Entertainment » Movies

The Fugitive Kind

by Sam Cohen
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Jan 17, 2020
The Fugitive Kind

During the 1950s, both Marlon Brando and playwright Tennessee Williams were white-hot in their Hollywood careers. Brando netted inordinate sums of money to star in every film, while Williams also netted inordinate sums of money to adapt his plays for the big screen. Sidney Lumet's 1959 adaptation of Williams' "Orpheus Descending" takes the mythology out of the original text but none of the soul-sickening drama that made the source material so engaging.

Lumet and Williams were an odd couple, as the latter frequently depicted the internal struggle of lost souls in a broken America, while the former was a realist and opted for externalization when it came to drama. Yet, the collaboration between the two artists made one of the best film adaptations of Williams' work. The Criterion Collection has finally upgraded its 2010 DVD of "The Fugitive Kind" on Blu-ray and while the restoration performed years ago looks a bit rough, this new release is no less a great addition to a catalog of films that have previously gone unloved.

Valentine "Snakeskin" Xavier (Brando) seeks to get out of the trouble-prone life he's been leading in New Orleans. He picks up his guitar, gets in his car and takes off for anywhere and everywhere. But after his car breaks down in small southern town, he finds himself drawn in by Lady Torrance (Anna Magnani), a lonely housewife whose husband is an abusive dime-store owner that's dying of cancer. When Val takes up employment at the shop, an alcohol-fueled woman from his past named Carol Cutrere (Joanne Woodward) also enters his life. With the racist sheriff not taking kindly to this the drama that Val has seemed to create, the stage is set for a clash.

What really struck me about "The Fugitive Kind" other than Brando and Magnani being perfect for their roles is Joanne Woodward as Carol Cutrere. To this writer, her character who has been beaten and ridiculed for showing empathy for black people is kind of stand-in for Williams. The playwright always loved to throw daggers at the social injustices of America, but here those barbs are seen through the eyes of a social outcast. In a way, this was Williams' attempt to understand what it would be like to see the world through someone so jaded by it. And picking Woodward for the role was a stroke of genius, as her odd career was filled with parts designed for her to externalize and internalize every single action.

As for the special features, what you'll find on this Blu-ray are the featurettes carried over from the DVD. An interview with Lumet recorded in 2009, in particular, is worth the purchase alone. He's someone who is very clear about artistic intent and can recall his experiences with Williams as if it happened the day before. Plus, he was a wealth of information and a genuinely talented filmmaker who wrote breathlessly on the craft, so hearing from him is always a pleasure. I'd recommend this release to fans of Brando, Williams or even Lumet, as it's one of the underrated films from all their careers. Other special features include:

• "Three Plays by Tennessee Williams" - an hour-long 1958 television presentation of one-act plays, directed by Lumet and starring Ben Gazzara and Lee Grant, among others
• Program from 2010 discussing Williams' work in Hollywood and "The Fugitive Kind"
• An essay by film critic David Thomson

"The Fugitive Kind"
Criterion Blu-ray


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