Saturday, August 28, 2010


Anna Magnani is arguably the best actress of the film era.  What a treat to see her in a film (clip, above) with Marlin Brando in his best period. The film: Tennessee Williams' "The Fugitive Kind."

Magnani's great here. Brando has to get out of town to escape the law, but Magnani thinks he's leaving to be with another woman. When he tries to push past her she grabs his precious guitar and won't let go. That's such a Magnani thing to do! She fights for her man. She won't take no for an answer. He slaps her and she just takes the slaps and holds on.

But Brando knows he's got a real woman. In another sequence (on YouTube, not shown here) a beautiful girl throws herself at him and he says disdainfully: "Look at your wrists, they're so thin. I could snap them like a twig with two fingers. That's not the way a real woman is." The real woman is Anna Magnani, who has wrists like Popeye.

My only criticism is that the script doesn't give Magnani enough to say. She needed more lines. Maybe the studio was afraid Magnani would outshine Brando. Or maybe Williams slipped up. Maybe Magnani couldn't learn enough English. I wish I knew.

From another film, here's (above) Magnani playing a wife whose husband is taken away by the fascists, maybe to be shot. Magnani's a real woman. When her man is threatened she battles her way through a gauntlet of armed soldiers to get him back. When you see this you say to yourself, "Now that's what love is. If you're not willing to do that for your significant other, then you're not really in love."

Here's (above) Magnani and a beau taking a walk in the woods. What's so special about a walk you ask, but when Magnani does a scene everything is special. Her feigned helplessness is beautiful to behold. Watch the first minute and a half, and don't be put off by the documentary footage that begins it.

Thinking about "The Fugitive Kind" reminded me of Brando's performance in that film. Here's (above) the standout first sequence of that film, beloved by caricaturists and impressionists everywhere. It's one of Brandos funniest.


RooniMan said...

Incredible performance.

Anonymous said...

Anna Magnani is a name I haven't heard of until this post, but based on the performances that you linked to in the post, she seemed like a lively, skilled, and incredible actress in her own right. Just look at how her eyes and head move in that first clip that you linked to. They're both really expressive and help get the points across. Brando isn't half bad himself neither, although I don't understand why you thought the last clip was funny in any way. I mean that was great, and he has a distinct voice and mannerisms, but I just didn't find it too humorous.

Paul Penna said...

It's funny if you know the various contexts involved. These days, we're used to acting and screen writing that's more seemingly naturalistic in terms of how people speak in real life, the words they use, how they inflect them, the pauses and hesitations that can occur when people are speaking off the cuff and putting words to their thoughts as they occur to them on a moment to moment basis. Contrast this to the more typical film dialog of the period, which is generally aimed at conveying the _sense_ of what the character is saying more than the way in which it would actually be spoken in real life. This is a vast simplification of course, and also not a value judgement - nobody talks like Shakespeare, either, and never did. But Brando's acting (and that of others of the "method school") was so strikingly at odds with what most people were used to seeing that it inevitably became the object of satire.

The last clip could almost be "Greatest Hits" of Brando schtick from any number of comic impressionists of the period. A Variety review at the time said "Brando is back to mumbling with marbles in his mouth too often." And, in truth, today it does seem rather mannered in its own way, full of those tics that Brando used again and again. Me, I kept thinking Don Corleone only speaking a little more clearly.

It's interesting to contrast him here with his scene in the clip with Magnani. In that one, he's more clearly following lines of scripted dialog - it doesn't sound as spontaneous, and is plainly written to lead up to a Big Moment. Again, that's doesn't mean it's a bad thing, because it's a powerful, if more traditional, theatrical moment.

The courtroom scene is clearly improvised, and all in one take. Note that the judge's lines are all looped, and pretty jarringly so. The different acoustic and the dubbing actor's delivery are so at odds with Brando's that he sounds like he's talking with the Voice of God. My guess is that on the set, someone (possibly director Lumet) was improvising along with Brando, staying "in the moment" with him, monitoring his performance moment by moment, knowing when to interject his lines and when to keep quiet to let Brando do his thing.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Severino: It seemed funny to me, but it's all in the eye of the beholder.

Paul: I like dialogue that you accept as being natural, but isn't natural at all. Theater is all about artifice.

Good point about the judge's voice. I'm glad they did it that way, though.