The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Marlon Brando

Last week, we took a look at the career of the great Robert De Niro. This week's subject has much in common with him, not the least of which is a role they both won Oscars for...
Marlon Brando
 marlon brando the wild one

I'm not exaggerating in the slightest when I say Marlon Brando is the most influential screen actor of all time. Certainly, his big-screen run was highly uneven, divided pretty neatly into two halves with his younger days running from A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE to about MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY, only to pick-up with the phenomenal one-two punch of THE GODFATHER and LAST TANGO IN PARIS in the early seventies. Wildly eccentric and devastatingly self-destructive (he spent the last thirty years of his life as a morbidly obese semi-recluse) the oddity of Brando's latter years can't erase the absolute magic he captured in his prime. Before Brando, screen acting was one way, but post-Brando it was another, with his Stella Adler-influenced craft paving the way for a whole host of New York actors, including the men that took up Brando's baton in the seventies (all of whom eventually co-starred with him to varying degrees of success), Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino.

 marlon brando the godfather

Generations of film-goers probably know Brando best from his two movies with Francis Ford Coppola, THE GODFATHER and APOCALYPSE NOW. However, there's a whole history of film out there looking to be discovered by younger audiences, with many of his triumphs like ON THE WATERFRONT and LAST TANGO IN PARIS now back in circulation on Blu-ray and such. While he was more than capable of some truly embarrassing work (the least said about the gruesome spectacle of THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU the better) at his peak Brando was the absolute best, with him giving certain performances that may never be equalled.

His Best Work
 marlon brando last tango in paris

Oddly, my favorite Brando performance comes in a movie I'm actually quite mixed on. While infamous in its day, Bernardo Bertolucci's LAST TANGO IN PARIS has gone on to become a cinema classic – which is remarkable considering that it was considered so pornographic in Bertolucci's native Italy he was handed a five-year suspended prison sentence. As a middle-aged expatriate covering up the grief he feels around his wife's suicide by embarking on a self-destructive affair with a nineteen year-old (Maria Schneider) Brando's never been more vulnerable, with the cost of his performance being so huge that post-LAST TANGO Brando never again dug as deep into a role, settling for paycheck parts in big movies like SUPERMAN – THE MOVIE (although he apparently enjoyed working on that one quite a bit). He actually wrote in his autobiography that he felt as if he had been raped by Bertolucci on LAST TANGO considering how manipulated he was in his performance and refused to ever work with him again. The movie itself is quite pretentious, but Brando's acting is magnificent. You actually feel like you're watching a man totally come unglued right in front of your very eyes, and the effect is disturbing.

His Most Overrated Film
marlon brando robert de niro the score

When I wrote about Robert De Niro last week, a bunch of you mentioned how good THE SCORE is. Yes, De Niro and Edward Norton are quite good in this Montreal-shot caper, but Marlon Brando, in an extended cameo, is abysmal. Apparently he hated the director Frank Oz so much that he referred to him only as “Ms Piggy” (which Oz is famous for voicing) and demanded to be directed only by De Niro. It's a sad, eccentric end to a great career, although in this case it seems like it was Brando's own ego that torpedoed the film, even if the other actors are quite good. One can only imagine how rough a shoot this must have been for Oz and the actors that admired Brando so much.

His Most Underrated Film
marlon brando mutiny on the bounty

Many point to Lewis Milestone's MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY as the beginning of the end for Brando, with his bad behaviour in Tahiti being so legendary that he became un-insurable for awhile – with it even almost costing him the lead in THE GODFATHER. That said, it's a pretty great adventure movie with beautiful scope 70MM photography and a nuanced performance by Brando as the heroic and troubled Fletcher Christian. It's especially worth seeing in high-def where the visuals have been beautifully restored. Brando's sole directorial effort, ONE EYED JACKS (which he took over from Stanley Kubrick) is also pretty interesting.  

His Best Scene
marlon brando karl malden eva marie saint on the waterfront

While I could go with “I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse...” from THE GODFATHER, I think Brando's most significant piece of acting is in Elia Kazan's amazing ON THE WATERFRONT. The whole movie is a classic, but Brando's bit where he confronts his mob affiliated brother for forcing him to take dives is rightfully one of the most famous pieces of acting in American cinema.

His Five Best Films


Up Next

While Brando's been dead for more than ten years now, his mystique lives on – with Criterion having recently re-released ON THE WATERFRONT on Blu-ray. Check it out.

Source: JoBlo.com



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