Four Marlon Brando Films from MGM
Burn! (November 8/05)
Burn! was stripped of 20 minutes of footage prior to its North American release, resulting in a storyline that is - despite the inexplicable appearance of a narrator at the one-hour mark - occasionally impossible to follow, although Gillo Pontecorvo's ambitious direction and Marlon Brando's electrifying performance go a long way towards keeping things interesting. Brando stars as William Walker, a British mercenary sent to an island controlled by the Portuguese to incite a slave revolt (which will, in turn, allow the British to take over the island's valuable sugar supply). He installs an ambitious slave named Jose Dolores (Evaristo Marquez) as the leader of the uprising, but must deal with the consequences when his creation begins doing things his own way. Pontecorvo, coming off the success of The Battle of Algiers, imbues Burn! with a larger-than-life, unmistakably epic sensibility - complete with an astounding number of background performers - and there's no denying that the film succeeds on the level of sheer spectacle. But despite a number of positives (including a memorable and haunting score by Ennio Morricone), Burn! nevertheless remains oddly aloof - a problem that's exacerbated by the awful dubbing that accompanies virtually every single performance.
A Dry White Season (November 9/05)
Though it's far from subtle, A Dry White Season is nevertheless a powerful examination of the effects of Apartheid on a privileged white man. Donald Sutherland stars as Benjamin du Toit, a teacher at a South African school who receives an unpleasant lesson in racism when his gardener "commits suicide" after being held for several days by the police. Director and co-screenwriter Euzhan Palcy's overly simplistic approach - particularly in terms of du Toit's radical transformation from intolerant elite to compassionate supporter of black rights - prevents A Dry White Season from becoming the gripping and wholly engaging piece of work it clearly wants to be, though there's no denying the effectiveness of several individual sequences within the film. Having said that, Sutherland's superb performance often elevates the material, while Marlon Brando completely dominates the screen in a small role as an eccentric barrister. Were it not for some of the more one-sided elements within Palcy and Colin Welland's screenplay, there's little doubt that A Dry White Season would now be regarded as a classic Apartheid-themed film.
The Fugitive Kind (November 10/05)
Based on the play by Tennessee Williams, The Fugitive Kind surely marked Marlon Brando's attempt to replicate the success he had with A Streetcar Named Desire (which was only the actor's second film role). And though Brando delivers a performance that's just as engaging and mesmerizing as one might expect, the movie is a dull, relentlessly talky exercise in pointlessness. Brando plays Valentine Xavier, a guitar-toting drifter who unwittingly stirs up trouble after commencing an illicit affair with his boss' wife (played by Anna Magnani). Despite director Sidney Lumet's efforts to inject some style into the proceedings, The Fugitive Kind generally comes off as an unmistakably stagy adaptation of Williams' play, a problem that's exacerbated by the flowery, thoroughly antiquated dialogue (ie "I tried to pour oblivion out of a bottle, but it wouldn't pour out.") This distinct lack of authenticity is reflected in Magnani's distractingly emphatic performance, which is just about the polar opposite of Brando's subtle work here. And while there are a few compelling sequences here and there - something that's particularly true of the scene in which several characters engage in a dramatic confrontation while carnival music plays in the background - the film is generally crushed under the weight of the overly familiar storyline and unreasonably slow pace.
The Missouri Breaks (November 11/05)
Featuring the only onscreen collaboration between Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson, The Missouri Breaks is a strange, almost inexplicable Western revolving around an outlaw (Nicholson) and the bounty hunter (Brando) sent to kill him. Director Arthur Penn - along with cinematographer Michael C. Butler - imbues the film with an appropriately gritty and unkempt visual style, a vibe that's reflected in Thomas McGuane's meandering screenplay. There's not much of a plot at work here; rather, much of the film is devoted to the individual machinations of Brando and Nicholson's respective characters. As a result, certain portions of The Missouri Breaks are more effective than others - with the movie's opening half hour particularly uneven and devoted almost entirely to pointless discussions about taxes and rustlers (the film's conclusion, on the other hand, is surprisingly electrifying). And as effective as Nicholson is, this is Brando's show from start to finish - despite the fact that he's actually not on screen all that much. The actor, sporting an Irish accent and a series of increasingly bizarre hats, delivers a hypnotically broad performance that often feels as though it'd be more at home in a completely different movie - yet there's no denying that Brando's off-kilter presence keeps The Missouri Breaks afloat during some of the more dull sequences (Brando's conversation with his horse, in which he notes that the animal has "the lips of Salome and the eyes of Cleopatra," must be seen to be believed).