Archive for the ‘Marlon Brando: ACTING GOD: SCREEN GOD’ Category

The Formula

25 Jun

The Formula – directed by John G. Avildsen. International Espionage. An L.A. cop sets out to find who murdered his friend and his search leads him to higher echelons of European big money.117 minutes Color 1980.


James Crabe was nominated for an Oscar for his beautiful filming of it, a skill which bring coherence and life and meaning to the entire piece. The director and particularly Steve Shagan, who also wrote it and produced it, talk well about it as it goes along, praising the minor actors handsomely and Crabe particularly, but also leaving us enlightened as to the behavior of George C. Scott while it was in production. I leave it to you to dive into the special features for those tasty anecdotes. They hired Marlon Brando because he was perhaps the only actor who could stand up to Scott, and so he does by making his character a sort of lolling baby – this, mind you playing a man who is one of the most merciless oilmen alive. It’s a daring and imaginative choice and Brando is choice in the role. He does something with his lower lip that is so odd and right. He is in his late fifties here and willing to take on character leads. The story involves a mysterious murder which Scott sets himself to solve. The murder seems to revolve around a secret formula for turning coal into fuel oil, which the Germans managed to do for the duration of World War II. It is a telling account of the international oil trade, as apposite today as when it was shot. My daughter went to the same school as Nancy Marchand’s children, many years before The Sopranos. She was an actor I liked a lot. One day, walking down the inside stairs I passed her and asked if she had seen George C. Scott’s TV performance the night before. “No, “ she said, “I don’t think he’s going to show me anything new.” Nor is what he does here new. I first saw him on the Broadway stage in The Andersonville Trial, playing a lawyer. He was very exciting in the emphaticness of his growl, and he was the best Shylock I have ever seen. He was brand new in those days. Later I saw him on stage in Uncle Vanya. He was no longer new. In him what we are faced with, unlike Edward G. Robinson, is a perpetual ire. He is always a sten gun about to go off. And so, seen-one-seen-them-all. The public tired of him. It’s a shame, for here he is quite good, and looking at his work now, piecemeal and years later, it does not weary one as, in its repetition, it did at the time. Indeed it impresses one with its force and intensity. He has tremendous reserves of insult and intention, great timing, the ability to focus and be still, the ability to not show his hand, and the ability to deliver his stuff full force and absolutely mean what he says. He can charm and be dangerous on a dime. You might say he plays everything the same way, but it does not matter so much here, since the story convolutions are what gather our attention in. Marthe Keller is just grand as the partisan love interest he falls in with, and John Gielgud gives great value as a dying chemistry professor, and Richard Lynch deserved an Oscar for his German general. There are three racetrack scenes, one with female jockeys and one racing on ice, and the final one played out between Brando and Scott in Brando’s office in front of Degas’ jockey scene, all of them captivatingly captured by Crabe, whose filming is a lesson in point on the art of lighting, color agreement, exposure, and how to shoot people walking while talking, of which this film has many examples. The film is a classic instance of how a cameraman alone can make a story cohere. In this case there are other coherences to count on. And of course, the presence of the greatest acting genius of the 20th Century.




Reflections In A Golden Eye

14 Jun

When it first came out I hastened to it and saw it shown with Huston’s famous color correction for it meant for us to see the film as through a golden eye. This version was immediately withdrawn and regular Technicolor imposed. It still failed. Why is the eye gold to begin with? Because Anacleto, the fairy houseboy of Julie Harris, theatricalizes a peacock’s eye through a drawing made to correct everything grotesque – meaning we, the audience, are meant to be witnessing the story as grotesque and, through a golden eye, forgive it…I guess. Because that is not what happened to me. What happened to me was that I saw Brian Keith be the only sympathetic character in the piece, and Marlon Brando deliver one of the greatest acting scenes in all motion pictures. This is still true of that scene. At the time I also felt Huston was more interested in the equestrian scenes than in the story itself. I feel this is less true now, because what I did not consider at the time was that this material is not suited to Huston’s temperament and so the film lacks body. Everyone in the film is unfaithful. A highly puritanical, non, drinking, non smoking virgin enlisted man/stable boy, played in his screen debut by that wonderful actor Robert Forster, exercises the horses bareback and bare-ass in the woods where he also sunbathes nude. But he also creeps into the house of the Major played by Brando to ogle his wife as she sleeps, hardly an act of fidelity to the pure. Julie Harris is unfaithful to her husband by favoring her houseboy. Marlon Brando is unfaithful to his wife by lusting for Forster. His wife is unfaithful to him. Brian Keith is unfaithful to Julie Harris. But what the film may really be about is the human lens through which people see and do not see one another. I don’t know. I would say the film is thrown by the playing of Elizabeth Taylor, an untrained actress but one of great experience and one who is sensational in roles suitable to her natural instinct. Here she serves up Martha’s leftovers. She is shrill and technically broad, and a woman that beautiful does not have to be either of those things to get her way. The result is that it is a performance without repose. She throws the fact that her horse is a stallion in Brando’s face to cut him, just as she takes a riding crop to his face in a party after he has abused that horse. It does not convince. Gathering that her part is that of a bitch, Taylor lays it on thick. The result is over-painted. Elizabeth Taylor got what she wanted in life without gesticulating for it, and with her, lifting a finger would have constituted a gesticulation. Of course, the difficulty for Elizabeth Taylor would have been that in real life she didn’t know anybody. Unlike Patricia Neal, who would have been perfect in this part, who had a big Southern family, Elizabeth Taylor was jailed by her fame and so never met the sort of woman she had to play here. Her performance is not based on anything. Neither is her accent. Her performance is thus amateur. It would have been more interesting if she had played it against type, recognizing she did hot understand her husband, Brando, but still tried to. Julie Harris, on the other hand, is a treat. Watch her focus. Her ability to sustain attention is infallible, and Huston has the goodness to show it to us. The same is true of Brando, whose performance is somewhat garbled by his Southern accent, but even that seems justified by the primness that he cannot help but seek refuge in. It is a remarkable characterization. And he has this scene. Don’t expect a great movie, but expect great moments. It’s worth watching for them.


The Countess From Hong Kong

29 Dec

The Countess From Hong Kong. Written and Directed by Charles Chaplin. High Comedy. A Prostitute stows away in the stateroom of high-ranking diplomatist who tries valiantly to avoid detection. 120 minutes Color 1967.

* * *

We all know about how Chaplin caused this film to fail through acting all the parts for the actors, through the unimaginative casting of the supporting players, through surrounding Brando with too many male business associates, and through the mistaken introduction of the fact the Brando character was married, a development which should neither have come late nor at all. The first part is a farce built upon five doors to an ocean liner stateroom, and works pretty well, and the whole thing would work well, were its moves executed in other modes of the silent screen, but it isn’t.  So let us set the film aside as the failure it famously is and cast our eyes on the pleasant prospect of Sophia Loren in the title role as we contemplate such splendours of person as she possesses: a small head set upon a sumptuous body upon the lavish invitation of whose bosom one longs to either lay one’s head or an array of emeralds, awesome auburn hair, a deft cleft chin, that peaked upper lip, that droll rolled lower lip, her clownish smile, her perfect peasant nose, her wide and tilted eyes, the scimitar of her jaw. She’s not the usual beauty, but a new type, a type which made Paz Vega and Penelope Cruze eventually possible. Leaving out her slender legs and sashay hips, and setting aside her slim feet for other volumes, it is obvious that she might easily have been discarded as just another tomato on the vine, except for two things she possesses which placed her right where she belonged: prominently. First, she is a really good actress. For watch her play her scenes here, see how responsive she is, first of all, and how in tune with the sort of comedy this is, which is not really Chaplin comedy but Lubitsch comedy, that is to say, high sex comedy, a fact she understands even better than Brando, who usually had a good instinct for such things. The part provides her with a lot more opportunities than the director does, and she feasts on them. She is playful, witty, quick, and game. Like the good Virgo that she is, she has the hauteur of an Empress and the capacity to be perfectly ridiculous.  All of this is executed with one of her principal assets, that she has a most melodious speaking voice. It’s in inherent in her, so it is never forced or put on. It’s not a Hollywood voice, like Joan Crawford’s. It’s so right you scarcely notice it. A good speaking voice is one of the great tools an actor can have, and she had it. But the second thing she has, and it is one of the qualities even of stars who are, like Humphrey Bogart not particularly good actors, and that is an inner presence which is always unaffraidly available to us. Watch her as you watch this film. You will never see it in Olivier. But you will see it in Rosalind Russell and in Walter Huston and in Audrey Hepburn, in Ann Sheridan and James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson and Clark Gable.  It is probably the quality that makes us really identify with a star, deficiencies of craft be damned. Because it is there that we feel we know them and like them. The gift of presence is probably God-given. Sophia Loren had it and still has it. Two things: she’s a darn good actress and she is a person we can actually see. And, oh that look of fun in her eyes. Oh, that Neapolitan cheek. She was and she remains an acknowledged International Treasure.



The Night Of The Following Day

20 Oct

The Night Of The Following Day – Directed by Hubert Cornfield. Crime Drama. Four kidnappers hole up in a beach house to generate ransom, and things fall apart. 92 minutes Color 1968.

a cloud over the stars

Cornfield’s commentary is worth the trip, for he remains justifiably vindictive regarding Brando’s destructive misconduct while filming this. But that’s not the problem. The actors are fine, including Brando. The trouble is that the story itself lacks power because we are not offered any way to invest in any of these people, including the kidnappee. Moreover, the film does not generate suspense, and that is probably due to the arrangement of the shots. It is Brando’s last picture as a male beauty. And he really is beautiful — in a blond wig, no less. He is trim, he is buffed, he is dressed all in black. He is forty-four. After this he declines into the soda fountain of his belly and, to the indignation of God, attempts for the rest of his life to attain artistic ruin, which, in his case, was an impossibility. So the greatest actor of his time throws away his sex appeal on the one hand and his career on the other through the mere mischief of an ice cream cone. But this is his last moment with all four burners and the oven and the broiler working, and there are scenes in this picture well worth seeing because of that. We witness again and for the last time his extraordinary power, physical command, and generosity. He performs with an intensity astonishing to this day and with a reserve in which he is unsurpassed because he has so much to hold in reserve. Richard Boone appears in it with him, but his character is given insufficient scenic development, so he remains enigmatic in the wrong way. The great treat is Rita Moreno. Who knows how she came to be cast in this part, but on the commentary the director says she is the best actor he ever worked with, and you can see why. She is immediate, game, always present. She is susceptible to whatever is thrown at her. Her scenes with Brando are daring triumphs of the actor’s art. It is insulting to the world that she was confined to hotsie-totsie parts all her long career in film, when it is clear that she has a classical instrument, and should have been working in classical roles. This is an actor who right now should be playing Hecuba in Euripides’ The Trojan Women. Contemplating this dream, consider this: besides Hecuba there are three great roles in that play, Andromache, Hector’s wife, Cassandra, Hector’s mad sister, and Helen of Troy, and that Rita Moreno at one time or another in her life, could also have played any one of them.



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