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DVD Reviews

HTF DVD REVIEW: The Fugitive Kind



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#1 of 4 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted April 13 2010 - 03:15 PM

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The Fugitive Kind

Directed by Sidney Lumet

Studio: Criterion
Year: 1960
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 121 minutes
Rating: NR
Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 English
Subtitles: SDH
MSRP: $ 39.95

Release Date: April 27, 2010
Review Date: April 13, 2010
 
 
The Film
3/5
 
Tennessee Williams made his third attempt to craft his favorite play into popular entertainment with Sidney Lumet’s The Fugitive Kind. Beginning its life as Battle of Angels, it didn’t make it to New York, closing on the road in Boston. Rewritten as Orpheus Descending, the play did manage a month and a half run on Broadway (a later off-Broadway revival finally brought the stage work a successful production). After the smash hit film adaptations of Baby Doll, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and Suddenly Last Summer, Williams seemed primed for another big success with this rewrite, but despite a cast with three Oscar-winning stars as leads (and a fourth in a supporting role), The Fugitive Kind just never catches fire. There’s the expected poetic writing, and the film boasts some fine acting, but the drama seems incompletely realized with not enough story for these mammoth personalities to be contained. The film made a tiny profit, but it’s definitely lesser Williams despite all of the talent on hand.
 
Drifter Val Xavier (Marlon Brando) wanders into a sleepy Louisiana town looking for honest work. He’s propositioned by the town slut Carol Cutrere (Joanne Woodward) who’s been banned from the city limits, but not wishing work as a gigolo or as a singer (his previous profession), he settles for a salesman’s job at the Torrence Mercantile Store currently being run by Lady Torrence (Anna Magnani) while her husband (Victor Jory) is dying of cancer upstairs. As they get to know one another, they begin to fall in love, the difference in their ages seemingly not a problem for either of them. But forces within the town don’t like Val’s presence there, and they conspire to find a way to get rid of him.
 
All of the mythological references to the Orpheus story have been removed in the rewrite for the screen, co-scripted by Tennessee Williams and Meade Roberts. It’s a talky piece, filled to overflowing with Williams’ patented arias by his sad, wounded characters lamenting the absence of grace or remembering some of the horrors of their previous experiences. But the slim story of Val’s various influences on three primary town females: the trollop, the unhappily married woman, and a painter (Maureen Stapleton) far removed from her grotesquely insensitive husband (R. G. Armstrong), doesn’t have enough dramatic impetus to hold the attention. Director Sidney Lumet, who could achieve wonderful cinematic qualities while filming such plays as Twelve Angry Men or Long Day’s Journey into Night, can’t seem to breathe vitality to this sleepy Southern melodrama. He achieves a few unusual moments: a reflection of Magnani watching and reacting to Joanne Woodward’s diatribe about the restrictive atmosphere of small town life or the almost fairyland quality of the wine garden Magnani has dreamed of her whole life as it comes to fruition (only to be dashed by her jealous ogre of a husband). But much of it is simply talk, talk, talk: often subdued and unexciting. The language is beautiful, but movies need to move, and there’s too much static, lethargic staging here for complete satisfaction.
 
The role of Val in this revision was written with Marlon Brando in mind (though Cliff Robertson played it on the stage). Brando approaches it with subtlety and achieves one of his more appealing performances not overdoing the physicality or vocal mannerisms which by this time had become his trademark. Anna Magnani is obviously uncomfortable speaking English, and some of her dialogue will likely require subtitles due to her poor enunciation (despite lots of post synch work). She displays her patented fiery demeanor at appropriate moments, but one wonders if the film might have been more successful had another actress undertaken the part of Lady (ironically Maureen Stapleton played it on stage). Maureen Stapleton’s wispy dreamer is as touching as one would expect from this expert performer, but Joanne Woodward, while believably Southern to her core, seizes her role and plays it to the back row of the theater, a little too florid for the intimacies of film. Victor Jory makes for a fine mad husband with death on his doorstep.
 
 
Video Quality
3.5/5
 
The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1 is presented in a transfer that’s anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions. Contrast seems a bit light in many of the scenes making for a sometimes overly milky grayscale, and sharpness isn’t razor-edged either. A couple of thin white scratches intrude upon the transfer later in the film, but it’s otherwise clean. Black levels are deep, but there is a fair amount of black crush with the transfer. The film has been divided into 22 chapters.
 
 
Audio Quality
3/5
 
The Dolby Digital 1.0 audio track is typical for its era with little in the way of extensive fidelity but is a solid encode otherwise. The great amount of post synch work with Anna Magnani is very obvious with the flatness of the sound in those spots. There is some light hiss to be heard throughout but other audio artifacts such as crackling, flutter, or pops are not present.
 
 
Special Features
4/5
 
All of the bonus features are contained on disc two in the set. The first disc contains the movie only.

The excellent video interview with Sidney Lumet finds the director talking about his opinions of Williams’ work, his experience as a director of live television and how that impacted his work as a film director, and his approach to working with the actors on the film, far different than he was expecting. The feature filmed in 2010 in anamorphic widescreen runs 27 ¾ minutes.
 
“Hollywood’s Tennessee and The Fugitive Kind is a 27 ½-minute discussion by historians Robert Bray and Barton Palmer of the adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ plays for the screen. They also offer up a pretty complete video critique of this movie complete with film clips in anamorphic widescreen.
 
Three one-act plays as performed on live television make for one of the set’s most prized bonuses. Presented are plays in which the protagonists (a young father, an elderly salesman, a teenaged girl) dream of better lives either in the future or in the past, all with Williams’ wistful, yearning prose. The plays are “Mooney’s Kid Don’t Cry” (Ben Gazarra, Lee Grant), “The Last of My Solid Gold Watches” (Thomas Chalmers, Gene Sacks), and “This Property Is Condemned” (Zina Bethune). Presented from a 4:3 kinescope from 1958 and introduced by Tennessee Williams, the program of one acts runs 55 minutes.
 
The enclosed 16-page booklet contains cast and crew lists, some black and white stills from the movie, and an essay on Tennessee Williams and the history of this particular story written by critic David Thomson.
 
 
In Conclusion
3.5/5 (not an average)
 
The Fugitive Kind is neither first-rate Tennessee Williams nor first-rate Sidney Lumet. But the joining of these two forces with the estimable, award-winning cast makes for a film worth seeing at least once. And the bonuses which bring us some excellent extras and more of Williams’ work not often seen can’t help but make this a set worth exploring.
 
 
Matt Hough
Charlotte, NC
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#2 of 4 OFFLINE   Richard--W

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Posted April 13 2010 - 03:27 PM

Tennessee Williams never actually finished writing this play, if memory serves. He eventually published three or four different versions. Sidney Lumet may not have been working from the best draft, but I find this film all the more interesting for that reason. I'm really looking forward to seeing the one-act teleplays, which I think Williams later expanded to full-length plays.

Criterion is on a role again.


#3 of 4 OFFLINE   RetroPete

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Posted April 24 2010 - 05:30 AM

Films of Williams' plays work at their best when they retain and build in a theatricality that pulls them out of normal narrative devices and make them feel like they exist in a bubble.  STREETCAR, CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, NIGHT OF THE IGUANA; all poems in the medium of film.  FUGITIVE KIND is often forgotten for being the gem that it is.  I am happy and delighted to see a Criterion version of this, and look forward to the teleplays which I've never seen.

I watched GARBO TALKS the other night, and once again, the realization of Lumet's breadth and style came upon me.  It is stunning.  From GARBO to FUGITIVE to DOG DAY AFTERNOON...I'd forgotten how wide his tastes are, and how successful his execution can be.  Someone should keep an eye on this kid...

And,

...hoping MattH that you are the kind that is open to relying on the kindness of strangers, --and just for accuracy's sake--the original play was entitled:  Battle of Angels.

Cheers,
Peter


#4 of 4 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted April 24 2010 - 09:02 AM

I really did know that (a slip of the brain and the fingers simultaneously), but thanks for the correction, Peter. I'll change immediately.