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The Fugitive Kind

It stands to reason that if 1959's The Fugitive Kind were any good, it'd be hailed as a classic. It's the only other Marlon Brando film based on a Tennessee Williams play besides A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), and for that alone, it's something of a curiosity. But the play had a troubled history — Williams's first version, Battle of Angels, flopped in 1940, and a restaging in 1957 (under the title Orpheus Descending) fared no better. As it is, the cinematic adaptation is more of an interesting failure than a lost classic. Brando stars as Valentine "Snakeskin" Xavier, a former hustler who hopes to go clean after some legal difficulties. Dressed in his snakeskin jacket (hence the nickname, and also influential on Nicholas Cage's similar wardrobe in 1990's Wild at Heart) and carrying a guitar given to him by Leadbelly, he leaves New Orleans only to have bad weather strand him in a small town. At first he meets painter Vee Talbot (Maureen Stapleton), who takes him in from the storm, and then he runs across Carol Cutrere (Joanne Woodward), a social activist turned town drunk and embarrassment. But trouble blooms when he meets the woman who gives him a job, Lady Torrance (Anna Magnani), whose husband Jabe Torrance (Victor Jory) is bed-ridden and unpleasant. Their relationship grows into a sexual one, which is dangerous for both of them — especially in a town that is willing to let a mob sort out its dirty laundry. Though by 1959 international cinema was growing more and more adult, American films could only go so far in suggesting carnal acts, and as such The Fugitive Kind relies on the chemistry between its leads to showcase much of the film's subtext. And that's precisely where the film fails: Brando and Magnani don't present the sort of wanton desires that their characters are supposed to be feeling, which leaves much of the picture feeling talky and staid. Set in the sweaty American south, director Sidney Lumet captures some moody black-and-white visages with cinematographer Boris Kaufman — the film's look is its key asset — but Lumet never captures the patina of perspiration required to portray the lust that drives the narrative. Without that aggressive sexual hunger, which made Streetcar so compelling, The Fugitive Kind spends much of its time floundering. Sony/MGM present the film in widescreen (1.66:1) and with monaural DD 2.0 audio. Bonus trailers, keep-case.
—DSH



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