The Fugitive Kind: Criterion Collection
May 3, 2010
Adapted from the play Orpheus Descending by the author himself, Tennessee Williams’ The Fugitive Kind (1960) is a gritty southern potboiler directed by Sidney Lumet in his customary realistic style. At the center of the film lies a torrid love triangle portrayed by three Academy Award winners – Marlon Brando, Anna Magnani and Joanne Woodward. The production was reportedly plagued with problems consisting of personality clashes between the three leads. Lumet managed to maintain control and even gain Brando’s trust. Unfortunately, the film was ignored by critics and audiences and has been relegated to obscurity ever since.
The opening credits play over a haunting shot of a desolate country road at dusk that sets a melancholic tone right from the get-go. Arrested for causing a disturbance at a party, Valentine “Snakeskin” Xavier (Brando) is released from jail. Val rolls into a small-town late one rainy night with nothing more than his guitar (his prized possession) and snakeskin jacket (eerily anticipating Nicolas Cage’s similar jacket in Wild at Heart). His beaten up jalopy has broken down and he takes refuge, ironically enough, at the local jail. Looking very much like a sullen, drowned rat, Marlon Brando exhibits an engaging vulnerability when his character asks the sheriff’s wife (Stapleton) for refuge from the rain.
With his hunky good looks, Val catches the eye of local party girl Carol Cutere (played with boozy gusto by Woodward) and sexually frustrated Lady Torrance (Magnani). If Val knew what was good for himself, he wouldn’t get involved with either woman – they have trouble written all over them – but does anyway and we get to watch the sparks fly.
Not surprisingly, the acting in The Fugitive Kind is excellent. Early on Brando and Joanne Woodward share a scene in the town cemetery where Carol drops her wild child act and expresses a touching vulnerability conveyed expertly by the actress. Brando displays his generosity as an actor by simply listening, letting his co-star have her moment before delivering a tender speech. Anna Magnani brings a wounded sensibility to her role of a lonely woman trapped in a dead-end town. Her character is the polar opposite of Woodward’s – she is like a candle almost burned down to nothing while Carol is a bright burning roman candle – both are dangerous to the touch as Val learns the hard way.
The role of Val demonstrates once again why Brando was one of the most interesting actors to watch in the 1950s and 1960s. In The Fugitive Kind, he delivers a very minimalist performance, effortlessly conveying the subtlest of emotions. It’s amazing that for someone who epitomized the essence of masculinity, he could convey such touching vulnerability. As is customary with Tennessee Williams, The Fugitive Kind excels at exposing the raw emotions of his characters with Val getting involved with two wildly different women. Lumet keeps everything grounded while doing a fine job of conveying a sense of place and how their surroundings affect the behaviour of the characters.
There is an interview with director Sidney Lumet done exclusively for this DVD. He says that it was a physically and emotionally difficult film to make. He praises Tennessee Williams’ soulful quality and poetic sensibilities. Lumet reminisces about the Golden Age of Television and the one-act plays of Williams that he adapted for the small screen. He also touches upon the sensationalism that surrounded the production and shares several anecdotes in this excellent interview.
“Hollywood’s Tennessee and The Fugitive Kind” features film scholars Robert Bray and R. Barton Palmer talking about the cinematic adaptations of Williams’ plays, in particular The Fugitive Kind. They talk about how Williams attempted to breakdown the clichés and stereotypes of the south. They discuss the playwright’s relationship with Hollywood and the success he enjoyed there.
Finally, there are “Three Plays by Tennessee Williams,” a collection of three one-act plays by Williams that Lumet directed for the Kraft Television Theatre series. Included is an introduction by Williams. This extra provides an excellent example of the Golden Age of T.V. that Lumet was talking about in his interview on this disc.