Fugitive Kind, The (1961): Sidney Lumet Directs Brando, Magnani, Joanne Woodward

The Fugitive Kind was not advertised as a Marlon Brando, who was then at the peak of his career, or Sidney Lumet (the director) work, but as a Tennessee Williams movie.








This showed the literary cachet that the playwright held in the 1950s, having won numerous awards, including Tony and Pulitzer prizes. Williams had scored big critical (Best Picture Oscar nominee) and commercial success with the transfer of Cat on Hot Tin Roof  to the big screen in 1958, with an-all star cast, headed by Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman, under the helm of Richard Brooks.

For some critics, “Fugitive Kind” was one of the few Williams based films to improve on their source material, in this case “Orpheus Descending,” a play that ran for a short time on Broadway in 1957, and two years later Off Broadway.








That opinion changed with a revival of the play in the 1980s, with a bravura performance by Vanessa Redgrave, cast against type.

In this work, Williams, who co-penned the screenplay with Meade Roberts, reinterprets for his own purposes the myth of Orpheus, the artist descending into hell to rescue Eurydice.

A classic tale of an outsider features Brando as a wandering bum, Val Xavier, who arrives in a small Southern town, after being released by a judge.

Upon arrival, he sparkles romance with a middle-aged married woman and influencing just about any female (and male) around.








In a follow-up to his bravura Oscar-nominated feature debut, “12 Angry Men,” Lumet directed this tale of moral corruption in an interesting way intended to open up the play.  He paced the melodrama rather slowly–ponderous at times– and relied on revelatory closeups of its legendary cast, Brando, Anna Magnani, Joanne Woodward, all recent Oscar Award winners, and Maureen Stapleton.





Magnani, who had won an Oscar for Williams’ The Rose Tattoo, was well cast as Lady Torrance, the lonely wife of a sadistic invalid husband, Jabe (Victor Jory).

Brando, channeling the energy first seen in “The Wild One,” played the vagrant guitar singer, drifting from town to own. Hailing from New Orleans, he claims to have been “on a party since he was fifteen,” and thus sick and tired of his way of life.  However, he knows–and we know–that he’s doomed to live like a drifter. He is an old boy but not mature enough as a man, who’s “the fugitive kind, the kind that don’t belong no place at all,” as he says.








Best of all was Joanne Woodward as the young, desperate and wild Carol Cutrere, a drunken nymphomaniac who dropped out of a respectable family. A soul mate of Brando, she describes herself as a “lewd vagabond.

Woodward specialized in playing oppressed women and white trash, and this part came shortly after winning the Best Actress Oscar for playing the schizophrenic housewife in “The Three Faces of Eve,” as a desperate wild woman.

The entire ensemble was excellent in conveying the movie’s morbid vision of despair and loneliness, in a work that still smacked of too much theatricality (with long, lyrical monologues).

Having worked with Daniel Mann (“The Rose Tattoo”) and George Cukor (“Wild Is the Wind), in films that have garnered her Oscar award (the former) and Oscar nomination, respectively, Magnani sought Lumet out as her helmer, based on his reputation as “actors dream director.”

Bosley Crowther said in his review in the “New York Times” (April 15, 1960) that Lumet displayed “understanding of the deep-running skills of the two stars, and particularly liked Lumet’s close-up of his actors’ faces.

Lumet has famously said of his heavy use of close-ups: “To me they are the very essence of cinema.”

“Fugitive Kind” opened to excellent reviews, but subsequently grossed only $1.7 million in domestic rentals, which was below the norm, and one of Williams’ least commercially successful pictures.


Val Xavier (Marlon Brando)
Lady Torrance (Anna Magnani)
Carol Cutrere (Joanne Woodward)
Vee Talbott (Maureen Stapleton)
Jabe Torrance (Victor Jory)
Sheriff Talbott (R.G. Armstrong)
Uncle Pleasant (Emory Richardson)
Ruby Lightfoot (Spivy)
Dolly Hamma (Sally Gracie)
Dog Hamma (Ben Yaffee)
Beulah Binnings (Lucille Benson)
Pee Wee Binnings (Joe Brown, Jr.)
David Cutrere (John Baragrey)


United Artists (Jurow-Shepherd-Pennebaker production)

Produced by Martin Jurow and Richard Shepherd.
Directed by Sidney Lumet,
Screenplay: Tennessee Williams and Meade Roberts, based on Williams’ play, “Orpheus Descending.”
Camera: Boris Kuafman (black and white).
Art Direction: Richard Sylbert.
Editing: Carl Lerner.
Music: Kenyon Hopkins.

Running time: 119 Minutes