I didn’t get around to seeing Streetcar Named Desire until earlier this year. If you haven’t seen it, you simply must. It is, of course, a classic. And it’s a great film. But Marlon Brando? He’s electric. He smolders. At the time the film version of Streetcar was made, Brando was just 27, and when he’s onscreen, you can not take your eyes off him.
In Somebody: The Reckless Life and Remarkable Career of Marlon Brando (Vintage), Stefan Kanfer has plenty to say about Streetcar and Brando’s place in it as well as how the film was made, cast and the transition it took from the stage to the screen.
The Streetcar material alone would illustrate so much about Brando’s character and the way that he handled movie stardom. Even in the stories Kanfer relates about Brando, he conveys the essential truth of the actor’s “reckless” life: that being that there isn’t a single truth, but many and sometimes the ultimate story is complicated by facets and wrinkles and shades of many colors and of grey. To me, the one big truth about Marlon Brando is encountered very early in the book:
There was screen acting before Brando and after Brando, just as there was painting before Picasso and after Picasso … and even the casual observer can tell the difference. As film historian Molly Haskell pointed out, the film star’s legend “is written in one word. BRANDO. Like Garbo. Like Fido. An animal, a force of nature, an element…”
I think more time will pass before all of the details of Brando’s reckless life are properly told. He died in 2004 and many salient pieces are still too recent for those who were close to him to have processed or be willing to share. But Kanfer, an esteemed film critic and biographer, does a credible job of capturing the Brando to whom Haskell referred: the animal, the force of nature and the talent so great, more than a half century after some of his best known roles, he still has the power to take our breath away.