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08
Aug
11

“Mutiny On The Bounty” (1962)

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Co-stars: Trevor Howard, Dumbledore Richard Harris, Hugh Griffith, Richard Haydn, Tarita Tariipia, Percy Herbert, Duncan Lamont

Character1st Lt. Fletcher Christian

The sweeping epic that nearly sunk MGM and Brando’s career, it is in turns enthralling and exhausting. It is the fourth of five films telling the story of the Bounty, and other Fletcher Christian’s include Errol Flynn, Mel Gibson, and Clark Gable. This Mutiny on the Bounty is actually a remake of the Clark Gable film of the same name, with an entirely different characterization of Fletcher by Brando.

As the ship is boarding, we meet the main crew members that will be instrumental in the inevitable mutiny, including Seaman John Mills. Captain William Bligh boards, and he is quickly established as a hard ass. We also meet William Brown, the horticulturist in charge of overseeing the transport of the breadfruit to the slaves of Jamaica. He is an intellectual who wishes to assimilate himself with the other seamen, and receive no special treatment. Soon a highly ridiculous carriage is drawn close to the ship, and two pretty women exit it, followed by the 1st Lieutenant of the ship, Fletcher Christian. He is an aristocratic sort, with an effete accent and a ridiculous hat. Bligh and Christian’s first impressions of each other are not good, coming from different backgrounds and different sensibilities.

Soon after the ship sets sail, a seaman goes to Fletcher to report another man for stealing cheese. As Fletcher is listening to the man and the man accused, Captain Bligh walks past and overhears. Annoyed with Fletcher’s mediation methods, he orders the cheese to be half rationed until the amount lost is made up. Angry, the accused, John Mills, tells the other seamen that the Captain ordered him to steal the cheese for him. Unfortunately for him, the Captain and other officers of the ship overhear him, and he is told he is to be punished. The next scene shows the men on deck witnessing the punishment- 2 dozen lashes on the back. Fletcher is disgusted by the brutality of the punishment, and asks Bligh if this is the punishment for a minor infraction (nearly whipping a man to death), what will the punishment be for a major infraction? Bligh shares his philosophy on governing a ship:

Now don’t mistake me. I’m not advising cruelty or brutality with no purpose. My point is that cruelty with purpose is not cruelty – it’s efficiency. Then a man will never disobey once he’s watched his mate’s backbone laid bare. He’ll see the flesh jump, hear the whistle of the whip for the rest of his life.

The men keep their heads down, but Bligh grows increasingly brutal. A deeply ambitious man who hopes to impress the British Navy with his effectiveness, he changes the course of the ship from the safe Eastbound route to the dangerous westbound route currently entrenched in the middle of a cruel winter. The weather is a nightmare, and the men fight the treacherous winds for weeks. One incident sees a large barrel of water come loose below the deck of the ship. Fletcher and a group of men try to stop it from destroying the entire space, but in order to secure the thing they need the ship to go temporarily still. In his cabin, the Captain is sleeping. As the ship evens out, he wakes up, and storms to the deck, demanding to know what happened. When he finds out that Fletcher has ordered the ship to be steadied, he has them resume their path, Fletcher be damned. Down below, the men almost have the barrels secured, when the sudden movement causes a large barrel to lurch forward, crushing a man. Fletcher and the others try to remove it, but unable to, they have to crack the thing open and let the water out. The man has already died, much to the Captain’s antipathy, and Fletcher’s disgust.

Finally, the men arrive in Tahiti, where they are met with a joyous welcome from the locals, especially the scantily clad and sexually free women. Only Bligh doesn’t enjoy his time on the island, angry that they arrived during the breadfruit’s dormant period, meaning the Bounty had to stay in Tahiti for months until the breadfruit could be transported across the ocean. That Tahitians show good will by having sex, and there is much good will around the island. When the king’s daughter, Princess Maimiti, attempts to seduce Fletcher, he is caught in the bushes with her by Bligh, who orders him to stop for fear of the king’s reaction. The reaction is opposite: he is angry that his daughter is not good enough for a British officer, and so Bligh awkwardly orders a smug Fletcher Christian to show good will to the Princess.

Eventually the men have to leave the island, and they board the ship to set sail for Jamaica. Three men, including Mills, attempt to abandon the ship and stay in Tahiti forever. However, Fletcher and some other officers catch them, and they under the Captain’s orders, they are shackled in the basement whenever they are not on duty. Bligh is also angry that the expedition is behind schedule, so he takes out his hostilities on the crew. When Brown, the horticulturist, tells Bligh that many of the breadfruit plants will die to a shortage of a water, he is told to use all the water he need. In response, he rations the men’s drinking water in a highly elaborate fashion. One man with a fever, dies as he attempts to reach the water, plunging to his death. When this, a man from the ship attacks the Captain, attempting to strangle him. When he is pulled off, Bligh orders him to be keelhauled, an illegal practice, without a trial. No one tries to stop it, as they do not wish to cross Bligh.

As Bligh’s tyranny rages on, Fletcher’s disgust and distaste for him grows, egged on by Mills and other men on the ship. When a man is discovered to be drinking seawater, babbling incoherently and going mad, Fletcher appears to disappear below the deck. However, he soon returns with his own ladle from the officer’s water stores, and attempts to give the man some fresh water in order to save his life. Bligh sees this, and gives him an order to stop. Fletcher agrees, and then continues to give the man water anyways. When Bligh strikes Fletcher, he strikes back, and quickly rushes into the motions of a mutiny. He takes command of the ship, and after a nasty exchange of words, sends Bligh and the ship’s Loyalists on a boat to the closest island with the tools needed to get there. Believing he has done the right thing, he is understandably upset by his rash actions, for he has forever given up his Aristocratic lifestyle. The remaining mutineers head back to Tahiti to drop off some Loyalists who couldn’t fit in the boat, and to pick up some man power to operate the ship.

The film took approximately two years to complete, and the production ran way, way over budget, nearly bankrupting the studio. Much of the cost was blamed on Brando’s ego and behavior, although the entire crew had treated Tahiti as their playground. Allegedly at one point, a doctor had to be flown from America to treat many of the  men for gonorrhea, including Brando. The Bounty used in the film was actually the Bounty II, the first ship ever constructed for a film from original blueprints. When the film was released, it was met by mostly negative reviews, and was considered a financial failure, even though it was the 6th highest grossing film of 1962, due to the huge budget. Brando’s characterization of Fletcher Christian was also criticized, many people hating his ridiculous accent and his rather gay demeanor, especially in contrast to Clark Gable’s masculine portrayal of the same character. However, his genius is at work in the film, most notably when he insisted upon laying on bricks of ice for minutes at a time in order to accurately replicate the death tremors of a burn victim. It’s brilliant.

In the grand scheme of summer blockbusters, this is actually a pretty good one. It may have seemed like indulgent crap at the time, but it is the kind of indulgent crap that viewers are used to every summer. At least the film isn’t dated indulgent crap, and the big budget has made it age well visually (it’s getting a Blu-Ray release). The Bounty II was even used as an extra ship in the Pirates of the Caribbean films. Mindlessly entertaining, but the story flows. It wouldn’t have suffered a shorter run time though, clocking in around 3 hours. Thumbs up.

Quotes: “I believe I did what honour dictated and that belief sustains me, except for a slight desire to be dead which I’m sure will pass.”

“Well you’ve done rather well, Ned. Promoted to the rank of criminal. Not even 20 and a death sentence on your head. ”

“We need only persuade the British people of something they already know – that inhumanity is its poorest servant.”

“You remarkable pig. You can thank whatever pig god you pray to that you haven’t turned me into a murderer.”

“I assure you, sir, that the execution of my duties is entirely unaffected by my private opinion of you.”

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06
Aug
11

“One-Eyed Jacks” (1961)

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Co-stars: Karl Malden, Pina Pellicer, Ben Johnson, Katy Jurado, Slim Pickens, Larry Duran

Character: Rio

This rambling yet stylish western not only starred the man of the hour (in perhaps the least flattering pants of all time), but was directed by him as well (which could explain all the crotch shots). Also, his company produced it.  He oversaw the editing process initially, too, but his version was allegedly over 5 hours long. Which pretty much sounds like Brando.

We first see our hero sitting down and eating. Which sounds about right. The scene pans out and we see that he is actually casually robbing a bank with a few other guys, including his best friend Dad Longworth. They escape the law to a relaxed inn, where the men proceed to celebrate by seducing women. Of course, the law catches up, and the ring Rio was using to seduce a young lady with has to be quickly repo’d. The one guy is shot and killed, but Dad and Rio manage to ride off on stolen horses. After awhile, Rio’s horse gives out, and the two of them ride off on one horse together. Of course, that horse gets tired too, having two chubby middle aged men riding it. So, they hide behind a ridge and fire at the Mexican lawmen chasing them. Eventually, they realize that this plan will not pan out in the long run. Dad goes off to find them two horses to escape, and Rio holds the ridge. Dad never returns, and Rio is captured.

Five years later, Rio and his chain gang buddy, Chico Modesto, manage to escape the hellhole that is the Mexican prison they were in. Rio has only one thing on his mind- revenge on Dad. He heads off, in search of Dad in Mexico. Ending up in a former haunt of Dad’s, he runs into two guys who wish to rob a bank in Monterey, California.. The one guy, Bob Emory, approaches Rio to join them, but when he turns him down, he dangles a very intriguing bit of news in front of him: Dad is the sheriff of Monterey. Given an opportunity to kill Dad and rob a bank at the same time, Rio cannot resist. And so the four outlaws head on horseback from Mexico to California.

When they arrive, Rio immediately looks for Dad. He heads to the sheriff’s office, where he meets the deputy, Lon Dedrick- whom he clashes with automatically. A local tells Rio how to find Dad’s home, and he heads there. When he arrives, Dad sees him, and greets him warily, hand on pistol. Instead of the anticipated bloodbath, the men share a hug, and appear to make amends, based on lies told by both parties. It would seem that Rio is almost as good an actor as Brando himself. Dad invites Rio into his home, and to stay over for dinner. Inside, he introduces him to his wife Maria, and his step-daughter Louisa, a fragile looking young Mexican girl. A tragic side note, the young actress who played Louisa would commit suicide a few years later at age 30. Back inside the Longworth house though, the men reminisce about the good ol’ days of bank robbing together, before they got tragically separated. You see, Rio doesn’t tell Dad he’s been in jail for the past 5 years, and Dad tells Rio there was only the one horse to take- but Rio knows otherwise. Rio heads back into town that night, his resolve to kill Dad still intact.

However, there is a fiesta in Monterey for the next two days, so the men cannot rob the bank. To occupy their time, they get drunk and scope out the town. Rio entertains himself, and the audience, by expertly seducing the young Louisa. He purchases roses and a necklace off a local woman for $30, and then sets off in search of her. They dance, and eventually he leads her away from the fiesta and towards the beach. On the beach, he tells her he works for the government, and is heading to Oregon the next day on a secret mission. He bashfully asks her to wait for him, and then presents her with the necklace, which he says is his dead mother’s most cherished possession. Meanwhile, Dad is far too hammered to care that Louisa is gone, even though Maria tries to get him to find her.

The next morning, Louisa and Rio wake up on the beach together. When she kisses him and wishes him good luck on his journey to Oregon, he plainly informs her that he isn’t going anywhere, he robs banks for a living, has no parents, and that everything he said up until that point had been a lie. Shocked and ashamed of herself, she returns the necklace, and stumbles home. There she runs into Lon, who tries to make a pass at her. When she rejects him, he wakes up Dad to tell her where she’s been. Dad is shocked and enraged, and when he confronts Louisa, who won’t tell him what happened, he has Maria talk to her. Louisa tells her the truth, but fearing Dad’s reaction, Maria lies to him. Regardless, Dad leaves the home and heads into Monterey, in search of Rio.

In Monterey, Rio has been reunited with his friend Chico in a local saloon. There, a drunken man is forcing his prostitute from the night before to keep drinking with him, and will not let her escape him, causing her to cry in pain. After awhile of watching this, Rio interjects himself between them, and beats up the guy, so the girl can escape. On the ground, the man grabs a hidden rifle, and attempts to shoot Rio. Quickly, Rio manages to avoid getting hit, and shoots the man dead. When Dad arrives on the scene, he is at first understanding of what’s happened, and appears to let Rio off on self defense. He asks Rio and Chico to carry the body out of the bar for him. When they get outside, Dad asks for Rio’s gun. Rio backs off, his hand on his pistol, and refuses to give it up. That is when Dad calls out the names of a bunch of deputies, who have their sites set on Rio. They quickly surround him, and tie him to a whipping post. Dad berates him and his type, and tells him this is his punishment for killing a man. He rips open the back of Rio’s shirt, and is handed a long and vicious looking whip. He gives him 12 lashes on the back, and Rio shakes and slowly sinks to his knees. After the whipping, Dad goes to talk to Rio, but Rio warns him that he better kill him. Dad says that won’t be necessary, and then takes the butt of a rifle and slams it down on Rio’s right hand, tied to the post, brutally breaking it. They untie Rio, stick him on a horse, and send him bleeding and broken out of town.

The four would-be bank robbers high tail it to an inn owned by an Asian family up the coast, in order to wait out Rio’s healing process. However, the whips have cut through his flesh down to the ribs and his hand is hideously mangled, and after it has healed into it’s new warped shape, he has to begin the process of re-learning how to quick draw and shoot.  Hearing he has been just up the coast for the past 5 weeks, Louisa goes up to see him- as she has something very important to tell him. When they are reunited, they realize that their attraction to each other is real, but more than ever, Rio is dead set on killing Dad. After he refuses to be talked down from the tower, Louisa leaves without telling Rio her news. That next morning, Bob Emory makes a crack about Louisa, and Rio flips the table over him and threatens to shoot him if he says anything again. After that, Emory and the other two guys decide to just head back to Mexico, with Rio staying behind. He has decided finally to abandon his revenge fantasies, in order to take Louisa and ride off with her. Unfortunately, nothing ever works out as planned.

The film runs about 2 hours and 20 minutes long, and somehow manages to cram in a whole lot of action and details yet still drag. Brando clearly had a good vision while directing the film- the acting is top notch all around, the locations used are fresh, and the film is composed of interesting and artistic shots (also crotch/butt shots, so that’s awkward). However, when he saw the finished result, Brando was incredibly unhappy with it. The studio had taken control of the editing process, stripping it down closer to a more traditional cut and dry Western, and away from the Greek tragedy set in the west that he had envisioned. He was particularly disappointed in the way they edited the characters, making them come across as much more cut and dry heroes, vicitims, and villains. Always the true method actor, he had wanted everyone on the screen to vibrate with a duality and a humanity. It’s unfortunate that he didn’t control the film down until the end, but his original cut did run over 5 hours- I would have cried if I had to watch that film.

An obvious must-watch for the Brando fan, it’s also a unique and interesting western for fans of the genre. Some scenes are very effective- the public whipping  scene is cruel to watch and the acting from the two leads is off the charts. Karl Malden is truly a perfect foil for Brando- watching the two of them go head to head is an absolute delight. With each film they do together, Malden gets closer and closer to wiping Brando right off the screen. It’s also interesting to note that another director was supposed to do the film before Brando took over- Stanley Kubrick. All in all, an uneven film, but the good parts aren’t just good, they’re great, and the acting is fantastic. Thumb up.

Quotes: “Ambushin’ folks ain’t exactly my style, Bob.”

“You may be a one eyed jack around here, but I’ve seen the other side of your face.”

“I don’t know, Dad. You may not want me around too long. You may be retired from robbin’ banks, Dad; but I’m still in business.”

One-Eyed Jack | Marlon Brando’s One & Only Stint as Film Director 

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03
Aug
11

Marlon Brando Playing Hand Drums (1953)

I ran across this oddity yesterday and felt it was necessary to share. Taken from an interview in 1953, we see a young Brando talking about his love affair with drumming. He then leads the interviewer to the basement, where he happily gives a demonstration of his drumming abilities. While wearing a suit. Because he’s cool like that.

Drumming was a well known, life long hobby of his. He looks so uninhibitedly happy.

03
Aug
11

“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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02
Aug
11

“The Young Lions” (1958)

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Co-stars: Montgomery Clift, Dean Martin, Barbara Rush, Hope Lange, Maximilian Schell

Awards: Nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role

Character: Lt. Christian Diestl

The film opens with a handsome, young German ski instructor/shoemaker skiing in the Bavarian mountains with a beautiful American woman. It is New Year’s Eve in 1938, and he is more or less carefree and politically unaware.  He convinces the young American woman to spend the evening with him, even though she has a fiance. That night in the ballroom, after the clock strikes midnight, the Germans in the room start up with rousing Nazi songs, and the woman retreats to the deck, visibly shaken. The young German follows, and inquires what is wrong. She expresses her fear and distaste of Hitler and his influence, and confused, the young man claims to not be political. He does however think that Hitler could be good for Germany, liberating them from the tithes and taxes of the Allied powers of WWI. He states a desire to avoid war, but a belief that if it is necessary to secure peace he will support a war. The young lady leaves him standing on the deck, bewildered.

A few years later, and on the other side of the world, two men are called to the draft board, and they are both to be certified 1-A. Michael Whiteacre is a Broadway and radio star, and a self-admitted coward. He fears the war, and will do anything to avoid the front. He is engaged to Margaret Freemantle, the young woman skiing in Bavaria early in the film. While filing an appeal to the draft board, he is introduced to Noah Ackerman, a young Jewish man without a family who cannot think of any reason to not head for the front.  Whiteacre invites Ackerman to a party later that night at his house, where he introduces him to Hope Plowman. They fall in love, and after the blessing of her anti-Semitic father (who had never met a Jew before), they are married. At training camp, Ackerman is subjected to bullying and prejudice based upon his size and his religion, by both his commanding officer and by fellow men in his company. After 20 dollars is stolen from his footlocker, he challenges the men who did it to a series of fights, where Whiteacre acts as his second, and he is badly beaten. After Whiteacre attempts to intervene, his commanding officer tells him that he has been summoned from his post to Washington, where he will have a safe and cushy job, but only if the officer approves. That night, Ackerman wins his last fight against the bigots, but then deserts his company out of fear. After being caught, he has the choice to go to jail or go to war, and after learning his wife is expecting a child, he heads off to battle. His commanding officer is issued a court-martial for his bigotry towards Ackerman and for mismanaging his company.  Whiteacre heads to Washington and then to London for the easy job, and Ackerman wins the respect of his company.

The young German man is now Lieutenant Christian Diestl, reluctantly stationed in Paris. There, he meets a beautiful French woman, Francoise, who initially despises him for being German, having lost her husband as a result of German bombs. She angrily accosts him, demanding to know how many Frenchmen he has killed. After truthfully admitting to none, she settles, and apologizes for her reaction. They end up spending the evening together, and promise that after the war they will find one another again.

After “arresting” a young Jewish boy from his home to fill his “work duties”, Christian asks for a transfer somewhere that he is not forced to arrest children. Disgusted with his attitude, Captain Hardenberg tells him he to shape up, as thinking about things and questioning authority weakens an army. When screams are heard from the basement, Christian panics and searches for the sound. Hardenberg intervenes, and tells him he ought to shoot him for his insubordination, and that on the battlefield he would be within his rights to do so. After this, Hardenberg tells Christian that he is being sent to Berlin, and asks him to do a personal favor for him- deliver a gift to his wife and send his loving regards. Christian agrees, and upon arriving in Berlin, heads to the Captain’s home. There, he meets his beautiful wife Gretchen, who invites him in for a drink and to relax while she is out with military friends. After she returns, she finds Christian passed out with a bottle of vodka. She seduces him, and promises to pull strings for him to be transferred out of police work in Paris.

His next post is in North Africa, under the command of Captain Hardenberg once again. Hardenberg is a cruel Nazi, who believes in the military and in their mission. Behind British lines, Christian and him work out a plot to move past the British ahead of them. Waiting for the sun to be in their eyes, the Germans bomb and shoot the British, until there is no more movement. Christian orders a ceasefire, but Hardenberg, angered by the fact that the order did not come from him, orders the company to open fire over the zone for another 60 seconds. Disgusted, Christian and the other men move into the space the British occupied. Hardenberg orders them to kill all of the wounded, as they cannot take any prisoners and can’t have their positions given away. When a man who hasn’t been wounded emerges, Christian refuses to shoot him, even after a direct order from Hardenberg. Sneering, Hardenberg pulls a pistol from his belt and shoots the man dead.

Later, higher up German army officials come to the North African front to warn the men that their position is slipping, and to expect an attack from the British shortly. Nearly immediately after the speech, the British are upon them, and Christian and Hardenberg barely escape. Exhausted, they escape the British fire on a motorbike together. What ensues is the funniest moment in the entire film, if your sense of humor is dark and has room for Nazis.

After their accident, Christian emerges unscathed. Hardenberg, however, has his entire face more or less destroyed. As Christian visits him in the hospital, he tells him of his plans to join politics after his face is fixed, as he believes it will serve as a great reminder of the sacrifice he made for his people. He then asks Christian to send his well wishes to his wife when he is in Berlin next, as he won’t be able to leave the hospital for six months. Christian agrees, and as he goes to leave, Hardenberg requests that Christian bring him a bayonet. Horrified, Hardenberg assures its for the man in the next bed, who has no more hands or face and cannot bear to go on living. Reluctantly, Christian agrees. In Berlin, he visits Gretchen, who informs him that Hardenberg has killed himself with a bayonet. She attempts to seduce him again, but Christian knocks her away in disgust.

While in Berlin, he runs into his friend that introduced him to Francoise. The friend convinces him to drive him to Paris so he can make his next post, and so as to see his French girlfriend again. He tells Christian that the girls are now living together, and invites him for dinner with them. Reunited, Francoise comments on the fact that Christian is no longer the same man. Tired and nearly spiritually defeated, he informs her that war has changed him. Christian’s friend informs him of his intentions to desert, of which Christian does not object. Francoise tries to convince him to desert as well, but he leaves in the middle of the night, because even though he loves her, he is still a German solider. However, as he continues to battle for Germany, he comes across a concentration camp while he is in pursue of food and drink, separated from his company. It is there that he learns the true horrors of the German army and the Third Reich, and we see in an instant a man changed forever.

At the time of it’s release, The Young Lions was not considered a triumph for Brando so much as it was for Clift and Martin. Based on a book of the same name, Christian was initially conceived as a good man turned evil by the Third Reich and the war. After Brando’s insistence, he goes from a good if ignorant man into someone broken and changed by the evil and sickening inhumanities around him. It even caused a public clash between Brando and the novel’s writer, Irwin Shaw. Ultimately, either portrait of Christian would have worked equally well as an anti-war statement, which this movie is. However, by humanizing “the bad guy”, Brando was able to get under the skin of many people. The film was released only 14 years after the war, and the wounds and the horrors were still felt. We now know that not every German was a card carrying, Hitler loving Nazi. Many people simply weren’t aware of what was happening in their country (entirely plausible if you stop to think of how many politically unaware people you yourself know), and most of the men were drafted into battle, much like the Americans portrayed by Clift and Martin. However, in the 1950’s, as The Cold War was still in the beginning stages and the war was yet a fresh wound, Nazis and German soldiers were synonymous. Brando’s performance was maligned, and considered to soft and gently by many. Watching it 52 years later however, it is a nuanced and honest performance of a man torn between loyalty to  his country and his own personal morality.

This is a film mammoth in length, scope, and talent. All three leading men steal the spotlight from one another in equal turns (even though I have neither the energy nor time to break down each of the plot lines) , but ultimately, it is the audience that wins. Beautiful photography and great performances all around make this a great feature to this day. Some people feel that Brando was miscast, but I disagree, his German accent is spot on and he looks the part (he is of German descent himself- his last name is an Americanization of ‘Brandau’). I wouldn’t be surprised if this sees the remake treatment at some point. Thumbs up.

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01
Aug
11

“Sayonara” (1957)

Rotten Tomatoes

IMDb

Wikipedia

Co-stars: Miiko Taka, Red Buttons, Miyoshi Umeki, Patricia Owens

Awards: Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor, Nominated for the Golden Globe Award For Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama

Character: Major Lloyd “Ace” Gruver

Another of Brando’s “socially conscious” films, this one is certainly more effective than The Teahouse of the August Moon. Based on a James A. Michener book, it deals with a hot button topic of the time,  interracial marriage, which at times can give it a dated feel. However, if you can in your mind draw the parallels between how the people and couples of this film suffer with the millions of LGBT couples who cannot married and are discriminated against today, a new relevance is breathed into the film.

The film starts with Maj. Gruver, a fighter pilot and the son of a four star general, in Korea, where he is asked to talk his friend and member of his unit, Airman Joe Kelly, out of marrying his Japanese fiance. He shows him a picture of his pretty Caucasian fiance back home, and implies that there is something wrong with Kelly. Kelly won’t hear him, as he is totally in love with his girl. Gruver and Kelly are then transferred to the Itami Air Force Base, near Kobe, Japan. There, Gruver is reunited with his fiance Eileen, the daughter of  Lt. Gen. Webster, who is a friend of his father’s. At this time, Kelly asks Gruver to stand as his best man at his wedding, and after some hesitation he accepts, but not before his disapproval is known. Eileen and Gruver go out on a date, to take in some Kabuki theater, which she was invited to by the famous Kabuki actor, Nakamura. Eileen is intelligent, thoughtful, and open minded, as well as beautiful. She is visibly uncomfortable by the routine racism shown towards the Japanese people by the military.

At the end of the date, Eileen questions Gruver about the depth to which he loves her. She asks him if he’s ever had the desire to haul her off to a shack somewhere, and he launches into an explanation of responsibilities and expectations. It is clearly illustrated that he loves her, but isn’t madly, passionately in love with her. Hurt, she leaves him on the bench, and goes back to her hotel. When Gruver tries to take her out again, she turns him down due to other plans. Bored and sad, he finds himself in a bar, where he meets Captain Bailey, a man he subtly insulted while out with his Japanese girlfriend. Apologies are made, and soon we see the two men in a park, where Gruver spots a beautiful performer named Hana-ogi. The men go to theater where she performs, and Gruver finds himself absolutely smitten. He inquires with Kelly and his wife Katsumi, who knows Hana-ogi, if she will help him be introduced to her. Hana-ogi refuses, as she hates Americans due to the deaths of her father and brother in the war.

Undeterred. he asks her for her autograph, and the proceeds to watch her cross the bridge to her performances daily. He waits in different spots, looking to see if she is keeping an eye on him. Finally, after days of diligent waiting for her to talk to him, Kelly tells Gruver to come to his house for dinner as Hana-ogi will be there. Happy as a clown, he shows up to dinner early, and Kelly gives him a small crash course in Japanese etiquette. He is also given a tour of the Japanese house, where the 5’10” Brando is apparently a giant, as he bumps his head at every entrance. Soon, he is face to face with Hana-ogi, and Kelly leaves them alone. It is there that some awkward flirting occurs, until Hana-ogi confesses that she has been watching him too. She confesses that she too has held racism in her heart as a by-product of the war, but realizes after meeting Gruver that she has been misguided. They realize that if they’re going to see each other, they need to keep it secret, as her theatre group will not allow her to date, and the military doesn’t approve of him dating Japanese girls- especially since he’s an officer.

They fall head over heels in love, keeping their relationship secret from everyone except Kelly, Katsumi, Bailey, and his Japenese girlfriend. Eventually though, the military starts to catch on, and puts out an order forbidding officers from even being seen with civilians. They have to be extra careful, and spend a lot of time hiding out at Kelly and Katsumi’s home. Kelly, who is subjected to harsher treatment from the military for being married to a Japanese woman, is given an order that he is to be shipped out and back to America. Heartbroken, he turns to Gruver for help. They try to appeal to their commanding officer, but he wants nothing to do with it, even though Katsumi is pregnant. Gruver turns to Lt. Gen. Webster for help, who says he cannot be of assistance either, as other men have come to him with the same requests. It’s there, in front of Eileen and her mother, that he announces his own intent to marry Hana-ogi.

The film is a longer one, and at parts has moments where it can drag. Ultimately though, it is a multi-layered story of star crossed lovers and racism, at once timeless and modern (at least in the 1950’s). It won four Academy Awards, including ones for Red Buttons and Miyoshi Umeki. Brando was nominated for the Best Actor award, but ultimately lost out. The fact that around this time Truman Capote put out his scathing profile in The New Yorker could play into his loss, but that is only speculation. What is interesting to note is that upon release of the film, reviews were mixed and many were scathing, particularly of Brando’s performance. However, after checking Rotten Tomatoes, it currently holds a 100% approval rating, and a 7.2/10 rating at IMDb. At the box office, the film fared quite well and became a nationwide hit in America.

Brando, perhaps not giving one of his legendary performances, is nonetheless completely solid throughout. The nondescript Southern accent he creates for the character of Lloyd Gruver is a perfect choice, contrasting perfectly against that of his Asian lover’s. His transformation of casual racist and of a man who does what he is told into someone who sees people as worthy individuals and who can see what hatred can do to the lives of innocent people is remarkable and heartbreaking in turns. For the story and for the performances the ensemble cast turn in, this film is a worthy watch. Thumbs up.

Quotes: “This is the first liquid rice I have ever run into! ”

“My lord that’s my father!”

“Yeah, Tell ’em we said ‘sayonara’.”

‘The Duke in His Domain’ by Truman Capote

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01
Aug
11

“Hollywood Hellraisers: The Wild Lives and Fast Times of Marlon Brando, Dennis Hopper, Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson” (2009)

Author: Robert Sellers

Publisher: Arrow Books

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An addictive romp of a book, it tells the tale of four legendary actors: Brando, Hopper, Beatty, and Nicholson. Often shocking, sometimes sordid, consistently depraved, and almost always quite funny- it presents the readers with truth and myth blended together to give the reader a picture of how four misfit bad asses changed Hollywood and how films were made forever. Drugs, booze, cash, and sex galore, it’s hard not to be left in jealous awe of such terrible behavior.

The story starts, as it does for Brando, in Omaha, Nebraska. His childhood is one of pain- a dreadful alcoholic of a mother, and abusive Kowalski-esque father, who, when not on the road gambling and cheating on his wife, terrorizes his son and instills in him a feeling of worthlessness. The sensitive little boy is a painting of contradictions: he terrorizes his school and his neighborhood with inventive pranks, including burning the word “shit” into the blackboard with corrosive chemicals. At the same time, he is the type of kid that rescues sick and broken animals and takes them home to recover- injured birds, snakes, even the occasional homeless person that’s passed out on the sidewalk. He has zero interest in academics, showing attention and skill exclusively in athletics and drama. Eventually, his pranks and attitude get him expelled, and he is shipped off to Shattuck Military Academy for the duration of his high school career. Naturally in military school, his pranks grow more subversive, and he often sneaks off campus in order to “keep company” with local girls and women. He is expelled from school, and in a testament to his popularity, the other boys of the school sign a petition and go on strike until he is reinstated. He wants nothing of it and goes to New York, in pursuit of freedom, jazz clubs, and sex. Lots and lots and lots of sex.

These are the main themes of the Marlon Brando story, if you subtract from the equation that he is the finest actor to ever grace the silver screen. An often insane and colourful sense of humor, a huge aversion to authority, and a voracious sexual appetite of near biblical proportions is the tale that this book tells. Along the way though, it finds its roots in the tale of his career, from meteoric rise to fame, to sad decline in relevance, to remarkable comeback, and finally to the spotty and sometimes confusing twilight of his career. The anecdotes between the covers are drawn from biographies and hours spent culling the British Film Institute’s archives of newspaper and magazine clippings, as well as interviews with people who worked with the actors profiled in the book.

Brando was an incredibly complex and private man, deeply sensitive and troubled, with an intimidating demeanor meant to keep people at bay and to keep them on their toes. He was also quite mischievous and silly, and loved to sing and to laugh. He was the type of person who defines their own version of morality- sexually promiscuous but without a single fiber of prejudice in his body. Unlike other books available, this one doesn’t give a heavy hand to the dark side of Brando’s psyche, painting him into a sad, fat bastard. No, it’s a book that revels in the ridiculous parts of his personality, and the antics to which they lead him. There is an anecdote shared in the book that his son Christian often told, and has become one of my favorites, because to me it shares what a true character he was.

Christian also liked to tell the story of the time when, as a kid swimming in a lagoon in Tahiti, a shark swam by and Marlon just shouted “motherfucker” and socked the beast on the nose.

For decades, Brando and Nicholson were neighbors on Mulholland Drive, even sharing a driveway. Often, when Jack was out of town, Marlon would break into his house in order to raid his refrigerator, as he would have his own locked up as part of one of his failed crash diets. Intriguingly, and for reasons unclear, he would leave behind his underpants. Perhaps they were his calling card, letting Jack know he had been there. It seems only fitting that after Marlon’s death, it was Jack who bought his home, in an effort to protect the privacy Marlon fought his entire life to cultivate. The building was torn down, too expensive to renovate, and a garden put in its place.

There are four subjects in the book, keeping it a fast paced and interesting read. In a condensed and amusing fashion, the reader gets the rundown of four remarkable careers. It doesn’t sugar coat the stories told, but the tone is often celebratory, written by someone who has a sense of humor about, but certainly respects, the men he is writing about. It is a testament to the writer that when the inevitable part in the story that Marlon passes away, I found myself legitimately choked up in a public space. Without a doubt, some of the behavior is repugnant, but Sellers has a gift for humanizing his subjects- sure, the average Joe would never even try  in a million years to pull the shit they did, but even though it seems at times that they’re a different breed, they’re mere mortals like the rest of us. Sadly, this fact would once again be illustrated soon after the release of the book: in October 2009 it was announced that Dennis Hopper was dying of prostate cancer (he passed away May 29, 2010). Ultimately though, the book is an entertaining read that I would recommend to anyone with a love of pop culture, a specific admiration for one of the actor’s profiled, or who has seen and enjoyed the film Easy Rider. A definite thumbs up.




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

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