For anyone who wonders why Marlon Brando is believed by many to be the best actor that ever lived, this TCM collection of four Brando films goes far in answering that question. While not the "Best of Brando" (with the exception of STREETCAR included in this collection) in watching these four films back-to-back the sheer versatility of the man is amazing. Four films, four Brandos, and never the same person twice. From the muscled machismo of Stanley Kowalski in STREETCAR to the repressed homosexuality of Major Penderton in REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE to the totally convincing, comedic incarnation of the Japanese Sakini in TEAHOUSE OF THE AUGUST MOON to the pitch-perfect patrician portrayal of Marc Antony in JULIUS CAESAR, one would be hard-pressed to believe they were watching the same man.
While versatility in and of itself is not the sole measure of great acting, in Brando's case it is his ability to become other people and magically make us truly believe he is those other people that makes him arguably - very arguably - the best actor ever. James Stewart, Spencer Tracy, James Cagney, even John Wayne - all mesmerizing, all magical, all wonderful actors - but basically always portraying variations on the main theme of their main strengths as actors. An actor can be versatile - but many who are also show their artifice as well as their art. Lon Chaney had a range of versatility and powers of transformation that totally fulfill his legendary status as the "Man of a Thousand Faces" - but, sadly, silent moves - great as so many undoubtedly are - are in a separate realm, as if from a different world when judging acting. With the advent of sound, the voice became as paramount to an actor's artistic tool-set as gesture and body chemistry. Maybe even moreso - as many actors and actresses were ruined once their audiences finally heard their voices once sound was introduced to film.
Back to Brando. The TCM Collection is, as mentioned above, just a small representation of the actor's genius. But it is a terrific collection all the same. STREETCAR....well, what else can one say? It brutally and beautifully branded and seered a new mode of manhood into the watching eyes and brains of the generation it galvanized. Yet...Brando was NOT the slovenly, mumbling, torn t-shirted Kowalski (except in the area of both having high octane libidos). And yet in the movie...he is! And then to watch his Marc Antony right on the heels of STREETCAR is an awakening. His take on Shakespeare is absolutely incredible - and as wonderful as are all of his heavy-weight contender co-stars in this version of the Bard's classic - somehow, someway it is Brando's Antony who jumps out of the screen and seems the most real of all the characters in the filmed play. You really believe he believes what he is saying in a way that, great as all the other players are, one somehow doesn't fully feel that they are feeling it as completely as Brando. TEAHOUSE is a dated romp with deeper themes, but it is still entertaining - if only to see Brando portray a Japanese man so convincingly.
And the hidden gem in this entire collection is John Huston's REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE. In this kinky, bizarre, dream-like film, Brando gives one of his finest performances ever - right up there with the Godfather and Terry Malloy in WATERFRONT. There is one scene in particular that presages the latter-day Brando-inspired Robert DeNiro's Travis Bickle in his famous self-confrontation before a mirror that is painfully chilling to watch. There is also a scene involving a white horse wherein Brando spills his guts as bravely as he does in LAST TANGO IN PARIS. As a matter-of-fact, the climax of both films - REFLECTIONS and TANGO are quite similar and I would not be surprised if Bernardo Bertolucci (TANGO's director)was influenced by the Huston film.
But don't get this set just because of Brando - even though that is reason enough! All of the movies stand solid on their own - with the possible exception of TEAHOUSE. I wish the cult classic, Brando-directed ONE-EYED JACKS might have been included instead, since there is no decent DVD of this film out there. Aside from that, the packaging of this quartet is attractive, there are some fine extras, and the picture and audio quality are top-shelf.
This collection belongs on every movie-lover's shelf!