Mon, Jul 05, 2004 - Page 16 News List

Brando's half a century in Hollywood left his fans wanting


Hollywood icon Marlon Brando, who died last week, redefined screen acting for a generation of stars, but despite his blazing start, he never achieved the potential of his enormous gift.

Brando, who died Thursday of lung failure at the age of 80, changed what it meant to be a leading man in Tinseltown by baring his tortured soul in a string of early movies that came to incarnate his artistic promise.

His brooding, lusty, savage and emotionally honest style inspired some of Hollywood's greatest names, including James Dean, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Paul Newman and, later, Sean Penn. He won seven Oscar nominations and two statuettes.

But while he is praised as one of the greatest actors of his time, only a handful of Brando's 40-odd movie roles will be remembered as great performances in meaningful pictures, leaving his fans disappointed but eternally wanting more of his screen magic.

"I could've been a contender. I could've been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, Charley, let's face it," Brando's angry but wounded boxer character, Terry Malloy, said in On The Waterfront.

The sentiment could also have summed up Brando's career, during which he but never assumed his promise.

"One of the great tragedies is that Brando never developed his tremendous potential," said actor Robert Duvall, who starred with Brando in The Chase, The Godfather and Apocalypse Now.

"He didn't think acting was a great way to make a living. Maybe he had so much adulation so young that he just got bored with it all."

Brando's Stanley Kowalski in 1951's A Streetcar Named Desire, his performance as a Mexican bandit in Viva Zapata! in 1952, his renegade biker in The Wild One (1954) and his defining portrayal of Malloy in 1954, for which he won the best actor Oscar, stand out as his finest roles.

Later in his career, he won his second best actor Academy Award for his role as Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather (1972) and gave a moving performance in 1995's Don Juan DeMarco, co-starring Johnny Depp.

But following his explosive start in film acting, beginning with his movie debut in 1950's The Men, Brando became intimidated and increasingly horrified by Hollywood and even the profession of that he came to symbolize.

As he withdrew from the glare of publicity and fame which he believed would devour his artistic spontaneity, he became intensely reclusive and publicly disdainful of Hollywood's shallow glitz and the acting profession.

"The principal benefit acting has afforded me is the money to pay for my psychoanalysis," he once said. On another occasion he said the job of acting was "just like slicing baloney."

"An actor's a guy who, if you ain't talking about him, ain't listening," said the actor, who lived in seclusion in his hilltop mansion, far from the Hollywood parties taking place just a few miles away.

"The only reason I'm in Hollywood is that I don't have the moral courage to refuse the money."

Through his career, Brando made far more dubious movie choices than he did good ones, allowing the pay cheque to motivate him, rather than the roles or films.

He became a bloated parody of himself, taking cameo roles in films such as 1978's Superman, after running off a string of forgettable films, including 1963's The Ugly American, 1966's The Chase and Charlie Chaplin's 1967's A Countess From Hong Kong.

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