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FUGITIVE KIND, THE (director: Sidney Lumet; screenwriters: from the play Orpheus Descending by Tennessee Williams/Meade Roberts; cinematographer: Boris Kaufman; editor: Carl Lerner; music: Kenyon Hopkins; cast: Marlon Brando (Valentine ‘Snakeskin’ Xavier), Joanne Woodward (Carol Cutrere), Anna Magnani (Lady Torrance), Maureen Stapleton (Vee Talbot), Victor Jory (Jabe M. Torrance), R.G. Armstrong (Sheriff Jordan Talbot), John Baragrey (David Cutrere), Emory Richardson (Uncle Pleasant), Madame Spivy (Ruby Lightfoot, Cajun owner of a roadhouse); Runtime: 121; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Martin Jurow/Richard Shepherd; United Artists; 1959)
“A stagy and ponderous film that lacks soul.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A depressing, brooding and pretentious obscure lyrical drama adapted from the play Orpheus Descending by Tennessee Williams and written by Mr. Williams and Meade Roberts. Director Sidney Lumet (“Long Day’s Journey into Night”/”12 Angry Men”/”Fail-Safe”) is a fish out of water trying to handle both Southern gothic and Greek myth, while the sparks that were supposed to fly between Marlon Brando (first actor to be paid a million dollars) and Anna Magnani (won an Oscar for her role in Williams’ film The Rose Tattoo) never materialized. Despite high expectations, this is a stagy and ponderous film that lacks soul.

Brando plays Valentine ‘Snakeskin’ Xavier, a 30-year-old New Orleans nightclub entertainer who gets the boot from the judge after a nightclub disturbance. The snakeskin jacket wearing and guitar-toting vagabond ends up in the hick town of Two Rivers County, Miss., when his jalopy dies on him. The local mean-spirited sheriff Talbot (R.G. Armstrong) sneers with contempt at Valentine while his soft-hearted and emotionally crippled wife Vee (Maureen Stapleton) sees good in the boy and tries to help him change his bad luck. Hoping to turn over a new leaf (disgusted with his life of carousing), Val gets a job clerking at a general goods store run by “Lady” Torrance (Anna Magnani) while her much older brutish invalid husband Jabe (Victor Jory) recovers upstairs. Val also runs into the loud-mouth exhibitionist, a degraded tramp named Carol Cutrere (Joanne Woodward), who is the black sheep of a wealthy Southern dynasty and not allowed in the county by orders of the sheriff and her drunkard loser brother (John Baragrey) but doesn’t obey as she chases after Val in the hopes of going “jukin’ “(probably a way of saying fucking in a 1950’s pic). Woodward’s over-the-top lewd loony role generates no excitement or interest, as she badly plays a forlorn character with unrealistic theatricality who pops in and out of the story spreading vulgarity without any benefit of any art.

Since everyone in town is convinced the handsome Val and the love-starved Lady boss will get it on together, there’s a building of envy and hatred around them that leads to the inevitable tragedy. Williams slices up the area as a place morally bankrupt and corrupt, where the dreams of the innocent protagonists are doomed from the start. With all the luridness, nothing else seems to get uncovered that’s worth savoring.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”