In the realm of acting, no modern-day practitioner has been more influential than Marlon Brando. Maybe Laurence Olivier, but even Olivier's craft seems more dated and theatrical than Brando's; Olivier belongs to another era, an era rooted more in the stage than the cinema. Although he started on the stage (to great acclaim), Brando was an actor for the screen. His work during the Fifties revolutionized the craft of acting forever, and has remained to this day a yardstick by which all other performances are measured. Brando appears in five films set to play at the Paramount this summer, and it's for good reason that the program schedule introduces two of his Fifties classics with this statement: "When it comes to screen acting, there's really just pre-Brando and post-Brando."
Those two early Fifties films, A Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront, ushered in Brando's stardom, and, with it, an acting style that appeared effortlessly human and physically palpable. Some 60 years after their making, quotes from Brando's characters in these two films remain part of our national vernacular: "Stella!" wails Brando's Stanley Kowalski in a feral cry that still cuts through the night in Streetcar; Brando's "I coulda been a contender" speech breaks our heart every time the disheartened boxer-cum-longshoreman delivers it to his older brother.
As the years passed, Brando's performances often seemed a caricature of his public image or just downright quirky. How else do we explain his appearance as Superman's father Jor-El in the 1978 superhero movie? Despite this tendency, there is still his iconic turn as Don Corleone in The Godfather. My favorite among all these films showing in this summer lineup is perhaps Brando's riskiest: Guys and Dolls, in which he sings and dances as Sky Masterson in this musical classic. "Luck Be a Lady Tonight," indeed.
Guys and Dolls: Wed., June 18, 9:05pm, Thu., June 19, 7pm (P)
The Godfather: Sun., June 22, 3pm (S)
Superman: Wed., June 25, 7pm; Thu., June 26, 9:25pm (P)
A Streetcar Named Desire: Tue., Aug. 12, 7pm; Wed., Aug. 13, 9:10pm (P) On the Waterfront: Tue., Aug. 12, 9:25pm; Wed., Aug. 13, 7pm (P)
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