, Spiegel and Kazan kept after him. Finally, Brando agreed for one reason - he needed money to pay his psychoanalyst. Brando got $125,000 in cash, all in advance. As result, Sinatra was upset and sued Spiegel for $500,000. Also angry was a young unknown actor called Paul Newman. Kazan had offered him the part after Brando's first turn down.

Brando Performance
The iconic Brando performance. "You don't understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it. It was you, Charley. It was you Charlie, it was you." Rating ****

The Movie
A superb movie. Still powerful after 55 years, the 1954 best picture of the year, with excellent performances from Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Malden, Steiger and Lee J. Cobb. Rating ****

242. Desiree 1954

Why Brando Took the Role
20th Century Fox forced Brando to do it. While under contract to Fox for two movies , Brando walked off the set of the "Egyptian". Brando plead illness, but its the script that made him sick. Zanuck was livid and Fox sued. As part of the out-of-court settlement, Brando had to do both Desiree and the Young Lions.

Brando Performance
Brando adopts a British accent and plays Napoleon as a cool, calm high-toned Englishmen. Deliberately understated or on cruise-control? Who Knows. Sadly, he has no real chemistry or passion with Jean Simmons (Desiree). But not a bad performance. Rating ***

The Movie
A lavish 1950s CinemaScope production of best selling novel. It tells the story of Napoleon though the eyes of his first mistress Desiree (Jean Simmons). Merle Oberon plays Josephine. One of those 1950s Historical epics with a mediocre script that tries to get by on lavish production values and some great actors. Nice to look at but too long Rating **1/2

243. Guys and Dolls 1955

Why Brando Took the Role
Brando liked the director Joe Mankawitz, thought a musical would be interesting and signed for $200,000. Goldwyn's original choice was Gene Kelly but MGM refused to loan him out. Who did Brando beat out for the role? Sinatra, Crosby, and Clark Gable. Goldwyn also considered Lancaster, Mitchum, and Douglas for Sky. But Goldwyn believed the public would flock to hear Brando Sing - and he was right.

Brando Performance
Brando took voice lessons and as many as 100 takes to produce his musical numbers. And they are quite adequate and charming. Of course, he's no Sinatra - he's not even Van Johnson, but his singing is good enough. Brando shines in the romance/dramatic part of the play and has excellent chemistry with Jean Simmons. As for the comedy - Brando said it best: "I wanted to effect a frothy farce style, but I'm heavy footed with comedy". Having Frank Sinatra as his comic sidekick "Nathan Detroit" didn't help. A good try. Rating ***

The Movie
A lavish 1950s middlebrow musical that was a smash hit. I l have mixed feelings. I love most of the movie but find parts dull and/or unfunny. Vivien Blaine and Stubby Kaye are good, the musical numbers are great, & the Simmons-Brando romance is excellent. The movie is good - but could have been better.

First, the pace is too slow, the direction too static, and the movie too long (150 minutes) Second, Sinatra's character should have been played by a comedian (Phil Silvers?) or a singer with comedic skills (Dean Martin) And while Jean Simmons is good, Shirley Jones would have been better Sinatra, Gable or Mitchum as Sky would have been an improvement. Sinatra as Sky and Martin as Nathan would have been ideal. Kelly was Goldwyn's first choice, but Kelly had a smirky, insincere manner and weak voice.

The main failing is too many non-musical people in front of and behind the camera. You had 2 lead actors who didn't sing or dance, a comic sidekick who didn't do comedy and a director who didn't do musicals. I've sounded quite critical - but with all its flaws its quite good.. Rating ***1/2

2 comments:

Trooper York said...

Guys and Dolls and On the Waterfront is as good as it gets.

On the Waterfront speaks to me because I grew up with it. My uncles worked on the docks in the sixties and I remember the big strike where there was tons of violence and stuff. It was a lot like that.

One uncle always got in a gang when they shaped up because he was such a good worker. He is about five feet tall and weighed about 90pounds soaking wet but he was a demon for work. He was a floater, he never belonged to a set gang. But when he shaped up someone always picked him as a extra because they wanted a guy who really worked.

My other uncle was in a set gang because of his godfather who was a big wheel on the docks. So he always worked too.

rcocean said...

Trooper, great stuff. I read Kazan and Bud S. did a lot of research and tried to make the movie as realistic as possible.

I didn't know strikes etc were still going on in the 60s. Have a great Memorial Day - just finished my computer work & I'm off to holiday with Mrs RC.