Saturday, May 23, 2009

Brando - Rating his Movies - 1956-1962

235. TeaHouse of the August Moon 1956

Why Brando Took the Role
As early as 1955, Brando was (politically speaking) a loudmouthed horses ass. Per his biography, Brando would often lecture any talk show host who'd listen on Asia, economics, Japanese-American relations, and the third world. IOW, before the Indians, Brando loved the Asians. In 1955, Brando commented Asians "don't strive for material success the way we do, they consider the moral development more important."

Brando's interest in Asia and Japan led him to a popular Broadway comedy, "Tea house of the August Moon". The play was an attack on "Americanization" and seemed to be a box office sure thing. Brando requested MGM let him play the Okinawan interpreter "Sakini" in the film version. The Dore Shary, head of MGM, was skeptical -but Brando was the most popular movie star in the world. Per Dore Shary - "If Marlon wanted to play Little Eva, I'd let him". Brando also got to choose his friend Dan Mann as director. .

Brando Performance
Ugh, simply awful. Wearing a black wig & bad makeup the 190 lbs Brando is unconvincing as an Okinawan. But even worse than his accent - is his cartoonish overacting. Brando approaches the role with the subtly of a jackhammer. Sadly, his co-star Glenn Ford joins in. As one reviewer noted, Ford & Brando make Lewis & Martin look repressed. I give Brando points for trying. Rating *1/2

The Movie
Brando described The play as"magical" but the movie isn't. Even dependable Paul Ford and Eddie Albert can't save this turkey. While Machiko Kyo does a good job, Ford and Brando clownishly overact and the slapstick seems forced and mechanical. Further, the script isn't particularly good and is really a one-joke comedy. And the one joke's premise disappeared 40 years ago. A long two hours. This is one "classic" that should be forgotten. Rating **

236. Sayonara 1957

Why Brando Took the Role
Based on the bestselling Michener novel, Brando was attracted to the liberal message of racial tolerance. He also wanted to return to Japan. Having Logan as director and a nice salary were extra inducements. It should be noted the film is set in 1951, six years after WW II, and by 1957 official attitudes toward intermarriage had changed completely. Hence, the movie was not controversial when released. While filming Brando had the famous New Yorker interview with Capote .

Brando Performance
Incredibly Brando was nominated for an Oscar for this standard leading man role. One of my least favorite Brando performances. Trying to make him more interesting, Brando talks slow and adopts a deep southern drawl - resulting in a character that seems not like a hot-shot Jet fighter pilot - but a thick-headed halfback from Old Miss. But Brando does nail the final scene, where he preaches racial harmony and understanding. I think James Garner (the "Best Friend") would've been a better lead. Rating **

The Movie
Sayonara has some good things going for it. The Photography is beautiful, the production values are high, and most of the cast is excellent. But the passage of time has dimmed the movie's message. And the focus on Kabuki theater and Geisha's, along with the casting of Non-Asians as Japanese, comes off as condescending. Some of the acting, not just Brando, is pretty bad. Ricardo Montaban is simply absurd as the Japanese Kabuki performer. Worst of all is Red Buttons -playing an airman in love with a Japanese woman. For some reason, Buttons won an Oscar for playing an obnoxious whiner, who orders his wife around while making self-righteous speeches. Rating The acting gets ** stars, the rest of the movie a ***, so **1/2 overall.

237. The Young Lions 1958
Why Brando Took the Role

Brando was under contract to Fox, moreover, Brando was forced to take a $50,000 salary (as opposed to his usual $100K) to compensate Fox for his walkout on the "Egyptian". However, per his biography Brando looked forward to working with Dmytryk and Montgomery Clift.

Brando Performance
Dyeing his hair blond and adopting an acceptable German accent, Brando plays "Christian Diestal" a young German soldier who begins by supporting the Nazi's but becomes more and more disillusioned as the war drags on. Christian's ideals, his heroism in France, his dissatisfaction of his duty, his affair with his Captain's wife, his disillusionment, his pitiful retreat, and his sense of humanity that is heavily clouded by his blind ideals were all vividly brought to the screen by Brando's skillful rendering. He's particularly good playing off of Maximilian Schell - his aggressive, ruthless, commanding officer.

This was one of Brando's finest hours as he took the standard boring "evil Nazi" portrayed in Shaw's book and made him into a 3 dimensional human being. Brando not only made the character work as an actor, he was responsible for changing the original script that had him playing a generic movie villain.

The Movie
The Young Lions is a 3 hour B&W WW II movie based on Shaw's rather pedestrian novel. The novel is full of 2 dimensional characters and while rightly forgotten was a "Blockbuster" in the 1950s. Fox didn't have much faith in the movie and only budgeted $2 million for it. Its cheapness shows in the large amount of studio bound scenes and use of back-projections. Further, there's only one good battle scene (the Afrika Korps ambush). The movie keeps us focused on the home front - no doubt to keep down costs.

Fox was able to cast series of "A" actors while keeping salaries down for a variety of reasons. Brando owed Fox for walking out of the "Egyptian", Clift was damaged goods due to his accident and surgery, Dean had just quit his comedy act and signed for $25,000. Meanwhile, most of the Europeans were unknowns in the US and were gotten relatively cheap.

The acting is of a high level but the 3 separate stories (Dean, Brando, and Martin) never really connect with each other. In effect, its 3 separate movies all spliced into one. To make matters worse, the only interesting one is Brando's. As for the other two, Dean plays a nightclub singer who is nagged into the army by his patriotic wife, while Clift plays Ackerman - a Jewish draftee who fights anti-semitism. If this isn't dreary enough, once drafted Clift replays his role in "From Here to Eternity" as the loner harassed by the Company for not playing ball. BTW, Brando and Clift don't have a scene together. Ultimately, Brando is the only reason to see the movie. Rating ***

238. The Fugitive Kind 1959

Why Brando Took the Role

Money. Brando had rejected the script once since he thought Italian actress Magnani would "eat him alive" onscreen. But in 1958 he was short of cash and when the producers dangled a salary of $1 million - Brando bit. The salary was the highest paid an actor until Cleopatra.

Brando Performance
As "Snake" the guitar playing, leather wearing "bad Boy" Brando is excellent in the role. Most Williams male leads were tailor made for Brando and he has no problem with the role. The only problem is a lack of chemistry with Magnani. Rating ***

The Movie
A Box office bomb when released. People were tired of Tennessee Williams in 1959 - and the depressing ending. static direction, and B&W photography didn't help. I have mixed feelings. Some excellent acting, but good scenes alternate with the bad, and the story is simply old hat. Too much of it seems recycled from other Williams movies and plays. And despite two great performances by Magnani and Brando. both are slightly miscast. The parts really call for more needy, vulnerable characters. -I think Woodward as the lead and Newman or Clift as Snakeskin would been better. Rating **½

239. One Eyed Jacks 1960

Why Brando Took the Role
Brando's production company wanted to do a "commercial" project and a new kind of western. Brando wanted Tracy for his Co-star but had to settle for his friend Karl Malden. To give the movie a fresh look, Brando shot most of it Monterrey and Big Sur. Although designed to make money, Brando's perfectionism took over and millions of feet of film and several years later the film ended up over-budget and in the red. To quote TIme:

"One-Eyed Jacks (Pennebaker; Paramount). Marlon Brando has often announced that mere acting ("a childish thing ... by and large the expression of neurotic impulse'') is too small a bottle for his creative genie. In 1958 he got a chance to put aside childish things: he launched his first independent picture, planned as a nice, safe, medium-budget ($1,800,000) western. Producer: Brando. Star: Brando. Director: Stanley (Sparta-cits') Kubrick. Kubrick obviously had to go. and he soon did, leaving Brando with the megaphone and, as one Paramount saddle." executive put it, "Stanislavsky in the First day on the set. Brando tossed his script aside and mumbled to his actors: "We're going to improvise." And for the next six months, at an average cost of $42,000 a day, Brando improvised. Some times he just flicked on the cameras and let them roll while his actors ad-libbed —of 1 1 .000 ft. of film exposed one day. he used only 270 ft. in the finished picture.

When an actor accidentally belted him one. Brando happily reorganized his story to work the incident in. And the end of the picture is not the end Brando had in mind: the actors, in a democratic ballot, voted for one they liked better. Production was still further slowed by Brando's perfectionism. With a cast and crew on full salary, he sat for hours beside the Pacific Ocean and waited for the waves "to become more dramatic." For a drunk scene, he chugalugged a pint of vodka, got sincerely stoned and reportedly lost his supper — but kept the footage".

Brando Performance
Brando does a superb job both as a cowboy outlaw and then as the conflicted lover as he seeks revenge against Dad. Rating ****

The Movie
One of my favorite westerns. The movie beautifully photographed with excellent shots of the California coast. In the last reel, the lead flies and the catchup spectacularly splatter The big action scenes, in fact, are ingenious and exciting. Brando seems to combine a small boy's infatuation with violence and a dancer's flair for movement. Both Ben Johnson and Slim Pickens get in touch with their dark sides - and both are a hoot. Rating ****

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