Scenes that I Love: Marlon Brando as Mark Antony in Julius Caesar


Beware the Ides of March!

The scene below is from the 1953 film, Julius Caesar.  This Oscar-nominated Shakespearean adaptation had a cast that was full of distinguished actors.  James Mason played Brutus.  The great John Gielgud played Cassius.  Louis Calhern was Caesar while other roles were filled by Deborah Kerr, Greer Garson, Edmond O’Brien, George Macready, John Hoyt, Edmund Purdom. and a host of other distinguished thespians.  And yet, the best performance in the film came from an actor who, at the time, no one considered to be a Shakespearean.  Marlon Brando brought his method intensity to the role of Mark Antony and the result was a performance that is still electrifying today.

On YouTube, someone referred to this as being “the world’s greatest speech delivered by the world’s greatest actor.”  Sounds good to me!

Here is Marlon Brando in Julius Caesar:

What Could Have Been: The Godfather, Part II


Years ago, I wrote a post called What Could Have Been: The Godfather, in which I discussed all of the actors and the directors who were considered for The Godfather. 

It remains one of the most widely viewed posts that we’ve ever had on this site.  I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise.  People love The Godfather and they love playing What If?  Would The Godfather still have been a classic if it had been directed by Otto Preminger with George C. Scott, Michael Parks, Burt Reynolds, and Robert Vaughn in the lead roles?  Hmmm …. probably not.  But, in theory, it could have happened.  All of them were considered at one point or another.

However, in the end, it was Francis Ford Coppola who directed The Godfather and it was Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Cann, and Robert Duvall who brought the Corleone family to life.  The Godfather, as everyone knows, was a huge hit and it went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture of the year.  As the film ended with the future of the Corleone family still up in the air, there was obviously room for a sequel.

When Paramount Pictures first approached Coppola about writing and directing a sequel, he turned them down.  He said he was done with The Godfather and didn’t see any way that he could improve on the story.  It’s debatable whether or not Coppola truly felt like this or if he was just holding out for more money.  It is known that Coppola did suggest to Paramount a possible director for Part II and that director’s name was Martin Scorsese.

What would Martin Scorsese’s The Godfather Part II have looked like?  It’s an intriguing thought.  At the time, Scorsese was best-known for Mean Streets and it’s probable that Scorsese’s film would have been a bit messier and grittier than Coppola’s version.  If Coppola made films about the upper echelons of the Mafia, Scorsese’s interest would probably have been with the soldiers carrying out Michael’s orders.  While Scorsese has certainly proven that he can handle a huge productions today, he was considerably younger and much more inexperienced in the early 70s.  To be honest, it’s easy to imagine Scorsese’s Godfather Part II being critically and commercially rejected because it would have been so different from Coppola’s.  A failure of that magnitude would have set back Scorsese’s career and perhaps even led to him returning to Roger Corman’s production company.  As such, it’s for probably for the best that Coppola did eventually agree to shoot the sequel, on the condition that Coppola be given creative control and Paramount exec Robert Evans not be allowed on the set.  While Coppola was busy with Godfather Part II, Scorsese was proving his versatility with Alice Doesn’t Live Her Anymore.

After Coppola was signed to direct, the next best question was whether or not Marlon Brando would return to play the role of Vito Corleone.  The film’s flashback structure would ensure that Vito would remain an important character, despite his death in the first film.  Coppola reportedly considered offering Brando the chance to play the younger version of Vito but he changed his mind after he saw Robert De Niro in Scorsese’s Mean Streets.  Still, it was felt that Brando might be willing to show up in a cameo during the film’s final flashback, in which Michael tells his family that he’s enlisted in the army.  Frustrated by Brando’s refusal to commit to doing the cameo, Coppola told him to show up on the day of shooting if he wanted to do the film.  When Brando didn’t show, the Don’s lines were instead rewritten and given to Tom Hagen.  It’s hard not to feel that this worked to the film’s advantage.  A last-minute appearance by Brando would have thrown off the film’s delicate balance and probably would have devalued De Niro’s own performance as the younger version of the character.

Brando wasn’t the only member of the original cast who was hesitant about returning.  Al Pacino held out for more money, which makes sense since he was literally the only cast member who could not, in some way, be replaced.  Richard Castellano, who played Clemenza in the first film, however learned that he that hard way that he was not quite as indispensable as Al Pacino.  In Part II, Clemenza was originally meant to have a large role in both the flashbacks and the present-day scenes.  However, when Castellano demanded more money and the right to rewrite his own lines, the older Clemenza was written out the film and replaced by the character of Frankie Petangeli (played by Michael V. Gazzo).

It’s impossible to find fault with Gazzo’s performance but it’s still hard not to regret that Castellano didn’t return.  Imagine how even more poignant the film’s final moments would have been if it had been the previously loyal Clemenza who nearly betrayed Michael as opposed to Frankie?  Indeed, even after the part was rewritten, many of Frankie’s lines deliberately harken back to things that Clemenza said and did during the first film.  Because Clemenza is a very prominent character during the film’s flashbacks, his absence in the “modern” scenes is all the more obvious.

When the role of Young Clemenza was cast, it was still believed that Richard Castellano would be appearing in that film.  One of the main reasons that Bruno Kirby was selected for the role of Young Clemenza was because Kirby had previously played Castellano’s son in a television show.  Also considered for the role was Joe Pesci, who was working as a singer and a comedian at the time.  (His partner in his comedy act was Frank Vincnet.)  If Pesci had been cast, he would not only have made his film debut in The Godfather Part II but the film also would have been his first pairing with Robert De Niro.  (Interestingly enough, Frank Sivero — who played Pesci and De Niro’s henchman, Frankie Carbone, in Goodfellas, also had a small role in Godfather Part II, playing Vito’s friend, Genco.)

As for the film’s other new major character, there were several interesting names mentioned for the role of gangster Hyman Roth.  Director Sam Fuller read for the role and Coppola also considered Elia Kazan.  Perhaps the most intriguing name mentioned as a possible Roth was that of James Cagney.  (Cagney, however, made it clear that he was content to remain retired.)  In the end, the role was offered to Al Pacino’s former acting teacher, Lee Strasberg.  Like Gazzo, Strasberg made his film debut in The Godfather Part II and, like Gazzo, he received his only Oscar nomination as a result.

The legendary character actor Timothy Carey (who was courted to play Luca Brasi in the first film) met with Coppola to discuss playing Don Fanucci, the gangster who is assassinated by Vito.  A favorite of Stanley Kubrick’s, Carey reportedly lost the role when he pulled out a gun in the middle of the meeting.

Originally, the film was supposed to end in the mid-60s, with a now teenage Anthony Corleone telling Michael that he wanted nothing to do with him because he knew that Michael had Fredo murdered.  (That famous scene of Michael bowing his head was originally supposed to be in response to Anthony walking out on him as opposed to the sound of Fredo being shot.)  Cast in the role of teenage Anthony was actor Robby Benson so perhaps it’s for the best that the scene was ultimately not included in the film.

Some of the smaller roles in Part II were played by actors who were considered for larger roles in the first film.  The young Tessio was played by John Aprea, who was also considered for the role of Michael.  Peter Donat, who played the lead Senate counsel in Part II, was considered for the role of Tom Hagen.  The rather tall Carmine Caridi, who played Camine Rosato in Part II, was originally cast as Sonny until it was discovered that he towered over everyone else in the cast.  And, of course, Robert De Niro famously read for the role of Sonny and was cast in the small role of Paule Gatto before he left The Godfather to replace Al Pacino in The Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight.  (Of course, the whole reason that Pacino left The Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight was so he could play the role of Michael in The Godfather.  In the end, it all worked out for the best.)

Finally, former teen idol Troy Donahue played Connie Corleone’s second husband, Merle Johnson.  Merle Johnson was Troy Donahue’s real name.

Personally, I think The Godfather Part II is one of the few films that can be described as perfect. Still, it’s always fun to play what if.

Film Review: The Chase (dir by Arthur Penn)


The Chase, a small-town Texas melodrama from 1966, opens with Robert Redford escaping from prison.

Redford is playing Bubber Reeves. Bubber, we’re told, has spent the last few years in a tough Texas prison, convicted of a murder that he didn’t commit. Now, he’s on the run and he’s probably returning to his hometown. His wife, Anna (Jane Fonda), still lives there, though Anna is now having an affair with Jake Rogers (James Fox). Jake is the son of the most powerful man in town, Val Rogers (E.G. Marshall). Jake also used to be Bubber’s best friend but now, he’s wracked with guilt about his affair with Anna.

Meanwhile, the townspeople are all worried that Bubber is going to seek revenge on the people who were responsible for him going to prison. Some of them know that he was actually innocent and some of them think that he’s actually the killer that he’s been made out to be but what they all have in common is that they’re worried about what Bubber’s gong to do when he shows up. Maybe they should have thought about the possibility of him getting mad and vengeful before they gave him a nickname like Bubber.

Anyway, Sheriff Calder (Marlon Brando) is convinced that Bubber is innocent but the townspeople still want him to allow them to gun Bubber down as soon as they see him. Sheriff Calder, however, is determined to keep the peace and make sure that the law prevails. He’s a man of unimpeachable integrity, working in a town full of people who are too cowardly to concern themselves with doing the right thing.

As everyone waits for Bubber to arrive. tempers come to the surface, a good deal of alcohol is consumed, and secrets are revealed. It all ends in tragedy, of course. One of the final scenes clumsily recreates the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald. The Chase wouldn’t be an achingly self-serious film from 1966 if it didn’t.

There’s a few obvious problems with The Chase, the main one being that Robert Redford, who was 30 years-old when The Chase was released, looks surprisingly good for someone who has spent the last few years locked away in a tough Texas prison. Redford manage to escape from prison and run through a swamp without getting one single hair out of place. There’s nothing particularly dangerous about Redford in this film, which is surprising when you consider that The Chase was made just three years before Redford’s convincing turn as a laconic (if charming) killer in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. For The Chase to work, Bubber Reeves would have to be a force of nature but, whenever Redford’s on screen, you just find yourself wondering how someone who looks that good got stuck with a nickname like Bubber. The townspeople talk about Bubber like he’s a wild outlaw but Redford is just too laid back to pull it off. He comes across less like a wanted criminal and more like a California surfer who has somehow found himself in rural Texas.

As for the rest of the cast — well, there’s a lot of them. It’s a big ensemble film and good luck to anyone trying to keep track of who is related to who. Surprisingly enough, Marlon Brando is very convincing as a Texas sheriff, never allowing Sheriff Calder to turn into a stereotype. Less surprising is the fact that Robert Duvall, playing an frustrated husband, is also convincing in his role. Brando and Duvall, of course, would both go on to co-star in The Godfather. (Supposedly, when shooting of The Godfather began, Duvall was the only member of the cast with no fear of joking around with Brando, largely because they had bonded while working on The Chase.) Unfortunately, as good as Brando and Duvall are, they’re both let down in the hair department. Brando gets stuck with a hairpiece while Duvall is forced to go with a comb-over.

Some of the other performers are good and some of them are bad but none of them are particularly convincing as the residents of a small Texas town. James Fox, for instance, is very British. Jane Fonda and Angie Dickinson (cast as Calder’s wife) seem to be bored. E.G. Marshall is believably rich but never believably Southern. The other performers all tend to overact, especially once the people in town start drinking, shooting, hitting, and, in some cases, dancing. Somehow, Shelley Winters is not in the film, even though it seems like she should be.

The Chase was directed by Arthur Penn and written by Lillian Hellman. (The screenplay was based on a play and novel by Horton Foote.) Penn would follow up The Chase with Bonnie and Clyde and Alice’s Restaurant, two films that also dealt, for more successfully, with The Chase‘s themes of violence, community hypocrisy, and outlaw romanticism. Jane Fonda would go on to play Lillian Hellman in the 1977 film, Julia. For Julia, Fonda was nominated for an Oscar. For The Chase, she was not.

The Chase is one of those films that wants to say something important but doesn’t seem to be quite sure what. It’s a long and dramatic movie that doesn’t really add up to much. In the end, I think the main lesson to be learned here is not to allow your children to get a nickname like Bubber. There’s just no escape from a bad nickname.

Scenes I Love: Marlon Brando and Robert Duvall in The Godfather


96 years ago today, Marlon Brando was born in Omaha, Nebraska.

Unfortunately, Brando is one of those actors who, later in his life, became better known for his eccentricities than for his performances.  Though Brando never stopped being a good actor, it’s undeniable that some of his later performances reveal an actor who often did seem to be a bit bored with the films that he was making.  It’s sad to think that there’s people out there who might only know Brando because they stumbled across The Island of Dr. Moreau on Starz at like 3 in the morning.

Regardless of the reputation that he developed in his later years, Marlon Brando was one of the best actors of all time.  His early performances are still exciting to watch and, even when his work was becoming progressively more eccentric in the 70s and 80s, he still continued to give performances that could grab your attention and leave you surprised by their power.

Of course, my favorite Brando film remains The Godfather so it only makes sense to share a scene from that film on Brando’s birthday.  In this beautifully acted scene, Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) informs Don Vito (Brando) that Sonny has been killed.  Of course, first, Tom has to have a drink.  This scene might not be as iconic as some of the other scenes in The Godfather but it’s wonderfully performed by both actors and it reminds us that The Godfather is powerful not because it’s a crime film but because it’s a film about family.

 

Film Review: The Wild One (dir by Laszlo Benedek)


Motorcycles have always been unbelievably sexy and, in 1953, so was Marlon Brando.

1953 was the year that Brando played Johnny Strabler in The Wild One.  Johnny’s the leader of the Black Rebels Motorcycle Club.  He wears a leather jacket and always has a cap tilted rakishly on his head.  When Johnny moves, he makes it a point to take his time.  He doesn’t run from anyone and, perhaps most importantly, he doesn’t run to anyone.  Johnny’s a rebel and he doesn’t care who knows it.  “What are you rebelling against?” Johnny is asked.  “Whaddya got?” Johnny replies and, when he says it, you not only believe him but you want to join him in his rebellion.

And yet, from the minute that we see Johnny, it’s obvious that there’s more to him than just his jacket and his attitude.  He speaks softly and when he smiles, there’s something almost shy about the expression.  You look into his brooding, soulful eyes and you know that Johnny isn’t just about making trouble.  He’s searching for something that society alone can’t deliver.  Johnny’s a bad boy, the type who you fool yourself into thinking that you — and only you — can reach and help heal.

At least, that’s the way that Kathie (Mary Murphy) feels about him, even though she’s way too smart to accept his invitation to go to a dance with him.  Kathie works at a diner in a small California town.  When Johnny and his gang ride into the town, all of the boring, responsible citizens want to force him to leave.  Kathie, alone, sees that Johnny’s not as bad as everyone assumes he is.  And if there’s any doubt about the fact that Johnny’s got a good soul despite his brooding nature, Chino (Lee Marvin) shows up to remind everyone of what a truly bad biker is like.

Chino and Johnny may both love their motorcycles but otherwise, they’re opposites.  If Johnny has the soul of a poet, Chino has no soul at all.  Johnny’s searching for freedom while Chino is merely searching for power.  Chino and Johnny were once friends, all part of the same gang.  However, Johnny eventually went off on his own and took the younger gang members with him.  Chino, in many ways, represents America’s destructive and wild path.  He’s an old west outlaw who rides a motorcycle instead of a horse.  Johnny, meanwhile, is a wanderer who represents the part of America that created Kerouac and Dylan.

(Interestingly enough, both Brando and Marvin were 29 years old when they made The Wild One.  However, Brando looked much younger and Marvin looked considerably older, which only added to the film’s theme of generational conflict.  Brando, himself, has never rode a motorcycle before making The Wild One and reportedly avoided the actual bikers who were hired to act as extras.  Lee Marvin, on the other hand, was an experienced rider and fit right in with the film’s cast.  To be honest, Lee Marvin is actually more convincing than Brando but Brando had the eyes and the wounded way of speaking whereas Marvin was every single guy who needlessly revs his motorcycle’s engine in the middle of the night.)

Anyway, needless to say, the townspeople are even less happy once Chino’s gang shows up.  Unfortunately, few of them understand the difference between Johnny and Chino.  In fact, the majority of the upright citizens prove themselves to be just as and, in some cases, more violent than the bikers that they’re trying to run out of town.  It all leads to violence, tragedy, and, ultimately, understanding.  This was a 50s film after all.  Director Laszlo Benedek may have played up the more sordid aspects of the story but the film was produced by the reliably and safely liberal Stanley Kramer and the film concludes on a very Krameresque note.

If you only know Marlon Brando from the latter half of his career, when he was best known for his weight, his eccentricities, and his personal tragedies, than watching The Wild One is quite a revelation.  It’s a well-directed film with a host of effective supporting turns but it’s Brando who makes the film unforgettable.  Watching the film, you understand why Brando became a star and you also see just how much he inspired so many of the actors who came after him.  James Dean’s performance in Rebel Without A Cause owes a huge debt to Brando’s work here.  In fact, every rebel owes a debt to The Wild One.  In the role of Johnny, Brando invites and inspires us all to ride down the road and see what we find.

The Wild One was a huge hit in 1953, leaving teenagers excited and parents concerned.  That same year, Brando also played Mark Anthony in Julius Caesar and received an Oscar nomination for the performance.  The Wild One was ignored at the Oscars but lives on whenever anyone hit the road and goes searching for America.

40 Years of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE (Warner Brothers 1978)


cracked rear viewer

Unlike today, when superheroes dominate at the box office and your local multiplex, costumed crusaders were dead as the proverbial doornail in theaters of the 1970’s. The last was 1966’s BATMAN, at the height of the camp craze, but after that zer0… zilch… nada. I didn’t care; my comic book reading days were pretty much at an end by 1978, driven away by other distractions, like making money, girls, beer, and girls. I had moved on.

But when Warner Brothers announced they were making a new, big budget Superman movie, I was intrigued. I’d always loved the old 50’s TV series starring George Reeves as the Man of Steel, corny as it was, and with a cast featuring Marlon Brando , Gene Hackman , and Glenn Ford , not to mention that girl from Brian DePalma’s SISTERS as Lois Lane, I wanted to see this new version. I also wanted…

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Scenes That I Love: Wally Brando Arrives In Twin Peaks: The Return


“My family, my friend, I’ve criss-crossed this great land of ours countless times. I hold the map of it here, in my heart, next to the joyful memories of the carefree days I spent, as a young boy, here in your beautiful town of Twin Peaks.”

— Wally “Brando” Brennan in Twin Peaks The Return: Part 4

Last year, there were many Twin Peaks moments that many of us could not stop talking about.  There was Cooper announcing, “I am the FBI.”  There was Matthew Lillard’s interrogation.  There was Naomi Watts telling off the loan sharks and Jim Belushi talking about his dreams.  There were the musical performances at the Roadhouse.  There was Laura’s scream at the end of the Part 18.  And of course, there was every single minute of Part 8.

And then there was the arrival of Wally Brando.

Played by Michael Cera, Wally Brando was the son of Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) and Deputy Andy (Harry Goaz).  They were obviously quite proud of their son and Wally … well, Wally really loved Marlon Brando.  (That probably has something do with the fact that Wally and Marlon Brando shared a birthday.)  Interestingly enough, in the scene above, Micahel Cera is speaking to Robert Forster, who co-starred with Brando in 1967’s Reflections in a Golden Eye.

(Of course, by imitating Brando’s look in The Wild One, Wally Brando reminds us that Twin Peaks took place in a world where pop culture and society’s darkest secrets collided.)

How big of a splash did Wally Brando make?  When Part 4 of Twin Peaks premiered, Wally Brando immediately started to trend on twitter.  People were reminded that Michael Cera was capable of doing more than just playing sensitive teenagers.  It was one of the first great moments of the Twin Peaks revival.  As much attention as Cera received for his performance, I also think that Harry Goaz, Kimmy Robertson, and Robert Forster deserved just as much credit for making this scene work.  Andy and Lucy were so proud and Sheriff Truman’s reactions were just priceless.

Today would have been Marlon Brando’s 94th birthday and I’m sure that, somewhere, Wally Brando is wearing a party hat, opening his presents from Lucy and Andy, watching Guys and Dolls, and smiling.

 

4 Shots From 4 Films: A Streetcar Named Desire, Reflections in a Golden Eye, The Godfather, Last Tango in Paris


4 Shots from 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots from 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

In honor of Marlon Brando’s birthday, here’s…

4 Shots From 4 Films

A Streetcar Named Desire (1952, dir by Elia Kazan)

Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967, dir by John Huston)

The Godfather (1972, dir by Francis Ford Coppola)

Last Tango in Paris (1973, dir by Bernardo Bertolucci)

Music Video of the Day: Brando by Scott Walker + Sunn O))) (2014, dir by Gisele Vienne)


Today would have been Marlon Brando’s 94th birthday so it seems appropriate that today’s music video should be for a song that was, at least partially, inspired by Marlon Brando’s career!

In 2014 interview, Scott Walker explained the idea behind this song, saying that he found that there were several movies that features scenes of Marlon Brando being physically assaulted.  Along with detailing some of the assaults that Brando suffered on screen, the song serves as a tribute to sadomasochism in general.

In the third verse, there are several references to Brando’s films.  First there’s mention of Brando getting beat up by John Saxon in The Appaloosa.  “I took it from dad” is probably a reference to One-Eyed Jacks, the only film that Brando ever directed.  Fat Johnny Friendly was the racketeer played by Lee J. Cobb in On The Waterfront while the three vigilantes are a reference to Brando’s role in The Chase.  “I took it for The Wild One” is obviously a reference to the film of the same name.  As “Lizbeth,” that’s presumably a reference to Elizabeth Taylor, who beat Brando with a riding crop in Reflections in a Golden Eye.

Enjoy!

A Blast From The Past: Sacheen Littlefeather Crashes The Oscars


The year was 1973 and Marlon Brando was the obvious front-runner to win the Oscar for Best Actor.  His performance in The Godfather had not only provided an important anchor to that sprawling film but it also rejuvenated his career.

No one was surprised when Liv Ullman and Roger Moore announced that Brando had won the Oscar.  The shock came when a young woman named Sacheen Littlefeather approached the stage.  The rest is Oscar history:

Brando had actually given Sacheen a 15-page speech that he wanted her to read from the stage.  However, the show’s producers — realizing what Brando was planning — told Sacheen that, if she stayed on stage for longer than 60 seconds, she would be forcibly removed.  Hence, Sacheen improvised her stage comments and then read Brando’s speech backstage.  As a result of this incident, the Academy banned proxy acceptances.

As for Brando’s Oscar, Roger Moore took it home with him and kept it until, a few days later, armed guard showed up to take it back from him.