The Fugitive Kind on DVD: Bring Me the Head of Marlon Brando

The Fugitive Kind (1960)

The Criterion Collection

Ah, the jawline among jawlines, the mandible of the gods! Take a good look at Marlon Brando in this star-packed, Tennessee Williams banquet of psychodrama, in 1960, at the height of his hunkiness, and tell me that the shape of his head, particularly his jaw line, wasn't substantially responsible for his magnetic allure. Sure, Brando was a genius, if there are too few movies in his filmography to really bear that judgment out, but he was also a nova of iconic sex appeal, and I'm guessing, not being a woman, that his uniquely robust, rock-solid-yet-gently-curved jawbone was the main attraction, more than the mumbling or shrouded eyes or even the muscly shoulders. Certainly more than the acting. Brando's jaw is one of those things you respond to without necessarily seeing it, like Charlize Theron's collarbone -- look next time.

The Fugitive Kind is a forgotten movie, for readily apparent reasons: the dynamics, of Brando's snakeskin-jacket-wearing wanderer (this must be where David Lynch got the snakeskin for Wild at Heart) versus Anna Magnani's horny-testy wife of a small-town variety store versus Joanne Woodward (so miscast) as the bigoted hamlet's resident overacting trollop, aren't fascinating. In 1960, the movie (director Sidney Lumet's second) couldn't scare up a dust devil. Revamped from Williams' Orpheus Descending, the movie offers little of substance amid the playwright's signature hollerin' and soul-barin', but it deserves another look, because it paints a vibrant picture of the neglected South (as so many '60s-'70s movies do), a dying burg full of aging buildings and too few inhabitants to make it matter. We shouldn't take this for granted -- it was part of the New Wave phenomenon that even Hollywood films began exploring the social backwaters otherwise shunned by cinema: think the roadside nowhere of Psycho, the highway nation of Easy Rider, the dusty wastelands of dozens of '70s movies, in which nothing seemed as American as... hitting the road and trying to get the hell away from America.

But The Fugitive Kind is another kind of wonder, because to whatever extent moviegoers may have been used to Brando and Magnani in the '50s and early '60s, we have no one like them now. Garbling their Southern-fried dialogue, each in their own powerhouse fashion, the stars bridle and strut and vamp like two exotic species of racehorse; the characters may be slight, but these were not small people. And often enough, Williams's tongue hits a nerve, as when the town's bellicose old sheriff (the redoubtable R.G. Armstrong) warns Brando's walking-talking sexual threat by way of a sign bordering another county: "It says 'N***er, don't let the sun set on you in this county.' Son, you ain't that n***er, this ain't that county. But..."

The Criterion DVD package comes loaded, as usual, with new interviews and video docs and archival effluvia, plus an essay by Mr. Biographical Dictionary of Film David Thomson, outlining the production's hyped and doomed circumstances and history.

The Fugitive Kind [Crtierion]


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