A Streetcar Named Desire 1951 Adapted from Tennessee Williams’ Pulitzer Prize winning play. Directed by Elia Kazan. Starring the virtually unknown Marlon Brando, Vivian Leigh, Kim Hunter, and Karl Malden. Middle aged teacher and southern belle, Blanche Dubois, arrives in New Orleans to visit her sister, Stella, and brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski. She’s appalled at the rundown apartment and Stanley’s primal behavior, but Stella is happy.
Blanche is a prima-donna who gets on Stanley’s nerves. He accuses her of spending money inherited from the sale of an estate; of secretly drinking, and of sexual promiscuity…seeing much of the truth. The visitor ingratiates herself to one of Stanley’s sweeter poker-playing friends. When her mental instability and the crime she’s fled are exposed, however, Mitch turns his back. Blanche ultimately falls apart.
There are differences in the film and play, including the ending. (I prefer that of the play.) Nonetheless, it’s a fine, taut movie with splendid acting. Rent on Amazon Prime
Julius Caesar 1953 Shakespeare. Directed and uncredited screenplay by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Brando as Mark Antony, James Mason as Brutus, John Gielgud as Cassius, Louis Calhern as Julius Caesar. With Greer Garson and Deborah Kerr. The New York Times said: “Happily, Mr. Brando’s diction, which has been guttural and slurred in previous films, is clear and precise in this instance. In him a major talent has emerged…” A solid production with many in the cast having acted in the play previously. Subdued by black and white filming and lack of excessive sets. Amazon Prime and Netflix
The Wild One 1954 based on Frank Rooney’s short story, “The Cyclists’ Raid” about a violent, alcohol-soaked, Fourth of July motorcycle rally in California. Directed by Laszlo Benedek. Brando’s persona, Johnny Strabler, became a cultural icon. After causing trouble at a race, The Black Rebels Motorcycle Club (BRMC) stops in a small California town. Johnny fixes on Kathie, a fresh, young girl at the local café who at first rejects him. By the time, intrigued, she comes around, he rejects her. (Nobility?)
Meanwhile, a rival gang arrives, its leader with a sizeable chip on his shoulder. Violence starts small then escalates. Johnny is falsely accused of one action, while accidentally responsible for another. The town is terrorized. When law gets things under control, Johnny is arrested but unwitting witnesses speak up for him. Sweet ending. Rent on Amazon Prime
On the Waterfront 1954 inspired in part by whistle-blowing longshoreman Anthony DeVincenzo, who testified before a real-life Waterfront Commission about activities on the Hoboken Docks and “Crime on the Waterfront” by Malcolm Johnson, a series of Pulitzer Prize winning articles published in The New York Sun. Directed by Elia Kazan, many say in penitence for his having named names to the HUAC. Written by Budd Schulberg. Eight Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress. With Brando, Eva Marie Saint (film debut), Karl Malden.
A Gritty crime drama focused on the violence and corruption of longshoremen, union and family loyalty. Terry Malloy (Brando) was a promising boxer “a contender” until mob boss, Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) instructed him to lose a fight. The message was conveyed in no uncertain terms by Friendly’s right hand man, Terry’s brother, Charley (Rod Steiger). The young man now works on the docks.
Convinced to lure a man about to testify against Friendly into an ambush, Terry learns what he thought would mean a beating, is, in fact, murder. He meets and gets involved with the victim’s sister, Edie (Eva Marie Saint). It’s the last straw. Rent on Amazon Prime
Guys and Dolls 1955 based on the Broadway musical by composer/lyricist Frank Loesser, which, in turn, was loosely based on “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown” and “Blood Pressure,” two short stories by Damon Runyon. Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Frank Sinatra coveted the role of Sky Masterson, as a result of which on set relations between him and Brando were strained.
The guys: Gambler, Nathan Detroit (Frank Sinatra), big time gambler Sky Masterson (Brando), Harry the Horse (Sheldon Leonard), Nicely Nicely Johnson (Stubby Kaye). The gals: Nathan’s fiancée, chorus girl, Miss Adelaide (Vivian Blaine), Sergeant Sarah Brown ( Jean Simmons), sister at the Save a Soul Mission. Nathan bets Sky he can’t take a girl of Nathan’s choosing to dinner in Havana, Cuba. He chooses Sarah Brown.
Pretending to be filled with remorse, Sky suggests to Sarah that he’ll provide a dozen sinners for the usually empty, Thursday night meeting in return for the sergeant’s having dinner with him in Havana. Both couples ultimately get together. Wry, colorful characters. Highly enjoyable. Everyone did his/her own singing. Rent on Netflix
Sayonara 1957 adapted from the James Michener novel. Directed by Joshua Logan. Academy Awards for supporting Actor – Red Buttons and Actress – Miyoshi Umeki. Two love stories set in Japan face considerable odds. Against the wishes of the military establishment and his commanding officer, Major Lloyd “Ace” Gruver (Brando), crew chief Joe Kelly (Buttons) is about to marry Japanese national, Katsumi (Umeki). They’re deeply in love.
Katsumi introduces Gruver to important Japanese entertainer, Hana-ogi (Miiko Taka). The major finds him falling in love. We watch prejudice exert itself at two very different levels of society. One relationship rises above, the other ends tragically. An excellent film. Rent on Amazon Prime
Last Tango in Paris 1972 Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci. Starring Brando, Maria Schneider, Jean-Pierre Leaud. You might call it art house eroticism, but raw sex, violence and emotional wretchedness make this film seem like flat out porn. A recently widowed (by suicide) American man has anonymous, brutal sex with a young Parisian woman. Eventual loss of anonymity brings the “relationship” to crisis. An existential act ends in tragedy. A painful film to watch. Simulated rape had purportedly devastating effect on the young actress. On Amazon Prime
The Freshman 1990 Directed by Andrew Bergman with Brando in full vocal/facial Godfather mode, a young Matthew Broderick, Bruno Kirby, Penelope Ann Miller. When Clark, an NYU film student, has his luggage stolen, the thief agrees to give it back in return for running an errand for his uncle, Carmine Sabatini, a Mafia don. Sabitini takes a liking to Clark. So does his aggressive daughter.
The young man is unwittingly drawn into running errands for an illegal business importing and dining on endangered animals. When the Fabulous Gourmet Club holds an extravagant dinner with Komodo Dragon as the main course (its host Bert Parks, yes, that Bert Parks), he goes undercover. Except for subject matter, a modern screwball comedy. Rent on Amazon Prime
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