Many things have been said about Marlon Brando over the years- probably much more than he deserves.
But I don’t think anyone can underestimate the influence this colossus had on acting. Before Brando, screen actors were like Larry Olivier, hamming it up. I saw Sinbad the Sailor earlier, and Donald Fairbanks, Jr might as well have been doing ballet the way he moved. Brando dared to just be on screen- a medium that demands small-but-realistic perfomances. Richard Burton never worked brilliantly on screen because he was too large for it, so came off too ‘hammy’. Truth is, on stage Burton would’ve blown us away but his performances were too big for the screen. Brando found a way to fill the screen but still look like he wasn’t really acting.
Ironic that this master of the small, subtle, complex performance should’ve had such a ‘larger than life’ sort of life off screen. Perhaps that’s where it all went, I don’t know.
More than that, Brando was one of the first truly masculine, truly sexual beings we saw on screen. Before Brando, nobody was sexual. Romantic maybe, but not sexual. Brando was one of the first to make us believe movie couples actually slept in the same bed.
Without Brando, there would be no James Dean (a man who used to call himself James Brando Clift Dean), no Al Pacino, no De Niro. Without Brando, there could have been no New Hollywood, so no Coppola, no Spielberg, Lucas or anything. Just think about it: without Brando there would be no Star Wars. However, let us not blame him for that. Without him there is, literally, no Godfather.
How many actors do you know could combine brute force, inner pain, latent sexuality and a fine acting performance all in one? How many could pull off the oranges/death scene in The Godfather without turning the audience to laughter? How many could upstage Johnny Depp (who was playing Don Juan, no less) without breaking a sweat?
All this from a man who always said he never liked acting much, and once had his profession on his passport as ‘shepherd’. A man of gargantuan appetites and great personal tragedy. Madder than most hatters, a man who had also once said he only took acting jobs to pay alimony.
If only there were more people who disliked acting like Marlon did. A man whose film The Wild One probably gave the Beatles their name and, the man whose name was given to Keith Richards’ son. A rock and roll kind of a legend who predates even rock and roll itself.
He was 80 and in poor health, and many of us will be glad that his pain is gone, that he is reunited with his beautiful daughter. But the world is a much more boring place. Brando said once “The only thing an actor owes his public is not to bore them.” Having sat through some of his greatest and some of his worst, I can say that Marlon Brando never bored me.
The final thing I will say about Brando: In 1958 he starred as a German in The Young Lions. This was a pretty good film in my opinion, and also starred the beautiful and fragile Montgomery Clift. But the greatest compliment I can pay Brando is that he starred in this film with Dean Martin, and he’s still the one I think of first. I can’t personally give a higher compliment than that.