Without a doubt, Marlon
Brando (1924 - 2004) was one
of the most influential and
iconic actors of the Twentieth
Century. From his early work
on the Broadway stage
through his star-making turn
as Stanley Kowalski in
Tennessee Williams' drama
he changed how performing
was perceived. It was clear to
anyone lucky enough to have
seen him live that there was
something special about him.
He was sensual and sexy, rough
and tumble, soft yet masculine,
and a man with a mind of his
own. Early in his stage career,
he spurned offers from
Hollywood, preferring not to be
tied by the then-standard seven-year contract. Eventually, he
changed his mind and between 1951 and 1955, delivered what are
considered some of his best performances. He recreated Stanley in
the film version of
was the only one of the four principal actors who did not win the              
 Academy Award, although he was nominated. He was again in the
running for the award for his work in
(1953), and ON THE WATERFRONT (1954), for which he
took home his first Academy Award as Best Actor.

        The documentary
BRANDO screened at the Tribeca Film
Festival before its premiere on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) which is
devoting two evenings in early May to pay tribute to this
monumental talent. The film traces Brando's life and career from
his early days in Omaha, Nebraska, including his troubled
relationships with his alcoholic mother and absent father. There are
interviews with some female classmates who recall the young man's
eccentric behavior. Ellen Adler, daughter of famed acting teacher
Stella Adler -- who became a mentor to Brando when he arrived in
New York City -- adds some interesting background stories as well.
Several other notable actors and directors like Jane Fonda, Dennis
Hopper, Martin Scorsese, John Turturro, Edward Norton, Al Pacino,
Johnny Depp, Ed Begley Jr., Arthur Penn and others offer anecdotes
about Brando. (The most telling is that beginning in the 1970s he
used cue cards, dialogue placed around the set or even taped to his
co-stars, and eventually an assistant in another room who would
feed him his lines via a microphone.)

        Still, there are gaps and some important people missing like
Francis Ford Coppola, who was responsible for the actor's
re-emergence with
THE GODFATHER (1972, for which Brando won
and famously spurned his second Best Actor Academy Award), and
who directed him again in
APOCALYPSE NOW (1979). There's also
nothing from his famous neighbor and co-star Jack Nicholson, nor
any word from Mike Medavoy, a Hollywood producer who served as
one of Brando's executors. Imagine the stories they have to tell.

        While some mention is made of the wide swath the actor cut
through the females in Hollywood, there are some glaring omissions.
While his surviving children (except for the eldest Christian) are
interviewed, none really say much as to what kind of parent he was.
There are mentions of the bitter custody battle he fought with his
first wife over son Christian, and the later tragedies involving his
firstborn and his daughter Cheyenne, but the material is glossed over.

        Perhaps, the makers of the documentary wanted to place the
attention on the ACTOR although they do not shy away from the
man's activism, his work in the Civil Rights movement, his efforts
on behalf of Native Americans, his ideas for conservation.

BRANDO does provide an important reminder of the immense
talent and ability he had as a performer. It hints at his love/hate
relationship with his profession -- and it is a shame that in some
ways this man squandered his abilities, especially when he clearly
appeared in films that were beneath his talent. Yet, we are blessed
to have the legacy of what he did and as one of the participants in
the film notes, film acting can be broken down to before Brando and
after Brando.

                Rating:                B+
                Running time:       167 mins.

The documentary will air on TCM in two parts on May 1 and May 2
at 8PM (ET/PT). Along with this new profile of the actor, the network
will air classic Brando performances:
(1951), GUYS AND DOLLS (1955), and THE
(1956) on May 1, and
(1957), and THE MISSOURI BREAKS (1976) on May 2.
© 2007 by C.E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.