The Fugitive Kind
Director: Sidney Lumet. Cast: Marlon Brando, Anna Magnani, Joanne Woodward, Victor Jory, Maureen Stapleton, R.G. Armstrong. Screenplay: Tennessee Williams and Meade Roberts (based on the play Orpheus Descending by Tennessee Williams).

An almost unbelievably sluggish and uninflected adaptation of Tennessee Williams' searing Orpheus Descending, Sidney Lumet's The Fugitive Kind—released two years after the disappointing Broadway debut run of Williams' revised play—is all the more galling a misfire for the fact that Williams himself was onboard the project, personally reconfiguring his script. Orpheus Descending was always his most problematic play to iron out (the original version, called Battle of Angels, was a 1940 flop that never launched from its workshop run in Boston), but Lumet's undisciplined direction squashes any hope that the material will succeed in the new form into which Williams and collaborator Meade Roberts have cast it. Brando and Magnani sleepwalk through their scenes together, desperately selling ennui in hopes it will be interpreted as slow-burn eroticism (it isn't), while Joanne Woodward is coaxed along in a brassy, bedraggled, raccoon-eyed turn that brims over admirably with uncorked energy but unfortunately plays utterly out of synch with anything else in this somber production.

One can hardly believe that Lumet would craft his film adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night—quite possibly the best memorial of modern American drama on film—only three years after this confused and off-putting effort, and granted the material is difficult to translate well. If you want to see an exemplary version, though, rent Peter Hall's 1990 Orpheus Descending with Vanessa Redgrave and Kevin Anderson instead; if you want to see an uncanny, galvanizing performance admittedly modeled on Woodward's work here, watch Courtney Love's dynamo turn in The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996). Love has cited The Fugitive Kind as her all-time favorite film. The picture aspires to the kind of rebellious spirit she would later embody, but Love has more pizzazz and genuine decadence in her left tonsil than this talented cast and crew can concoct in the entire two hours. The Fugitive Kind is laughable when it wants to be serious, and dismal and depressing in all the wrong ways. Grade: D–

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