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The Teahouse of the August Moon

The Marlon Brando Collection

Those in the movie industry contemplating casting Marlon Brando in their film had to weigh whether the benefits of having the international star in the movie overcame the difficulties he could pose on the set if he was bored or found the director contemptible. But Brando didn't start out being a troublemaker. His first eight films came to fruition swimmingly. It was with his ninth, 1956's The Teahouse of the August Moon, that Brando's once-glorious romance with the movies changed. What's funny is that Brando was instrumental in originating the project, which began as a comic military novel by Vern Sneider that was later adapted to the stage by John Patrick. Brando had seen the play several times on Broadway and laughed uproariously, later buying the screen rights. August Moon was an outgrowth of American interest in all things Japanese in the 1950s. Such mania may have been a result of subterranean guilt over atomic bombs or mere sociological shifts based on cheaper or more widely available air travel, but Americans became obsessed with Japan, from judo to silk-screens. Brando was particularly subject to it. He went on later to make The Ugly American and Sayonara, two further exercises in Orientalism. However, only in August Moon did Brando succumb to the temptation to play a different race. The results are mixed. Brando's impersonation of a Japanese interpreter named Sakini pulling a fast one on American occupying force in Okinawa lies somewhere between Jerry Lewis and his Coke-bottle glasses bit and Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's. Though Brando handpicked the director, Daniel Mann, he soon turned on him, and he also didn't think too highly of his co-star, the stolid Glenn Ford. Eddie Albert and Paul Ford, who later played a similar role in the TV series "The Phil Silvers Show," also star. Despite the film's awkwardness, Warner Home Video has offered up a terrific widescreen transfer as part of its five-film "Marlon Brando Collection" with an adequate Dolby 2.0 Surround track. Extras consist of trailers for the four other films in the Brando collection, along with a short promotional featurette called "Operation Teahouse" (4 min.). Amid footage of Brando and other cast members arriving in Japan and mugging on the set, the narrator helpfully explains that "geisha" is made up of the words "gai" which means "arts" and "sha" which means "person," and therefore the word refers to a person "accomplished in the arts." Slimcase in the box-set.
—D.K. Holm

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