Author Archive for Meisha

12
Oct
11

“The Appaloosa” (1966)

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Co-stars: John Saxon, Anjanette Comer, Emilio Fernández

Character: Matt Fletcher

In his career, Brando starred in only three westerns. This was one of them. He plays a bison hunter and drifter who has returned home to his family in order to start a ranch with his small fortune and prized appaloosa stallion. Unfortunately for him, a cruel Mexican bandit and his girlfriend have targeted his horse, and steal it from him. Brando’s character spends the rest of the film attempting to retrieve the horse.

It’s a simple plot.

Upon reception, the film was critically panned, and a commercial failure. By this point, Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood had popularized the spaghetti western, and the indulgent camera angles and film work went unappreciated by both the general public and critics alike. They weren’t wrong about this- there are many shots where I found myself thinking “now what is the point of this?” Brando’s performance is also criticized for being underwhelming, as it was well documented that the star had lost interest in production halfway through. So why did he take the film? Alimony, bitches! Alimony to two ex-wives (Anna and Movita). One can venture a guess that child support was also a factor in taking on a role he didn’t care about in the least.

"Aww fuck not another lawsuit!"

However, despite all that, I found myself enjoying the movie. It was everything the past few Brando movies hadn’t been: short, concise, and to the point. The plot was very simple, and in that there were no pointless subplots weighing down an otherwise decent story. There was no overacting, and the cheese was (more or less) intentional and tongue in cheek. It is neither high drama nor slapstick comedy, settling for being generally amusing. When the plot threatened to drag, its short running time (just over an hour and a half) kept the film in check. Perhaps most notable of a Brando film in this period: it has no overarching lesson on morality.

One striking complaint from critics at this point was that Brando was cashing in on his star, showing no real artistry in the film. They’re probably right, it’s neither groundbreaking work nor would he have been a huge star if he had debuted with this. My one complaint watching this was Brando’s physicality- he looks pretty sloppy on camera, hiding under a poncho that cannot conceal his gut. I don’t hold it against him as a person- power to the cheeseburger loving brother! But it’s hard to imagine a 19th century cowboy type being this pudgy. It doesn’t suit the character, and it detracts from the film. You know, it’s kind of like when Russel Crowe was all fat and shit in Robin Hood. Just not right man, not right. Overall, I still found myself entertained and not hideously underwhelmed. I also can’t help but appreciate Marlon for personally nixing all “cowboys and Indians” fight scenes, even at the expense of the film’s action. Therefore, thumb up.

Quotes: “Well, I’ve done a lot of killin’. I’ve killed a lot of men and sinned a lot of women. But the men I killed needed killin’ and the women wanted sinnin’, and well, I never was one much to argue.”

“The next time you point a gun at me, you better pull that trigger, because I’m going to blow you into so many pieces your friends will get tired of looking for you.”

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11
Oct
11

“The Chase” (1966)

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Co-stars: Jane Fonda, Robert Redford, E.G. Marshall, Angie Dickinson, Robert Duvall, James Fox

Character: Sheriff Calder

In The Chase, Brando stars as the sheriff of a small Texas town, and an honorable man the townspeople think is the puppet of a rich oil tycoon. The film spans a Saturday night of local debauchery, as Sheriff Calder tries to locate the escaped convict Bubber Reeves (played by Robert Redford), a notorious hoodlum who is accused of murder. Bubber is shown at the beginning of the film to have not killed the man, and the film follows his elaborate escape across the Texas land. Sheriff Calder comes across as tired and disinterested in his job, and it is found out that he was a farmer who had lost his land, and Val Rogers, the aforementioned oil tycoon, had set him up with the sheriff job. He attempts to be fair and keep law and order in the town, but the citizens are immoral and show him no respect, and Rogers expects special privileges and information be give to him.

The director spends the first hour of the film establishing characters, moods, and morality of the town. At the halfway point, I was still unsure what the film was about, aside from reading a synopsis online. A lot of time is spent mythologizing Bubber Reeve, and we’re never quite told what he was in jail for in the first place, although it seems he is just a petty thief who fails at actually thieving. We also spend a lot of time with the wide supporting cast, showing the townspeople to be caught between the free love of the ’60’s and the old prejudices of the South.  In the second hour, the action picks up, with the male locals drunk and looking for violence. They target a black man, but when Calder intervenes, he is targeted. In fact, this film is best known for the violent, bloody beating of Sheriff Calder at the hands of drunken vigilantes.

The film had a fantastic all star cast, lead by Brando only in name really, as the wide ensemble got plenty of individual screen time. Everyone carried their own weight in the film, and the future legends were all on their A-game, not allowing Brando to completely blast them out of the water. The film suffers through technicalities. It runs far too long, the ending is more of a slap than an uppercut, and the fictionalized Texas is a confusing place that doesn’t seem to really exist. It is not the performances that are weak, but the script, editing, and direction (although the director spoke out against the control taken from him by the producer, who oversaw the script re-writes and editing which stripped the film of all Brando’s best moments and improvisations). The main thing about the town and citizens is that they’re all caricatured stereotypes, people who don’t exist except for in the imagination of an angry liberal (or in the scriptwriter’s case, angry Stalinist). After reflecting on the film, it could have been an incredibly exciting classic, had it been in the hands of a greater director and the characters had been given a little more moral ambiguity. It is the same thing that pulled that pulled down Brando’s previous film, The Fugitive Kind. The film also suffers from the Technicolor, which makes the unrealistic town all the more unrealistic. It is these shortcomings that caused the film to flop and critics to pan it. I like to imagine what the film could have been, in the hands of someone like Roman Polanski.

All in all, Brando’s performance is very good, of what is shown in the film. It’s a bit better overall than other films of his in recent years at this point in his career, and it’s a tragedy that many of his improvisations and inspired moments ended up on the cutting room floor. Thumb up.

Quotes: Damon “Well now, Sheriff, it’s nice to know that you’re out here on patrol. ”
Sheriff Calder “No, no, I’m not on patrol. Just lookin’ for an ice cream cone, that’s all.”

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10
Oct
11

“Meet Marlon Brando” (1966)

In 1965, after a string of box office flops, Marlon Brando opted to play ball for the studio, doing a rare press tour in support of Morituri. Luckily, the documentary filmmakers Albert and David Maysles were on hand to record the encounters. Brando avoids talking about Morituri, choosing instead to share his views on acting, politics, education, race relations, even cigars. He does one interview in fluent French, and briefly talks with an interviewer in grammatical German. He chides the male interviewers, and flirts openly with the females. When asked about it years later, Brando claimed he was drunk the whole time. However, he comes across soft spoken, thoughtful, and genuinely interested in the individuals surrounding him at any given moment. His extreme distaste for “hocking” (his word) a film though, is very clear. Luckily, the entire documentary is available on YouTube to watch. It’s posted below, if you’re interested.

09
Oct
11

“Morituri” (1965)

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Co-stars: Yul Brynner, Janet Margolin, Trevor Howard

Character: Robert Crain

Morituri tells the story of Robert Crain, a German pacifist who escapes a WWII tour of duty by fleeing to India. There he is affluent and lives a comfortable lifestyle, but the British military intelligence tracks him down and promises to send him back to Germany if he doesn’t carry out a sabotage in the interest of the Allies. His mission is to sabotage a German ship en route from Japan to Germany carrying the precious resource of rubber.  He has to prevent the ship from being scuttled, the act of a Captain intentionally sinking his ship, as the British wish to capture the rubber from the Germans. To get aboard the ship, he poses as an SS officer, and has the eyes of the ship’s Captain on him at all times.

“Morituri” is derived from the Latin term “morituri te salutamus“, meaning “we (or those) who are about to die salute thee”. It is a fitting if confusing movie title. As Crain plays the role of the SS officer (who’s behavior he doesn’t understand), he has to be suave, authoritative, and not draw attention to himself. As he skulks about the bottom of the ship sabotaging it, he is nearly seen or caught with every turn he takes. My breath was on hold with every close encounter. His mission is a suicidal one, and we know that the whole time watching the film.

The film is heavily weighed down by too many subplots. There are German political prisoners aboard the ship who wish to overthrow it so they don’t have to return to Germany, and who also wish to kill Crain, believing him to be an officer of the SS. A Jewish American girl is taken as a prisoner by another German vessel and handed over to the rubber ship, where she acts as more of metaphor for her people than an actual character. There is also Yul Brynner’s Captain Mueller, a career sailor with a tendency towards emotional drunkenness. Clocking in at over two hours, it becomes convoluted and tiring to watch, which is unfortunate due to the interesting and exciting nature of the first half of the film. It’s only partially satisfying- like when you want greasy take out pizza but pick one up at the grocery store to bake in your own oven instead.

The unfortunate thing is that Brando is really damn good as Robert Crain. He has that spot on German accent he rocked in The Young Lions again, and with his German heritage, it’s perfect. He teeters between compassion and self interest, and kept me on the edge of my seat with the potential that he could be revealed at any moment as a double agent. Yul Brynner was also strong and commanding in his role, and if the script and direction had matched the quality of their performances, it could have been a classic. Sadly, Morituri falls short of greatness.

Overall, the film is pretty decent, with great aspects that were crowded and weighed down by dead weight. I give it a thumb up. Morituri has successfully earned the participation award.

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25
Sep
11

Civil Rights Round Table (August 28, 1963)

Although this blog’s current main focus is Brando’s professional career as a film actor, it would be doing him a great disservice to not discuss his passion and work as a human rights activist and advocate. While he is remembered and revered for his contributions to the profession of acting and influence on modern film, to him it was his job. He felt that his true purpose in life was to stand up for, and fight along with, those crushed and oppressed by inequality and discrimination.

On August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered the historical and pivotal “I Have A Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. What you may not know is that Marlon Brando stood behind Dr. King on those steps that day, along with other recognizable figures fighting for the civil rights of the African American peoples of the USA.

Later that day, Marlon joined in a round table discussion on the meaning and future of civil rights in America with James Baldwin, Harry Belafonte, Charlton Heston, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, and Sidney Poitier. This is the unedited video of that discussion.

For your consideration:
Martin Luther King, Jr’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech, audio and text

25
Sep
11

“Bedtime Story” (1964)

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Co-stars: David Niven, Shirley Jones

Character: Freddy Benson

Welcome back from the dead, Marlon Brando movie project! Wow, I watched this film a few weeks ago, and am only writing the post right now. I’m going to keep this brief though, so as to not prolong my suffering. What can I say that hasn’t been said by a critic already? I don’t know. But I’m going to try.

Bedtime Story was Brando’s first, and only, starring turn in a direct genre comedy. It tells the story of two con men, Freddy Benson and Lawrence Jameson, who swindle women for sex and money. Brando’s Benson is an American soldier stationed in Germany, and his scam with women involves targeting attractive women, photographing their houses, and pretending that the houses are his sick grandmother’s childhood home. Jameson, meanwhile, lives in a chalet on the French Riviera, and pretends to be a displaced European prince in order to separate rich women from their jewels. The two men meet and briefly work together, Benson usually portraying Jameson’s “special” younger brother. Eventually, the men come to feel that they both can’t work the same town, and create a competition where the first man to separate a woman from $25,000 (I think, don’t quote me on that) gets to stay, and the other has to lead town.

The main problems with this film are the script, and the direction. The script  falls flat, with dull dialogue and predictable outcomes. The direction is bland and uninspired, leaving the actors to their own devices. The general consensus of the film is that David Niven carries it, and while he is a comic legend, his decidedly British aesthetic whimpers and dies below the dead weight of the dialogue. Brando’s character calls for more physical comedy, unlike Niven’s refined “gentleman”. He hams it up with silly faces, voices, and sudden bursts of energy. While playing the “special” young prince during the two men’s collaborative cons, he leaps about, climbs up walls, and growls at rich ladies. It’s one of the few laughable parts of the film, but a big part of it is the ridiculousness of seeing the brilliant and legendary Brando leapfrog about in a prince costume while growling and acting like a toddler. It’s bizarre.

The premise of the film is clever and entertaining, but the execution is tepid and painfully predictable. The ending is especially grueling with it’s grossly moral happy ending. However, the film was unofficially remade in 1988 as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine, to much more critical and commercial success. That film was turned into a 2005 stage musical of the same name starring John Lithgow. It can be so interesting to find out a film’s legacy, especially when a film is less than notable.

Brando said that this film was one of the most enjoyable he ever made, as he got to work with a comedic actor he respected and have a lot of laughs on set. It is visibly clear that the man is enjoying himself throughout the film, but he is held back by poor source material and a lack of natural talent for comedy acting. It made it his most contrived work to date. Even Désirée, where he simply didn’t seem to care, was not this contrived. As well, I personally couldn’t help but feel that the now 40 year old Brando playing a younger soldier was a bit silly. While still handsome and youthful featured, it had been 13 years since he was in Streetcar, and he had clearly aged. But I digress. Overall, the film is mildly amusing but generally lukewarm, and left me shaking my head and with the feeling that doing the household chores would have been an ultimately more rewarding experience. Thumbs down.

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30
Aug
11

“The Ugly American” (1963)

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Co-stars: Sandra Church, Eiji Okada, Pat Hingle, Judson Pratt, Arthur Hill, Jocelyn Brando

Awards: Nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama

Character: Ambassador Harrison Carter MacWhite

Well here goes: my first post in quite some time. I watched this film for the first time the evening before I embarked on my vacation, but didn’t have time to write a post that night. I re-watched it last night in order to refresh my memory, and have been struggling to find the words to describe the film since. I find myself struggling with films like these, but I’ll get into that further at a later point.

The film follows the US ambassador to the fictional Southeast Asian country of Sarkhan, Harrison Carter MacWhite (clearly a man with three last names- so confused he is that he goes by “Mac” to his friends). He is an accomplished journalist who’s only real qualification for the job is being in Sarkhan during the war and befriending a man who would become a leader of the people, Deong. He is a well mannered scholar and democratic idealist, who is shaken by the senate hearing he goes through before arriving in Sarkhan. One senator tries to claim that Deong is a communist, something which MacWhite denies, and something that isn’t true.

"What do you mean there's no 24 hour McDonald's in Sarkhan?"

When he arrives at the airport with his wife, a large scale but peaceful protest had been attempted, but a riot had broken out amongst the Sarkhanese. They had been sent there by his friend Deong, who had implored them to be quiet and peaceful. After scolding the laziness of the American diplomats at the Embassy, he heads to Deong’s house for a night of catching up and whiskey. The night starts out good, with talks of life, women, and Deong rowing a drunken Mac down his moat, as Mac pesters a turtle (wat). Of course, Deong tells Mac about his involvement in the incident earlier that day, and well, a drunken ideological argument ensues. It later turns into a drunken ideological battle, with Mac convinced that Deong is a communist (he’s not).

The focus of the film is the building of “Freedom Road”, a large highway built by the Americans to help improve infrastructure and the economy in the tiny country. However, the local Sarkhanese people don’t want it to be built, as they see it as a sign of American imperialism and a power grab in the Cold War, of which they rightfully want no part of. After Mac becomes convinced that Deong is a communist, he boldly, and stupidly, pushes the building of the highway forward, showing no regard for the calls from the people.

The country of Sarkhan and the story of The Ugly American are an obvious metaphor for Vietnam and US policy in the country at the time. It puts the blame on the ignorance and lack of understanding by the American government and the people representing it in the region, as well as the poor and boorish manners of those living there. It makes many broad and generally accurate statements about American people in foreign countries, and this caused some people to denounce the film as being anti-American (it’s not). It does however fall short at delivering its message boldly and effectively.

And not a single fuck was given that day...

This is not Brando’s best performance ever, and one of his blandest by this point in his career. Of course, it wouldn’t win him a Razzie… it’s just, average. It’s uninspired. It’s not the Brando we think of when we think of Brando. For me, there are moments of inspired clarity that remind me of the Brando we know and love. One in particular: when he comes home after a long first day at the embassy, he comes home to find his wife sleeping with her foot out of the covers. After trying to cover it, she tells him not to. He sits down on the bed as he simultaneously swings her foot onto his laps and then proceeds to massage her foot and leg. It’s intimate, it’s real, it’s nice. If you watch the film, I guarantee you will smile at the simplistic naturalism of it all.

As Brando moves through the film, he comes across as incredibly tired. It works usually within the context of the film, but it’s not really an act. His personal life was more or less a bloody disaster. He was having career troubles, island troubles, and lady troubles- incredible amounts of lady troubles. He was in and out of court with his first wife Anna Kashfi, his first wife, fighting for custody for his first son Christian. His second marriage to Movita Castenada had all but crumbled, and his divorce to her was pending. Their son together had turned into a little monster.  As well, he had taken up with Tarita Teriipia, and she was still in Tahiti, taking care of the child he had conceived with her. It should be noted that Trojan’s started being sold in 1927, Brando obviously just didn’t know how to use them, and never did figure them out, as brother had a lot of children. So many, in fact, that I like to play a little guessing game with people, called “Who had more children: Marlon Brando or Ol’ Dirty Bastard?” Try and guess, I’ll reveal it at the end.

"You play ridiculous games, sir."

This is by no means a bad movie. It’s just not a really good film either. If I were a legitimate film reviewer, I’d be giving it 2 and 1/2 or 3 stars at most, depending on if I use a 4 or 5 star rating system. It’s not torturous, but it’s not memorable. I probably couldn’t give the details of this film in a month, whereas with many of his early films, I could. It has good and bad elements. It needs to be pointed out, that to me, Brando’s characterization comes across as bizarro mash up of Brad Pitt’s Lt. Aldo Raine in Inglorious Basterds, and former Canadian politician Jack Layton (RIP). This is probably because it’s a good looking Hollywood actor wearing a ridiculous mustache and playing an idealistic government worker. This mustache is absolutely hilarious too- watch it throughout the film- for it is a wonderfully subtle continuity fail. It changes thickness throughout the film, sometimes within the same day. The score of the film is also really great- carrying the majority of the emotional weight of the film. It’s really good actually. Anyways, to wrap up, I’d rate this film a chin on a fist- huh.

Answer to “Who had more children: Marlon Brando or Ol’ Dirty Bastard?”: Confirmed- Brando. He had 11. However, it is unclear just how many Ol’ Dirty Bastard had- it is thought he had up to 13. As well, some sources claim Brando fathered 13 children, but they’re most likely wrong. The numbers are confusing though, as he never discussed his family with the public, and rightfully so.

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"He's an angel as a man and a monster as an actor."
- Bernardo Bertolucci

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