Judge Ryan Keefer emulates Marlon Brando. The overweight, land-buying, slightly insane version (he also liked the overweight Elvis stamp too).
Our reviews of Mutiny On The Bounty (Blu-Ray) (published November 16th, 2010), Mutiny On The Bounty (HD DVD) (published January 8th, 2007), and TCM Greatest Classic Film Legends: Marlon Brando (published April 14th, 2011) are also available.
Bravo Brando! The star who changed acting.
If he's not at the top of the list of the greatest American actors of all time, he's certainly in the top half of the list. His captivating roles in films like On the Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire and The Wild One in the early 1950s helped inspire a generation of actors, many of whom are now household names. Marlon Brando's career was continually evolving in the two subsequent decades, and despite some of his widely reported eccentricities, his early work remains a testament to his talent. How does this new collection stack up?
Facts of the Case
Coinciding with the release of Mutiny on the Bounty in a restored video presentation, Warner Brothers has also put out several other lesser-known Brando films in this collection as well. Among them…
• Julius Caesar
• The Teahouse of the August Moon
• Mutiny on the Bounty
• Reflections in a Golden Eye
• The Formula
Not having been familiar with some of the more obscure Brando films, this certainly was a unique undertaking for me, one that's actually quite interesting in the end, so I figured I'd try to tackle these in chronological order.
Hot on the heels of Brando's success from his early work (shortly before his performance in The Wild One and after his work in On the Waterfront) is his decision to play Marc Antony among a group of established actors, some of them (Mason and Gielgud specifically) with an established pedigree. But he is practically an extra in the film until Caesar's murder, but when he gives the famed speech after the murder, it is done with a ferocity and vocal projection that isn't seen in other Brando roles. We're all used to the meandering, almost mumbling version of Brando in the more recognizable films, but here, to see him in his youth and his glory (he wasn't even 30 when he worked with the acting legends in this film) is a sight to behold.
And as far as the other actors go, Mason just isn't a voice that comic actors do when their puppets get dyed in the laundry, as his acting talents remain true to form, and Gielgud's performance as Cassius is just as revelatory. Shakespeare may not be for everyone, but this is certainly a compelling adaptation of Bill's work, and it should be viewed for even the novice Shakespeare fan.
Technically, the film itself looks good a half century after the fact, but the surprising technical aspect of the film is the 5.1 surround sound that the film presents, which is notable for the fact that it was originally recorded with a stereo mix (one of the first of its kind back in the early '50s). The thunder noises pan from the front to back speakers, and there are even some small hints of subwoofer activity through the feature. And hey, there are a couple of extras to boot! Aside from a trailer gallery of the Brando films in this set (which appears on almost all of these), there's an introduction to the film by historian Robert Osborne, along with a featurette on the film itself. "The Rise of Two Legends" is more of an appreciation to Brando's talents in this film as Laurence Fishburne and Dennis Hopper (Apocalypse Now), William MacDonald (Rome) and John Avildsen (Rocky) discuss their thoughts on the literature, and Fishburne equates Shakespeare's work to Aaron Spelling's, with tongue in cheek.
In another radical change of pace and style for Brando, he decided to wear some fake teeth and get his hair dyed black in his supporting role as Sakini in The Teahouse of the August Moon. The funny thing is, it's Sakini that moves the story along and makes you want to watch the film. Sure, watching Glenn Ford is nice and all, but since this film was one in another slapstick military comedies, it was easy for me to lump his role into some sort of "Mister Roberts goes to Tokyo on a top secret Operation Petticoat mission." But he holds his own quite well, and is actually pretty good. It's a bit uneasy to watch Brando in this role because it seems sometimes he's trying to play up to a stereotype, but it's somewhat forgiven. And in fact, Brando, Ford, Albert and Kyo were all nominated for Golden Globes in 1957, so it's not like this film was forgettable by any means.
The reason for this is the story. For every film I've seen recently that politically boasts itself as being "as important now as it was released," The Teahouse of the August Moon is a hell of a lot more clever in its dialogue and jokes than many of those self-proclaimed movies, with lines of dialogue that gently poke fun at the armed forces and some of the nonsense that comes from more "intelligent" lines of dialogue. Now, I haven't really been given that much exposure to the aforementioned Cary Grant or Jack Lemmon films, but I think that those would have to be minor letdowns compared to what I saw in this film, and this was a nice satire of the occupying force in the era.
Shot in Cinemascope, the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen version of the film looks fine, but no real effort has been made to clean up the image, so it does tend to show its age a little bit. As is the case with many of the other films, the audio is in mono, and the Brando trailer gallery returns again, along with a dated on-set featurette on the making of the film.
The film that changed Brando's outlook on life is Mutiny on the Bounty, as during the making of the film he became so enamored with the Tahitian settings that he bought large parcels of land and spent a considerable portion of the rest of his life there. Who can blame him, it's Tahiti! He even married the Tahitian beauty Tarita as his first wife and had a couple of kids with her. And since Brando's star power was at its brightest, he certainly flaunted as much of it as he could. Rumors on the set included a production whose budget swelled considerably, and a crew whose loyalties seemed to split between Brando and the director Milestone.
Production conflicts aside, the film is certainly an excellent portrait of restraint for Brando's character. He is very stoic and calm, even as shipmate John Mills (Richard Harris, Major Dundee) and others find themselves persecuted, almost to the point of being tortured, through Bligh's irrational ways. Howard carries the role well as the abrasive Captain, and after seeing Howard and Brando together recently in Superman: The Movie, it seems that there may be less than six degrees of separation between many of the actors that Brando collaborated with. It's only fair I suppose, as Brando and the others express a strict adherence to the material and it makes for compelling work.
This film is arguably the highlight of the set, as it was released as a standalone feature as well. Restored from the 65mm film elements, the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation for the film looks excellent; the lush Tahitian greens look great even after four decades. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track is also a pleasant surprise, with lots of rear speaker activity and dialogue that sounds crystal clear.
Thankfully, Warner Brothers thought to split Mutiny on the Bounty to two discs over the overture, entr'acte and intermission. Even the alternate prologue and epilogue are included as separate extras; featuring one of the Bounty's survivors who ran into a British ship that found the island years later. The other featurettes on both discs are satisfactory, but they focus more on the ship itself than on the production surrounding it. The "Tour of the Bounty" shows the ship off at some of the stops on its publicity tour, while the "Voyage of the Bounty to St. Petersburg" is just that, twenty five minutes of it to be exact. The "Story of the Bounty" is the only piece that really covers some part of the production, albeit in a topical, studio sponsored fashion, it's really more on the historical aspects of the production and the urge to get it right. I had hoped that "After the Cameras Stopped Rolling: The Journey of the Bounty" was more of a new look at the production of the film, but it was really more talk about the ships. As a standalone release, this new version of Mutiny on the Bounty is certainly worth the time.
After Mutiny on the Bounty was released, Brando found himself spending more and more time in Tahiti, and making films that featured a larger variety of characters, in Reflections in a Golden Eye, he found himself playing a proper (and possibly sexually repressed) officer at an Army post, where the marriage to Leonora seems to be for convenience and appearance's sake. He wants everything in his control to be perfect, even as Leonora (who is a General's daughter) disregards whatever he says and does.
Adapted to the screen by longtime Huston collaborator Gladys Hill, the film is notable for several reasons. First off, fans of Apocalypse Now will notice that Brando is wearing the same costume here as he does for stills in the Coppola film. Whether or not this was a conscious decision I don't know. Second, from a picture standpoint, Warner Brothers (or the releasing studio) had decided to quash Huston's initial release of the film and release a version with more traditional coloring, so the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen version that is on the disc is filled with the golden hues that came out as Huston intended, which is a nice touch. From a bonus standpoint, the gallery of Brando films comes back again, along with a little over twenty minutes of footage on set with the cast and Huston, set to the film's soundtrack.
From a dramatic standpoint, the performances are all solid, even if the story does stray into confusion from time to time. Granted, the southern drawls that Brando and Taylor sported come across as a little too showy, as if to say "hey, look at us, we can do dem Southern accent things!" Keith's performance is very dependable and holds up to scrutiny, and as Langdon's wife, Julie Harris (Gorillas in the Mist) is a discovery. Her role is similar to Beatrice Straight's in Network, and she is constrained far more than Straight was, and still is compelling to watch as she exhibits the hurt that no one seems to understand.
The Formula was Brando's last film before his self-imposed "retirement" in 1980 (ultimately returning in 1989 to appear in A Dry White Season). And after this film, it's understandable why he left the first time. By this point, he decided to put on a little more weight, a dental prosthesis and a Texan accent to portray Adam Steiffel. In some ways, he was a little bit prescient in the role, doing a Dick Cheney interpretation before it was en vogue, but in this film he just appears a little bit on the babbling side.
The only person who looks more out of place than Brando is Scott, who is supposed to be a caring single dad who investigates the murder of his close friend. And sure, the combination of Patton and Don Corleone in the occasional scene is tantalizing, but almost like Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in Heat, in the sense that once it happened, it was almost anticlimactic because the story was so solid. Except the problem with The Formula is that the story may hint towards Traffic or perhaps more appropriately Syriana, it really just meanders along, to the point of becoming yet another film that follows a Western protagonist and an Eastern bloc female figure (in this case, occupied by Marthe Keller, Black Sunday) in some Cold War scenario.
And hey, it's not without many of the same faces that occupy other roles in this set of Brando films. Gielgud returns as an asthmatic German doctor who holds the origins of the formula to solve the world's dependency on gas, Straight returns as the wife of Scott's friend that winds up murdered. G.D. Spradlin (The Lords of Discipline) shows up as an assistant to Steiffel, and Richard Lynch (Invasion U.S.A.) is the prime suspect in the investigation.
Despite the resumes of the individuals involved, it's really nothing more than a film trying to be daring and addressing a larger topic of concern, combined with the '70s feeling of a filmmaker trying to be biting and commenting on the consumer times of the era. It's a pity that the message isn't really worth listening to.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Some of the selections in the set aren't too bad as they help to further complete the dissemination of the great one out to aficionados everywhere, so I use this time to ask Warner to hopefully purchase the video rights to some more of the other more notable Brando films (like The Wild One or even Last Tango in Paris) and give them the special treatment only Warner could do.
The Marlon Brando Collection has entertaining films in them with some decent extras, including the crown jewel of the set in an exquisitely packaged Mutiny on the Bounty. The lower end titles are also films that are enjoyable and intriguing as well. What the set ultimately emphasizes is that Brando consciously tried to dispose of any possible matinee fan following by taking more daring and thought-provoking roles to broaden his initial base audience, or find a new one. It's well rewarded in this set.
Certainly not guilty, we are talking about American acting royalty here. Bring in the next case.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice, Julius Caesar
Perp Profile, Julius Caesar
Studio: Warner Bros.
Distinguishing Marks, Julius Caesar
• Introduction by Robert Osborne
Scales of Justice, The Teahouse Of The August Moon
Perp Profile, The Teahouse Of The August Moon
Studio: Warner Bros.
Distinguishing Marks, The Teahouse Of The August Moon
• "Operation Teahouse" Featurette
Scales of Justice, Mutiny On The Bounty
Perp Profile, Mutiny On The Bounty
Studio: Warner Bros.
Distinguishing Marks, Mutiny On The Bounty
• Alternate Prologue and Epilogue Sequences not seen Theatrically
Scales of Justice, Reflections In A Golden Eye
Perp Profile, Reflections In A Golden Eye
Studio: Warner Bros.
Distinguishing Marks, Reflections In A Golden Eye
• Behind the Scenes Footage
Scales of Justice, The Formula
Perp Profile, The Formula
Studio: Warner Bros.
Distinguishing Marks, The Formula
• Commentary with Director John G. Avildsen and Screenwriter Steve Shagan
• IMDb: Julius Caesar
Review content copyright © 2006 Ryan Keefer; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.