The most influential actor in the history of American cinema? Mumbling exaggerated? genius? Selfish lazy warrior? From the moment Marlon Brando first appeared on the big screen, in Fred Zinman’s The Men (1950) – released this month in BFI Blu-ray – demanded attention and divided opinion.
Brando was more than able to call him, especially towards the end of his half-century in front of the camera, but few could match him in his heyday. As the most famous practitioner of “The Method” technique, no star could have been more responsible for pulling Hollywood’s path away from the bland rhetoric of the 1930s and 1940s toward something that feels authentically and imperfectly human. While there was definitely Brando’s rendition (often comically imitated), there wasn’t really a Brando character – he could play anything, from noble historical figures to skin-clad young villains, good-natured heroes to psychopathic villains.
The legend may have calcified it into something of a cartoon, but even a quick review through his film highlights reveals a thrillingly unpredictable and persistently alive actor. Here are 10 of the best performances in an unparalleled film career.
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
Re-enacting his hit Broadway production (along with the majority of cast and director Elia Kazan), Brando’s memorable role as brutal Stanley Kowalski—his unfashionable connections; Sweaty, almost brutal sex life; The promise of violence in his insatiable gaze – the actor truly established himself as a new cinematic phenomenon.
The polarity of variation in Brando’s styles and classically trained leader Vivien Leigh adds strength to the already fraught confrontations between Stanley and his fading southern belle sister-in-law. Both would garner widespread and extravagant praise for their performances, as well as Academy Award nominations (Lee won Best Actress).
Julius Caesar (1953)
Director: Joseph L. Mankevich
Although Julius Caesar is generally more concerned with the opposing ruler’s killer, Brutus (James Mason), than Brando’s patron Marc Anthony, this classic adaptation of Shakespeare gave the emerging icon a precious opportunity to prove he could go toe-to-toe with acting greats like Mason and John Gielgud about which material seemed best suited to their theatrical skills.
Despite its relative lack of screen time, his big moment – Mark Antony’s funeral oration for Caesar – remains dazzling for its strength, magnetism, and nuance; A surprisingly perfect marriage of the actor and the materialist. Brando had never performed Shakespeare before, and never will again, but Julius Caesar was enough to show that he was more than capable.
On the Waterfront (1954)
On his third and final collaboration with Elia Kazan, Brando was Terry Malloy, a longtime freight worker caught between his perilous involvement in a corrupt union and his growing affection for Eddie Doyle (Eva Marie Saint) – the sister of a man he inadvertently aided in that union. killing.
Brando Terry’s performance is perhaps the most airtight performance of his entire movie, shattered with self-hatred but full of charm; It boils violently, but is painfully tender and brittle. His iconic speech “I could have been a competitor…” (which he helped write), was not only a highlight of his career but of his on-screen acting history.
The Fugitive Genre (1960)
Although he never received an enthusiastic reception for his other film in Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire, Brando was equally compelling—if in a markedly different way—in The Fugitive Kind.
As cute loafer Valentine ‘Snakeskin’ Xavier – who gets involved with both the unhappy wife (Anna Magnani) of a sick aggressor, and the city alcoholic (Joanne Woodward) – he is mysterious and seductive; The gentle opposite of the masculine roughness that dominates the lives of the townswomen. Although their business partnership has been fractious, Brando and Magnani frown upon each other, bringing the hopeless emotion of an unconventional relationship to the center of the film.
Monocular Jacks (1961)
On his only directing outing, Brando introduces himself as Kid Ryo, a bank robber who has been betrayed by his partner (Karl Malden) and left to serve five years in prison, who is bent on getting revenge.
One-Eyed Jacks marks the third time Brando has worked with good friend Malden, and their strong chemistry helps power the film through its long running time. When close partners turned into mortal enemies, the two men gave out shark smiles while holding knives behind their wary backs, causing an escalating tension. The romantic aspects of the film were less successful, but Brando’s encounters with Malden are consistently exciting.
Mutiny on His Bounty (1962)
Director: Lewis Milestone
Although widely regarded as the first film in which his off-screen behavior was very off the rails, and despite a tone that could be described as ‘doubtful’, Brando’s performance in Mutiny on the Bounty is very burgeoning and enjoyable.
Fletcher Christian, the feat of naval officer who would lead the rebellion against sadistic Captain Bligh (Trevor Howard), played an unconcerned and convincingly ambivalent Brando, making the slow moral growth of his character as compelling as the voyage of an honorary ship. Contemporary audiences disagreed, however, and the film marked the beginning of a decade of critical and commercial failures for Brando.
An unjustly convicted fugitive from prison Robert Redford finds himself at the center of a terrifying manhunt, and sympathetic Mayor Brando is the only person standing between him and the mob in Arthur Penn who has deeply underrated the hunt.
While Sheriff Calder is one of Brando’s most decent and uncomplicated characters, his deep stress with the terrible people he swears to serve and protect gives his central role a lively and fragile complexity. Brando’s unusual shooting technique – which saw real punches speed up but so slowly to appear to be doing real damage – makes the eventual mob hitting of Calder still difficult to watch today.
Reflections on a Golden Eye (1967)
In this adaptation of Carson McCullers, Brando plays an Army major who competes with his repressed homosexuality, his cheating wife (Elizabeth Taylor) and his attraction to a private young man (Robert Forrester, in his first film), on a southern military base during peacetime.
Reflections in a Golden Eye is a movie full of grandiose performances and outrageous acts (at one point, Taylor repeatedly whipped Brando in the face with a crop ride). In turn, Brando makes the Major’s suppression internally to the point of physical pain, and so visibly self-involved until all his bottled-up emotions are unleashed, to tragic consequences.
The Godfather (1972)
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
After a long run of major roles in films that underperformed at the box office, The Godfather reignited Brando’s struggling star (although convincing both the actor to take the role and the studio to agree to it was a daunting challenge). His second – infamous – win earned him an Academy Award.
He was only 47 years old at the time of filming, but makeup artist Dick Smith helped turn Brando into a hooded seventy. Playing mob patriarch Don Corleone with such magnetic charisma would truly usher in the second phase of Brando’s career, when he’s seen as more of a living legend than a working actor.
Apocalypse Now (1979)
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
By the time of the apocalypse now, the actor Brando had long since been decimated by the legend Brando, with his harrowing tales of his aggressive behind-the-scenes cries often overshadowing the work he was doing on screen.
All this acted in Brando’s favor when it came to embodying Colonel Kurtz; His infamous off-screen hoaxes add tremendous weight to his already formidable portrayal of the larger-than-life character. Although he went on to appear sporadically in films in variable quality all the way through 2001, the greatness of the Apocalypse Now opera seems to be the swans best suited to a peerless career.