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Julius Caesar (1953)

The Marlon Brando Collection

The oeuvre of Marlon Brando, comprising some 41 movies and one TV miniseries between 1950 and the present (the actor died in 2004 but his voice will appear in a forthcoming animated film called Big Bug Man), has taken profound leaps in the DVD market. Universal released a set of four Brando films in 2006, most of them lesser efforts, and now Warner Home Video has issued "The Marlon Brando Collection," consisting of five feature films. Among them is Julius Caesar (1953), which is not only one of Brando's better films, but is a fine adaptation of one of Shakespeare's most robust and quotable plays. Though only his fourth picture, Brando had already established a pattern of playing ordinary Joes or rebels. In fact, his two following films would be The Wild One and On the Waterfront, two of his most famous parts. But here, Brando takes on the role of Marc Antony, the preferred heir to Caesar's throne. Some viewers at the time might have viewed Brando as something of a sellout, for not only was he inserting himself into a dead white male's great play, but he was immersing himself among the great, if more mainstream, talents of John Gielgud as Cassius, James Mason as Brutus, Louis Calhern as Caesar, and Edmund O'Brien as Casca, as well as Greer Garson and Deborah Kerr. Later, of course, he was to play everything from ambassadors to Napoleon to the Godfather, but nevertheless in those roles he was also more or less playing rebels, if highly placed ones. Here in this film also the great mumbler had to convey clearly the exquisite dialogue of Shakespeare, and like most actors he ended up making love to it. According to Peter Manso's biography of the star, Brando found working on the movie to be something of a revelation, realizing for the first time that the point of a performance is to honor the play. But Brando's portrayal, especially of the "Friends, Romans" speech, is just one among an abundance of great star turns in what is arguably the best Shakespeare adaptation yet put on film. And the words were never clearer than they are now, as Warner Home Video offers up a full frame (1.33:1 OAR) black-and-white transfer that comes with a remastered soundtrack in DD 5.1 (in French and English, with French, English, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles). Supplements consist of an introduction (1:58) to the film by Robert Osborne of the Turner Movie Classics cable channel, and a new featurette called "The Rise of Two Legends," (19:19), in which colleagues comment on Brando's legacy. Among them is Laurence Fishburne, who makes the interesting point that Brando's early image as a beautiful beast was really just the outgrowth of a single character he played in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951). In addition, there are trailers for four of the movies in the "The Marlon Brando Collection." Keep-case, or slimcase in the box-set.
—D. K. Holm



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