Friday, August 24, 2012

A Review: The Fugitive Kind

         "There's another kind."
             "What kind?"
             "It's a kind that don't belong to no place at all."

Tennessee Williams is a guarantee for the much more dramatic, enlightening and heightening sort of fair. In The Fugitive Kind we're given a film that is not about happy, bright people. Optimism is not a daily practice for most of the characters we meet, but not all of them. And maybe they don't even want to be happy. Their stuck. They have deep-seated issues of shame, guilt, loneliness, infidelity, bleak self-direction and unfair lives considering what they've paid into life so far. Some, not so much of a pension considering their life credits.

The film opens with Val Xavier cleaning his ears and standing inside a small cell, the jailer lets him out and escorts him to the judge (heard off screen only). He tells the judge of how he came to get himself locked up and the story about his life's companion away in hawk--his guitar in a pawn shop. The scene lasts for 5 or so minutes and we don't see a single blink. Lumet lets Brando breath easy and take his time, showing us Val the "peculiar talker" and how he conducts himself. He is calm, an easy lake, glass topped. This mold that Brando sets for Val goes virtually unbroken for the remainder of the film.

He finds himself in Two Rivers County in a small town full of damned and damaged souls. Trapped and bullied by their own circumstances, or by others. Taken in by the town sheriff's wife in rainstorm, she tells him of a job after they talk about their respective arts, guitar and singing, and painting. So the next day he finds himself at the town's version of Walmart, the locale Five-And-Dime. After a run in with some of the locales he meets Carol, a wildly free-spirited drunk, with no sense of direction and desperate in hopes for love and spiritual binding with another. She later tells him after he rescues her from a slap-happy male townie:
"Now you're being kind. I suspect that's your true nature." 
He can sleep on a concrete floor and go 48 hours without even feeling sleepy. He can hold his breath for three minutes to win a ten dollar bet and burn a woman down (romantically/emotionally. He's not tired anymore, he's fed up. He does all this toting around his life's companion, a guitar, and wearing a snakeskin jacket.

After a nicely shot sequence at a bar with Woodward pouring sloppy words to her character's creed on nightlife, they drive back to town in her impeccably dirty convertible. He asks her:
"Why do you make such a crazy show of yourself?"
"'Cuz I'm an exhibitionist." 
She's something of a, freedom fighter, for racial equality in the south. In that time-period? That part of the south? Helluva girl. She claims she's just a lewd vagrant. But's not much of that either. She's not very alive, even thought try-as-she-might she does to present just the opposite, and desperately too. She's a show, a flim-flam, and walks through (or stumbles through) town dead, wishing for happiness, waiting for real inspiration, and not just booze.

The meat of the film comes when he works for the store, and meets Lady Torrance played magnificently by Anna Magnani, a real Italian firestorm. She misses her father, and the times she shared in his wine garden that has since burned down. She is married to the store own, Jabe Torrance. They have an apartment above the store and sleep in separate bedrooms. Her conversations with Brando turn into confessionals between the two of them. Maybe even for the first time in their lives, Lady and Val they speak honest clear.

Jabe Torrance is angry, old, southern, and coated in "death sweat." I wasn't sure where Lumet was going to take him, but as it turns out, it was not to a territory of sweetness and father-figure tropes for Val. His character is about as nasty and mean spirited as the entirety of any dirty southern reputation of the times. And by the end of the film I understood this as much. Lumet and Williams supplied me with plenty of evidence. It's a wonder he suckered into marriage at all, but then again, that's most likely exactly how he did it.

While attempting to convince her to give him a job, Val tells her a romantic fanciful tale of a bird. It's little, and blue and "no bigger than your little finger" that doesn't have legs, so it must sleep in the air. And live in the air. And it's wings, are so thin it can hide in the sun from predators just from spreading them.

Boris Kauffman, who's lit Brando before in his Oscar winning turn in On The Waterfront and garnered seven films and ten years together with Lumet, throws his cinematography powers into full effect for this monologue. He starts bright and as Lumet pushes slowly into Brando as he muses about the fanciful bird, Kauffman takes that light away, leaving only but small amount to hold Brando's face in light inside the vast darkness.

A chunk of glowing moonlight threatening to creep in from all other sides. This is another one of Lumet's lengthy takes, and between Brando, himself and Kauffman all working using the peaks of their powers, it makes for one Goddamn hell of a moment.

Eventually, Val and Lady get to bonding, and the need for each other as support, or hope, or a solid connect creeps up on them, and the script starts kicking into high gear. I'll say where their two characters go are not where I was expecting, maybe I'm foolish, or maybe not. But either way, I bought it and enjoyed the two pull closer, slowly, and then even more closely, a little faster. Brando show us his Val with convincing heat and deep eyes.

Another one of these scenes in where Carole swings around silly and wild inside a bar, telling the patrons of how to properly "go jukin'." Lumet understands his actors need room to "dance" and he gives them plenty in their scenes.

Magnani as Lady throws herself into the role with wild abandon and turns into a European firecracker in the view of Lumet's lens. Is she that bird? Maybe the bird Val talks of? Is that why she's so. . . worn out? Possessing no legs and unable to touch the ground. Her mind sleeps in the sky and she wishes to feel the warmth of the earth. Of humanity. Of the sun as she bask in another kind of wine garden. A garden of Eden. Of love. Where life cam be had. A good life. Maybe one with Val. And maybe, just maybe, Val is the key to the salvation she didn't know she's been looking for. Magnani shows us the sweet pain of her passion and we feel the prick of the needle on our skin. Oh, do we feel it.  

That builds, and compounds between her, Val, Carole and Jabe in the third act. Which a nifty tension-fest during a confession from Jabe.

In Two Rivers, some people want and pine for their happiness, some people have found it and strive to keep it. But every one of us has a dirty past; either if we'd witnessed or done terrible things. In this life, all we can ask for is wings that let us never touch the ground. Floating on happiness, invisible to predators, hiding in the sun to keep us warm with the moon to tuck us in.

Munki out. 

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