Judge Clark Douglas often enjoys shouting Stella's name and plotting to murder Caesar while riding nude on horseback in Japan.
Our reviews of Best of Warner Bros. 20 Film Collection: Romance (published April 17th, 2013), The Marlon Brando Collection (published December 11th, 2006), A Streetcar Named Desire (published April 30th, 1999), A Streetcar Named Desire (Blu-ray) DigiBook (published April 23rd, 2012), A Streetcar Named Desire: Two-Disc Special Edition (published May 2nd, 2006), and TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection: Romantic Dramas (published February 19th, 2009) are also available.
Four films featuring one of cinema's most esteemed actors.
"The only thing an actor owes his public is not to bore them."—Marlon Brando
Facts of the Case
In A Streetcar Named Desire, we encounter the confident, delusional Blanche Dubois (Vivian Leigh, Gone with the Wind) as she arrives in New Orleans to visit her sister Stella Kowalski (Kim Hunter, Planet of the Apes). Blanche is quickly introduced to Stella's brutish husband Stanley (Marlon Brando, The Godfather), a man as simple and straightforward as Blanche is extravagant and devious. Blanche also encounters Mitch (Karl Malden, Patton), a pal of Stanley's who quickly develops feelings for Blanche and fails to see through her façade. Over the course of the film, the relationships between these people grow increasingly tormented.
In Julius Caesar, a plot to assassinate the title character is being hatched. The fiercely intelligent Cassius (John Gielgud, Arthur) and the hesitant Brutus (James Mason, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) lead the small group of traitors. Once the deed is done, imperial loyalist Mark Antony (Marlon Brando) is given the task of eulogizing Rome's fallen leader.
In The Teahouse of the August Moon, we're introduced to Captain Fisby (Glenn Ford, 3:10 to Yuma), a hapless member of the American military who has been given the challenging task of introducing democracy to post-WWII Okinawa. The challenge seems overwhelming at first, but Fisby receives some inspiration from an sly interpreter named Sakini (Marlon Brando).
Reflections in a Golden Eye offers the strange and sordid tale of Major Weldon Penderton (Marlon Brando) and his wife Leonora (Elizabeth Taylor, Cleopatra). While stationed at a Georgia military post, the marriage between the couple begins to disintegrate: Leonora is conducting an affair with Lt. Col. Morris Langdon (Brian Keith, The Parent Trap), Major Penderton begins to obsess over a young private (Robert Forster, Jackie Brown), the private obsesses over Leonora and Col. Langdon's wife Alison (Julie Harris, The Haunting) continues a rapid descent into mental illness.
For the most part, I dig these budget-conscious DVD releases from Turner Classic Movies. They're light on supplements and present movies on those obnoxious flipper discs, but they also represent an opportunity to check out some terrific older films for a low price. However, I'm growing increasingly concerned about the double-dipping taking place in these sets.
For instance, A Streetcar Named Desire (which kicks off this collection) was already included in the TCM Greatest Classic Films: Romantic Dramas set (um, not to mention the Tennessee Williams box set released a few years ago). Still, I suppose its inclusion here was inevitable—the performance shot Brando (reprising his stage performance) to instant stardom and remains one of the most influential performances in the history of cinema. Ironically, Brando was the only one of the four principles who didn't win an Academy Award for acting in the film. The other performers are superb, though: Vivian Leigh's Blanche Dubois is her most compelling cinematic creation, Karl Malden's foolish Mitch is a beautifully tender performance in an emotionally violent film and Kim Novak is subtly brilliant as Stella. The film is remarkable on every level, from Elia Kazan's unflinching direction to Alex North's groundbreaking, nuanced score. It's a great movie, but many who might be interested in this set will undoubtedly own it already.
Many found the notion of a young Brando trying his hand at Shakespeare completely laughable, but Brando surprised critics and moviegoers with his memorable performance as Mark Antony in Julius Caesar. Brando's trademark mumbling is replaced with precise diction, but the commanding intensity of his screen presence remains very much intact. The play's predilection for lengthy sequences of speechifying occasionally causes pacing problems in this cinematic adaptation, but the strength of the performances (not to mention the loveliness of Shakespeare's words) keep us engaged throughout. While Brando's Oscar-nominated turn is undoubtedly the highlight of the film, mention should also be made of John Gielgud's excellent work as Cassius. James Mason sometimes struggles to nail the rhythms of Brutus' lines, but his conflicted facial expressions effectively define the character for us.
The Teahouse of the August Moon is easily the least substantial and least satisfying film of the collection; an only fitfully amusing comedy in which Brando offers a very stereotypical (and very non-P.C.) Japanese caricature. Brando's performance certainly isn't as questionable as Mickey Rooney's turn in Breakfast at Tiffany's (a film which nonetheless outclasses this one in many ways), but it's still cringe-inducing at times. Goofball comedy isn't exactly Brando's strong suit, and Glenn Ford's strained performance suggests his role would have been better suited to someone like Jack Lemmon. The tale has its offbeat charms, but the plot is as predictable as the sunrise.
We leap ahead some eleven years to 1967's Reflections in a Golden Eye, a hidden gem directed by the great John Huston. The film was a box office flop but an artistic success, offering a return to form for Brando (it came on the heels of poorly-received films like The Chase, The Appaloosa and Morituri) and another opportunity for Elizabeth Taylor to demonstrate what a fearless actress she could be (it came right after her impressive turns in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Taming of the Shrew). Some of Brando's trademark oddball experimentalism is on display, but his choices are shrewd and only serve to enhance the well-defined character he's playing. It's a strange, fearless movie that tackles dark territory with gusto yet never goes too far over the top. Huston bathes this bizarre, intimate tale in muted golden hues and gives the movie a very distinctive look; Warner Bros. tragically demanded that the film be restored to a "normal" color palette early in its theatrical run. Fortunately, Huston's original vision of the film has been preserved on this disc.
Note: Julius Caesar, The Teahouse of the August Moon and Reflections in a Golden Eye were all previously featured in The Marlon Brando Collection, alongside The Formula and The Mutiny on the Bounty.
The transfers are a mixed bag, as you might expect. A Streetcar Named Desire is easily the worst-looking film of the set, with loads of scratches and flecks present along with a generally grimy, dirty look (part of this is due to Kazan's direction, but not much). Still, at least detail is respectable. Audio is also weakest on Streetcar, as the track is very quiet and features some crackling and hissing. Julius Caesar looks and sounds a bit better; offering fairly sharp picture despite a few flecks and specks. The audio is also a step up (it's the only surround track included in this set), with the regal Miklos Rozsa score and the grand dialogue come through with clarity. We move from full-frame black-and-white to widescreen color with The Teahouse of the August Moon, though detail is a little lacking in the visually lavish comedy. Dialogue is surprisingly distorted on occasion, though the original score is quite crisp. Reflections in a Golden Eye is the best-looking film in the set, with spectacular detail and only a small handful of flecks present. The dialogue can be a little hard to make out at times, but that's mostly due to Brando's thick, mumbly southern accent.
Supplements on A Streetcar Named Desire include a commentary featuring Karl Malden along with historians Rudy Behlmer and Jeff Young, plus an Elia Kazan trailer gallery. Supplements on Julius Caesar include an introduction from Robert Osborne (I wish every film in the set received one of these), a featurette entitled "The Rise of Two Legends" and a Marlon Brando trailer gallery. The Teahouse of the August Moon includes a featurette entitled "Operation Teahouse" and a Brando trailer gallery, while Reflections in a Golden Eye offers some behind-the-scene footage and yet another Brando trailer gallery.
These films have been released before in other collections, but if you don't own them and aren't too picky about flipper-discs, it's a solid batch. The Teahouse of the August Moon is a middling comedy, but the other three flicks represent Brando at his finest.
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, A Streetcar Named Desire
Perp Profile, A Streetcar Named Desire
Studio: Warner Bros.
Distinguishing Marks, A Streetcar Named Desire
Scales of Justice, Julius Caesar
Perp Profile, Julius Caesar
Studio: Warner Bros.
Distinguishing Marks, Julius Caesar
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
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
Review content copyright © 2011 Clark Douglas; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.