Long before Marlon Brando was making us an offer we couldn’t refuse, he was making his bones in James Dean-like portrayals of the young troubled spirit. It isn’t hard to see why Sidney Lumet chose him for the role of Val Xavier in The Fugitive Kind. Ultimately Brando is miscast in the part. He is obviously struggling to get a feel for the character. Instead of a classic Brando performance we are tortured, having instead to watch him try to make the job more than it is.The film is based on the Tennessee Williams pl…y Orpheus Descending. Williams himself co-wrote the screenplay, which likely explains the terribly contrived dialogue and moody atmosphere. The southern town is nothing more than a 1950’s stereotype. The awkward pacing makes this film quite difficult to watch.
The film, like the play, is basically a character study. Brando plays a troubled 30 year old man trying to grow out of his rebellious youth. His arrival in a sleepy southern town stirs up a nest of discontentment. His presence seems to bring out the worst in those around him. Pain both past and present, real or imagined, is rocketed to the surface. It doesn’t take long for us to figure out that this one can’t end pretty. Brando carries around an apparently valuable guitar. More a symbol of his sordid past, it doesn’t seem to be damaged by pouring rain and a little slapping around. One of the women affected by Val’s influence is Carol Cutrere, played quite abrasively by a young Joanne Woodward, very annoying to watch. She plays like an overdriven 1920’s flapper. It’s no wonder no one in town seems to care much for her.
The Fugitive Kind is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 that is non-anamorphic. The image is boxed inside of a full frame format. A poor 3.5-4mbps bit rate looks more like a 2nd generation video release. Contrast is soft. Black levels are at times adequate, but barely. There is plenty of compression artifact and shimmer to distract from the film itself. One of the worst modern video transfers I’ve ever seen.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track is barely better than the awful video transfer. Kenyon Hopkins’ flute-heavy musical score often distorts in the higher ranges. There is no sub to speak of. Dialogue is often muddled. Of course, Brando’s mumbled speaking style doesn’t help to make a bad presentation appear any better.
I had never seen the film before, or the play it’s based on. I approached this with some eagerness. I was fully prepared to enjoy it. I’m a Brando fan and so expected this to be a little lost gem waiting for me to discover it. The truth is, there simply isn’t anything at all enjoyable about this film. Even if you love the original work, you are bound to be disappointed in MGM’s poor treatment of the entire release. Great actor. Stellar writer. Legendary director. All of this sowed the seeds for a phenomenal film. “But it never bore any fruit.”