“The Fugitive Kind” (1959)

Rotten Tomatoes IMDb Wikipedia Co-stars: Anna Magnani, Joanne Woodward, Maureen Stapleton, Victor Jory Character: Valentine “Snakeskin” Xavier Eight years after the success of Streetcar, Brando once again performed in a film with a script by Tennessee Williams. At once very similar and different, a lot of variables had shifted. One was the fact that the leading man was now 35 years old and approximately 20 pounds heavier. Another was the fact that Tennessee’s script was rather weak- it had flopped on the stage twice, under two different names. He seems to have painted his male and female leads with the same brushes he used for Stanley and Blanche, but with somewhat different colours.

The film opens with Valentine “Snakeskin” Xavier in a courthouse, defending himself and promising to leave New Orleans for good. He is an entertainer in the night clubs, and the reason he was in court was for starting a riot in one of them and ripping up the joint. He plans to get his guitar, which he had to hock for cash, and leave town, never causing a problem in New Orleans again. He does just that, and ends up in a small town in the Deep South, after his car breaks down in the rain. He finds refuge at the local police department, where he meets Vee Talbot, who offers to get him a job as a clerk in a local five and dime store. He sleeps overnight in a holding cell, and its there that he gets his first glimpse of the police officer and local men. Their extreme racism is barely veiled, and they instantly hold contempt for the good looking outsider.

The next day, Vee takes Xavier to the shop where he is to get a job. The owners are Lady and Jabe Torrance, the latter of whom is sick and returning from the hospital. At the store, Xavier meets a pretty, but off-balanced young woman named Carol Cutrere. She claims to know him from his days in New Orleans, but he acts as if she doesn’t remember him. She expresses a desire to know him better. At this time, Lady and Jabe return. Jabe is quickly established as mean spirited and cruel, emotionally abusive of Lady, an Italian immigrant. Carol proceeds to make a scene after she is asked to leave the store, and Xavier offers to drive here where she needs to go. They spend the evening out together, and everywhere she goes she makes a spectacle of herself. The two of them end up in the cemetery, where Carol attempts to give Xavier a blow job- not attracted to her, he turns her down. He returns to the five and dime late that night, but Lady Torrance is still up, unable to sleep. He charms her into giving her the job, and flustered and desirous of the attractive young man who slowly stalks the store, she gives him one. More than he already has, he is established as thoughtful and sensual, aware of his power of women but uncomfortable with it. He shows Lady his guitar, a worn instrument given to him by the great Leadbelly, and signed by many great blues musicians. Later, they are seen operating the store. Xavier is wearing a clean suit, and helps out the female customers, of which there are many. They seem to come to the store simply to flirt with him, and after he rejects their advances, they leave in a huff. Carol then returns, making a spectacle of herself at the local gas station. After Xavier stops her from getting slapped by a man, he leads her into the store. A local woman rushes in after to tell Lady that they’ve called her brother to retrieve her. Lady tells Carol that when her brother comes she is to leave, and her brother isn’t to enter the store.

When Carol’s brother arrives, he enters the store and comes face to face with Lady. There, she verbally attacks him. They had been together, and the summer he left her she was carrying his child. Horrified, he tries to console her, but she pushes him out of the store. Xavier, who has been watching, tries to console her, and takes her to her father’s old vineyard. It is there that she tells him how, after her father made the mistake of selling wine to black people, the local men burnt his home and vineyard to the ground. She then relates how her father tried to put the fire out by himself, single-handed, and died engulfed in the flames. At some point, Jabe has called Xavier up the stairs to get a look at him- after seeing that he is good looking, he becomes even more cruel and angry.

One night, Lady offers to let Xavier stay in the store in order to save money, in a room off to the back. He agrees, but as she goes up the stairs for clean linen, he enters the cash register and takes a sum out, and leaves the store. He is seen gambling in a local juke joint, and returns on the back of a farm truck, singing with his guitar. This scene does not work for me, as he has a voice double to sing low and bluesy, and knowing what his real voice sounds like, it comes across as ridiculous. When he returns to the store, he puts the money he took from the cash register back. He gets into a fight with Lady, who feels foolish for fawning over him. After a small skirmish, he kisses her, and they fall behind the veil of his bedroom. The next scene blends into them in her new confectionery she’s been working on to look like her father’s vineyard. They are in love, but the small town is aware of it, including Jabe and his nurse, and no one is happy about it.

Based on Tennessee William’s play Orpheus Descending, itself a modern retelling of the Greek legend of Orpheus, it strives for but achieves none of the wild, barely constrained passion and power of Streetcar. Brando’s character is underwritten, and while he often achieves real notes of brilliance, he also often underplays it. It cannot help that Magnani and Brando had zero chemistry off screen- she had attempted to seduce him by calling him to her hotel room early in the shoot and passionately kissing him, but after he tried to get away, he pinched her nose and ran off. It caused a lot of tension on the working set, as she was angry and difficult for the remainder of the shoot. Brando, at this point, was starting with his legendary status of being difficult to work with.

This is by no means a bad film. It has all of the right elements for an undisputed classic, it just doesn’t quite get there. Perhaps if Elia Kazan had been at the helm, instead of Sidney Lumet. But we will never know. What can be pointed out here is what Brando always said of Tennessee- in some ways, he always thought of him as Stanley Kowalski, and always tried to get him to play Kowalski type characters. Maybe that’s why Tennessee was unhappy with Brando’s performance- he tried to breathe a different life into the character of Val Xavier. All in all, it’s a bit wordy, but still highly watchable. A bit older, a bit more average in build, Brando is still a sexy leading man, and broods his way across the screen in a way that can make you blush at times. Thumbs up.

Quotes: “It’s been said that a woman can burn a man down… I can burn a woman down.”

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1 Response to ““The Fugitive Kind” (1959)”

  1. June 1, 2014 at 12:35 am

    Hello there! This post couldn’t be written any better!
    Reading this post reminds me of my previous room mate!
    He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this article to him.

    Pretty sure he will have a good read. Thank you for

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