The Fugitive Kind

Front Row at the Movies by Shirrel Rhoades


Tennessee Williams was a hometown boy, living in Key West longer than any other place. And the island hosts the Tennessee Williams Museum, a tribute to “America’s greatest playwright.” So, of course, we celebrate Tom Lanier Williams III’s birthday (March 26).

The series of films showing at Tropic Cinema includes “The Fugitive Kind” (1960), starring Marlon Brando, Anna Magnani, and Joanne Woodward. It’s based on Williams’ 1957 play “Orpheus Descending.” The play was a reworking of an earlier attempt, “Battle of Angels,” which quickly closed after its 1940 Boston debut.

Snakeskin Xavier (Brando) is a guitar-playing drifter who alights in a small Southern town one step ahead of the law. He takes a job in a mercantile store operated by an embittered older woman known as Lady Torrance (Magnani), whose vicious husband Jabe (Victor Jory) lies ill in their apartment above the store.

Both slutty Carol Cutrere (Woodward) and simple housewife Vee Talbot (Maureen Stapleton) set their sights on Snakeskin, but he is attracted to Lady. Sheriff Talbot (R.G. Armstrong), Jabe’s friend and Vee’s husband, threatens to kill Snakeskin if he doesn’t get out of town, not having any tolerance for wife-stealers. But our bad boy chooses to stay.

You can’t expect things to go well.

Directed by Sidney Lumet, with a screenplay by Meade Roberts and Tennessee Williams, “The Fugitive Kind” is kind of a mess.

New York-centric Sidney Lumet doesn’t quite get Southern Gothic. Roberts and Williams can’t quite get rid of the stagy dialogue and theatrical feel. Brando doesn’t quite replicate his bad-boy-in-town that he evinced in his earlier “The Wild One.” Magnani seems a little out of place. Her chemistry with Brando was out of synch both on and off screen. Even Woodward can’t quite escape her nice-girl image. The underlying Greek myth is all but lost.

My old friend Victor Jory was good, at his villainous best.

Nonetheless, the film has historical significance. Any student of Tennessee Williams will want to see it.

It even has a legacy in pop culture. In the film “Wild at Heart,” Nicolas Cage wears a snakeskin jacket exactly like Brando’s in “The Fugitive Kind.”

Email Shirrel:

Ratings & Comments