Friday, April 4, 2008

Extra happy over Day Day

Yesterday, as I pointed out, was the birthday of Doris Day, and TCM responded by showing several of her movies. What I didn't realize until going on to the TCM discussion boards is that yesterday was also the birth anniversary of Marlon Brando (1924-2004). Several posters were complaining that TCM didn't better honor Brando, but I'm even more thankful that they chose Doris Day, now that I know whom they snubbed.

I've never been a very big fan of Brando's work. He does a fine job in On the Waterfront, but watching how everybody in that movie is excellent, and seeing several of Brando's other movies, I'm more of the opinion that director Elia Kazan deserves more of the credit for getting a good performance out of Brando.

A good movie for showing Brando's deficiencies is Sayonara. Brando plays a US Air Force officer stationed in Japan who falls in love with a Japanese dancer, despite the fact that this is strictly against regulations -- and despite the fact that he's already engaged to the daughter of a general (look carefully; that's Kent Smith from Val Lewton's Cat People). This illicit love is supposed to be seen sympathetically by the audience, but watching the movie, I just couldn't help but think Brando was badly miscast, and playing the character as an arrogant jerk to boot. There's much more sympathy, and better acting, to be found in the supporting love affair, that between Oscar-winners Red Buttons and Miyoshi Umeki, both of whom do an outstanding job in what should be the main story line. Sayonara would be a beautiful movie if it weren't polluted by Brando.

I'd never been able to figure out why Brando is not just popular, but nearly revered, until I saw a documentary on him that TCM aired first in 2007 (and is the one thing of Brando's they aired on his birthday). In it, they were discussing his work in Julius Caesar, and one of the commentors mentioned that he was actually cheering at how Brando was, in his opinion, out-acting John Gielgud. And that's when it dawned on me. Brando represented a new generation, the one too young to have fought World War II, and the one which was born in just the right time to be the people responsible for the influence of the 1960s. Yes, Brando was born in 1924 and would have been old enough to fight from the day Pearl Harbor was bombed, but his film career really only started in about 1950; the people of an age to be influenced by his performances would have been born in about 1930 or later. Not only was he a new face; he was a new method of acting, a method that directly challenged that which had come before him. I believe it is this challenge that is a big part of the appeal of Brando. Those who would have been too young to fight World War II themselves wanted something different, something to challenge their parents, and along comes Brando. What a perfect fit.

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