Based on Tennessee Williams’ play Orpheus Descending, The Fugitive Kind is the story of a drifter who arrives in a small Mississippi town where he catches the attention of its local women as they all fall for him. Directed by Sidney Lumet and screenplay by Tennessee Williams and Meade Robert, the film is an exploration into a man escaping from his dark deeds where he would find trouble in the passion he ignites with the women in this small town. Starring Marlon Brando, Joanne Woodward, Anna Magnani, Maureen Stapleton, and Victor Jory. The Fugitive Kind is an extraordinary yet intense drama from Sidney Lumet.
After fleeing New Orleans in hopes to start clean, Valentine Xavier (Marlon Brando) arrives in a small Mississippi town on a rainy night where he seeks shelter at the home of Sheriff Talbot (R.G. Armstrong) whose wife Vee (Maureen Stapleton) lets him in. Though Xavier doesn’t want to cause or involve himself in any trouble, Talbot thinks he’s trouble though Vee thinks he’s a nice young man that is just looking for a job. After taking work at a five-and-dime store run by the ailing Jabe Torrance (Victory Jory), Xavier meets up with a young yet troubled woman named Carol Cutere (Joanne Woodward) who knows him from other places. Though Xavier reluctantly hangs out with her at bars she’s been banned from, he finds himself attracted to Jabe’s wife (Anna Magnani) whom he had just met earlier.
With Lady Torrance running the store, she still tries to deal with her husband whose paranoia starts to seep in as she finds comfort in Xavier. Though Xavier finds himself getting the attention of various women in town, he remains attached to Lady Torrance who had lost a lot in her life as the two fall for each other. Still, her husband remains paranoid about their affair as he sends Sheriff Talbot to confront Xavier. Realizing the trouble that he’s in, Xavier decides to flee until Lady Torrance reveals something that would cause more trouble.
The film is about a drifter that wants to start over only to deal with women who are into him as he would end up falling for one of them in this small town. Yet, he has to endure the presence of an angry husband as well as local authorities who are suspicious of him. Still, he just wants to do right in the world despite the two women he encounters in a young nymphomaniac and a married, older woman lost in a loveless marriage. The screenplay that Tennessee Williams and Meade Roberts is about redemption and passion as it follows a man caught in a world where he’s loathed by some of the men in this small town but adored by the women. Still, he tries to keep things to himself and do his job as the only the he cherish is his guitar.
Though the story doesn’t have much of a plot, it is carried by lots of stylish dialogue that is filled with monologues and stories that flesh out the characters more. Including smaller ones like Sheriff and Vee Talbot as the latter is a kind older woman who just wants to paint though doesn’t seem to be appreciated very much by her husband. The screenplay does succeed in just building up the suspense very slowly for the film’s climatic moment when Xavier decides to leave town only for Lady Torrance to reveal something where dark things start to happen. Notably as its aftermath would leave one of the film’s key characters to reflect on everything that’s happened.
Sidney Lumet’s very understated yet evocative direction is truly the highlight of the film. Shooting in a small town in the state of New York, he opens the film with this wonderful prologue where Xavier is in a courtroom given his release. It’s a simple one-take shot where the camera moves slowly for a close-up but it’s a key scene to set up what Xavier is motivating himself to do as he hopes to stay away from trouble. While the rest of the film features wonderful compositions to capture this hot Southern town with roadway shots and very intimate compositions featuring multiple characters. Notably some entrancing moments in the way Lumet moves the camera for close-ups or to follow the action remains very engaging and to the point. Overall, Lumet crafts a truly masterful yet entrancing drama that explores the world of temptation and redemption.
Cinematographer Boris Kaufman does amazing work with the film‘s black-and-white cinematography to exemplify the chilling atmosphere of the locations with some lush exterior shots for some of the film's sunny daytime scenes to the more entrancing nighttime interiors to set the tense mood of the film. Editor Carl Lerner does excellent work with the editing to display effective yet stylish cuts to play with the intensity of the drama while maintaining a leisured pace for the film. Art director Richard Sylbert and set decorator Gene Callahan do brilliant work with the set pieces created such as the five-and-dime store Lady Torrance runs to the beautiful backyard garden that Xavier restores for her.
Costume designer Frank L. Thompson does superb work with the costumes from the black clothes of Lady Torrance to the white dress that Carol wears and the snakeskin jacket that represents Xavier. The sound work of James Gleason is terrific for the atmosphere that is created as it includes the tense banging of Mr. Torrance‘s cane to the sound of rain from the interior sets. The music of Kenyon Hopkins is wonderful for the serene orchestral themes played for some of the film’s romantic moments along with bombastic orchestral cue for the film’s intense climax.
The film’s cast is truly incredible for the ensemble that is created as it includes small roles from John Baragrey as Carol’s brother and Emory Richardson as the mysterious mute Uncle Pleasant. Other notable small parts include R.G. Armstrong as the suspicious Sheriff Talbot, Maureen Stapleton as the very warm and helpful Vee Talbot, and Victor Jory as the paranoid and jealous Jabe Torrance. Joanne Woodward is phenomenal as the alcoholic yet vivacious Carol Cutere who tries to woo Xavier while trying to claw into her past as it’s a very wild yet charismatic performance from the actress who definitely steals the film from nearly everyone.
Anna Magnani is great as the intense Lady Torrance who is fascinated by the much younger Xavier who she sees as her way out in a loveless marriage as it’s a very entrancing yet terrifying performance from the actress. Finally, there’s Marlon Brando in a marvelous yet very understated performance as Valentine “Snakeskin” Xavier. Brando exudes a quiet intensity to his role as a man just trying to stay out of trouble as he remains this quiet observer who had led a very troubled life. Brando’s monologues in the film are true master-class in the art of acting while he also displays this sense of coolness to his character as it’s one of his essential performances.
The Fugitive Kind is a powerful yet engrossing drama from the late, great Sidney Lumet. Featuring towering performances from Marlon Brando, Anna Magnani, and Joanne Woodward, the film is an engaging story that is filled with sensuality and troubled characters that are all wanting some way to a better life. Notably as it involves all sorts of troubled passions set in a hot small town in the South. The Fugitive Kind is an outstanding film from Sidney Lumet.
Sidney Lumet Films: (12 Angry Men) - (Stage Struck) - (That Kind of Woman) - (A View from the Bridge) - (Long Day’s Journey into Night) - (The Pawnbroker) - (Fail-Safe) - (The Hill) - (The Group) - (The Deadly Affair) - (Bye Bye Braverman) - (The Sea Gull) - (The Appointment) - (King: A Filmed Record… Montgomery to Memphis) - (Last of the Mobile Hot Shots) - (The Anderson Tapes) - (Child’s Play (1972 film)) - (The Offence) - (Serpico) - (Lovin’ Molly) - (Midnight on the Orient Express) - (Dog Day Afternoon) - (Network) - (Equus) - (The Wiz) - (Just Tell Me What You Want) - (Prince of the City) - (Deathtrap) - (The Verdict) - (Daniel) - (Garbo Talks) - (Power) - (The Morning After) - (Running on Empty) - (The Family Business) - (Q&A) - (A Stranger Among Us) - (Guilty as Sin) - (Night Falls on Manhattan) - (Critical Care) - (Gloria (1999 film)) - (Strip Search) - (Find Me Guilty) - (Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead)
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