Brando for Breakfast


To paraphrase a line from one of his Oscar-nominated performances, I come to praise Marlon Brando, not to bury him. Jesse Walker noted his passing yesterday and here's the Washington Post's thorough, if unremarkable, obit. Lord knows that when you start working your way through Brando's filmography, he's got one helluva lot to answer for (his death scene in Mutiny on the Bounty alone should earn him a 1,000 years in purgatory).

Yet his films are less important than his life. Along with figures such as the Beats, Muhammad Ali, The Beatles, and Madonna, Brando's great contribution to society had less to do with anything he actually did and more with the way he did it. You can love or hate him as an actor, and he was certainly a troubled and at times odious human being, but he helped to open up American culture to all sorts of weirdness and individuality that is well worth celebrating.

And while he's being fitted for a triple-wide coffin, let me suggest some generally underappreciated Brando films (or more specifically, performances), all from his supposed period of decline (roughly the very late '50s through the early '70s): The Fugitive Kind , The Ugly American, Candy, and especially The Night of the Following Day, a great kidnapping-gone-wrong flick that manages to breathe life into the one-last-job-before-I-retire-from-a-life-of-crime cliche in a way that a more recent Brando vehicle, The Score, absolutely failed to do.

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  1. “Yet his films are less important than his life.”

    You must be high, Nick.

    By the way, his most underappreciated performance is as Sky Masterson in Guys And Dolls. He wipes Sinatra off the screen, and in a musical comedy.

  2. Ah, yes. Candy. Mason and Terry were so insistent that they held the copyright. But truly, as I let them have the films’ earnings, was that not enough?

    Yes. It was. Yes.

    Ah, and Mason. Poor Mason. What did he think of it all?

  3. That link to Candy should actually be this one.

  4. Death scene? But Fletcher Christian didn’t die till years after the mutiny.

    OK, I see your point.

  5. Hey I’chef, some day we’ll be blathering on to our grandkids about the greatness of Johnny Depp, Sean Penn or Edward Norton, and they’ll look at us blankly and say, “Who?”

  6. {shrugs}

    As a GenXer I don’t know what to think. Brando was already in mythic/recluse status when my generation was exposed to him. (Oh, he’s the freaky guy in Apocalypse Now was the first)

    Not trying to disrespect the guy. Just that I’ve grown skeptical since every passing contains the obligatory “If you don’t know so-and-so you don’t know squat” sermons that appear.

  7. Without Brando, no Hoffman, Pacino, or de Niro. And THAT would suck worse.

  8. I think he got tired of working hard at some point.

  9. Without Brando there’d be no Johnny Depp. And that would suck.

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