David Fox: How could we not deal with this veritable “Cabinet of Tennessee Williams‘ Curiosities,” adapted from one his most baroque plays, Orpheus Descending, and featuring a cast that, person for person, is basically a dream team. Yet I approached it with equal parts excitement and dread. I’d only ever seen it years before on television, and I think I drifted away early, but my memories were not very positive, starting with the name. Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with The Fugitive Kind as a title, but it’s certainly a literal substitute for Williams’ poetic and abstract one––which, I thought, boded badly for the movie itself. And the first minutes seemed to confirm my fears––a flat-footed courtroom scene that fails to take off in any real way, with Marlon Brando looking uncharacteristically disengaged and bloated. But of course, this time I persevered––and I’m so glad I did! Honestly, I think this is one of the best versions of Williams’ play on film––astonishingly so, given the difficulty of the material. Bravo to director Sidney Lumet and Williams’ co-screenwriter, Meade Roberts––I wouldn’t have believed it, but this version of Orpheus Descending takes off like a rocket!
Cameron Kelsall: Orpheus Descending is one of the Williams rarities I’ve yet to encounter onstage, and I went into The Fugitive Kind with only the barest knowledge of the basic plot. I agree that the framing scene lacks much tension and could easily be excised, but from there, I found it gripping––a perfect marriage of Williams’ romantic ardor and classic Southern Gothic tropes. The pairing of Brando and Anna Magnani––the king of the Method and the queen of Italian Neorealism––proves fairly unbeatable in terms of charged, emotionally volatile acting. In some ways, Williams’ small-town Mississippi, and Lumet’s aesthetic conception of it, feels closer to the gritty European realist style than similarly set works like The Rose Tattoo or Suddenly Last Summer.
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