The Brando Tapes

The Brando tapes: A fresh appraisal of a great but confused actor.

This tribute was written at the time of his death.

Brando – A Legend And An Enigma

The death of screen actor, Marlon Brando, has sparked off an examination of the forces that motivated him. Universally recognised as one of the greatest actors of all time, the puzzle remains: why did such a gifted actor end his days as a recluse living on social security and a pension from the Screen Actors Guild, bloated to 22 stone and completely unrecognisable compared to the athleticism of his earlier years?

Tony Mulhearn, Merseyside

Brando, a product of the Stanislawski School of Method acting, cut his teeth in the theatre. But it is his acting in Viva Zapata! (1952), On the Waterfront (1954) and as the semi-lumpen Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), all directed by icon of the Hollywood Left, Elia Kazan, which projected him as a new star in the Hollywood firmament.

In the last three decades he is remembered for his outstanding performance as the Don in The Godfather (1972), which has become a cult movie and the chief focus for the obituaries in the capitalist media.

But Labour movement activists will recall his towering performances as the Mexican revolutionary, Emiliano Zapata, in Viva Zapata! and as Terry Malloy, the ex-boxer, in On the Waterfront. He makes the transition from being a stooge of the Mob to a worker fighting for the rank-and-file longshoremen of the New York docks, against the Mob.

Brando’s life was a patchwork of supporting minority causes. Justice for the Native Americans, equal rights for Black people; he supported the Black Panthers against the onslaught of the state machine. Unusual as it was for a Hollywood star to adopt such a radical stance on these issues, it was never linked to a programme for radical change in society.

His activities were fuelled by an instinctive contempt for corrupt authority and the Hollywood system. He was a man torn between the vast wealth and fame offered by acting, which he professed to despise, and the inequalities of society that fuelled his rebellious spirit.

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