Tuesday, March 16, 2010

(The young) Brando, Newman, Travolta

Marlon Brando was 26 years old when he starred as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire (Elia Kazan, 1951). Do they make bodies as lithe and chests as tight now? (Probably not, too many slurpees in the world.) To me, Streetcar was an overrated film, stemming from probably being an overrated play by the – yup, overrated – playwright Tennessee Williams. Nevertheless, Brando’s performance in this picture with Kim Hunter and Vivien Leigh burns white hot. As an angry working class everyman, rough around the edges and suspicious of anyone “uppity” or putting on airs, Brando is not a man acting but an incandescent soul, tearing through scenes with a primitive hunger......Then there’s Newman in Somebody Up There Likes Me (Robert Wise, 1956). Wow, what a performance. I had never known Newman capable of so completely adapting another persona – in this case, that of Italian Stallion Rocky Barbella, the street thug from the Lower East Side who rises to become the great middleweight champ Rocky Graziano. He’s a savage beast, alright, literally beating anyone who gets in his way - all with a fine Italian accent – until, ironically, he’s contained by the world of boxing and the love of a woman (the exquisite Pier Angeli)......And then there’s John Travolta at his early apex in Saturday Night Fever (John Badham, 1977) as the baby-faced Tony Manero walking along 86th St. in Brooklyn with a paint can in his hand, itching to be through his Friday hardware shift and out on the dance floor at the neighbourhood club. This disco hero’s looks and manner of devilish innocence are counterbalanced by his sophisticated choreographed night moves. Hemmed in by job and family during the day he’s liberated in polyester at night.....

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