Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


SOMEBODY: The Reckless Life and Remarkable Career of MARLON BRANDO. Stefan Kanfer. Knopf; 2008.

After many previous bios of Brando, Kanfer's book sort of serves as an overview of the actor's life and career, as there are few if any fresh interviews in the tome with really major figures in Brando's life. That being said, Somebody is still well-written and engaging. Brando had a difficult childhood, discovered he had a talent for acting, was throughout his life torn between the need to make films for money and his contempt for Hollywood and many of the films he appeared in. He was embarrassed to be a "movie star," took up social causes, but was not immune to wanting the perks he felt he was due as a celebrity. Brando's reputation rests on a surprisingly short list of classic films -- On the Waterfront, The Godfather -- and he made some truly terrible films such as The Island of Dr. Moreau, wherein his "eating disorder" had turned him into an unsightly blimp. Ever on the edge of becoming a has- been, Brando tried to revive his career with the remake of Mutiny on the Bounty, a not-bad picture that was a mega-bomb, but had more luck with the controversial Last Tango in Paris, which some critics at the time chose to take very seriously.  On one hand he could choose edgy projects like Reflections in a Golden Eye, playing a married Army major who's lusting for a handsome private, and on the other appear in big budget FX films like Superman for a hefty paycheck, phoning in a performance. Somebody takes the tone that Brando often wasted his talent, and compares him to Marcello Mastroianni, who made important films in Europe while Brando was doing a lot of Hollywood junk. Somebody may not convince you that Brando's life was that tragic, nor will it persuade you that he's the World's Greatest Actor if you feel otherwise, but it is an interesting read. Kanfer mentions gossip that he has gleaned from other books that he names in the text, but as those books have dubious sources, why mention them at all? For balance, he also has lengthy quotes from critics who did not think much of Brando nor his performances along with the raves.

Verdict: Entertaining bio. ***.

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