Marlon Brando sizzles in two hothouse melodramas based on the work of Tennessee Williams, now playing on the Criterion Channel on FilmStruck as part of this week’s Friday Night Double Feature. In 1950, Elia Kazan turned Williams’s most famous play, the Pulitzer Prize–winning A Streetcar Named Desire, into a big-screen sensation. Dripping with New Orleans atmosphere and featuring some of the most celebrated performances in Hollywood history, the film stars Vivien Leigh as tragic southern belle Blanche DuBois, who seeks shelter with her sister Stella (Kim Hunter) and brutishly sexy brother-in-law Stanley (Brando) after losing her home—and upends their lives in the process. A decade later, an all-star cast sank its teeth into Sidney Lumet’s The Fugitive Kind. In this intense reimagining of Williams’s Orpheus Descending—which would go on to be a major inspiration for David Lynch’s Wild at Heart—a snakeskin-jacketed Brando plays a drifter who tries to go straight but becomes romantically entangled with a sexually frustrated married woman (Anna Magnani) and a wild child (Joanne Woodward).
Also up this week:
In her exquisitely subtle character studies, American filmmaker Kelly Reichardt is attuned to both the grandeur of sprawling landscapes and the rich complexities of human relationships. For this episode of Masterclass, we go to the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles for the tenth-anniversary celebration of cutting-edge indie distributor Oscilloscope Laboratories, where the writer-director sat down for a conversation with film critic April Wolfe. Watch the talk alongside Reichardt’s celebrated films: River of Grass, Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy, and Meek’s Cutoff.
Two of cinema’s great provocateurs push at the limits of consciousness in these mind-benders. Combining animation and live action, David Lynch’s nightmarish 1968 experimental short dives into a sick woman's nightmare involving an endless recitation of the alphabet. An early precursor to the auteur’s idiosyncratic style, the film won him a grant from the American Film Institute, which allowed him to begin fully pursuing his career as a director. Hailed by Roger Ebert as “a clever and brilliant machine for making us feel awe, fear, and humor,” the 1980 film Altered States showcases Ken Russell’s flair for excess, which he brings to the story of an abnormal psychologist (William Hurt, in his debut role) experimenting with sensory deprivation and hallucinatory drugs.
Badlands announced the arrival of a major talent: Terrence Malick. His impressionistic take on the notorious Charles Starkweather killing spree of the late 1950s uses a serial-killer narrative as a springboard for an oblique teenage romance, lovingly and idiosyncratically enacted by Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek. The film introduced many of the elements that would earn Malick his passionate following: the enigmatic approach to narrative and character, the unusual use of voice-over, the juxtaposition of human violence with natural beauty, the poetic investigation of American dreams and nightmares. This debut has spawned countless imitations, but none have equaled its strange sublimity. Supplemental features: a 2012 documentary featuring actors Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek and art director Jack Fisk; interviews from 2012 with associate editor Billy Weber and executive producer Edward Pressman; and more.
Opposites attract with magnetic force in this romantic road-trip delight from Frank Capra, about a spoiled runaway socialite (Claudette Colbert) and a roguish man-of-the-people reporter (Clark Gable) who is determined to get the scoop on her scandalous disappearance. The first film to accomplish the very rare feat of sweeping all five major Oscar categories (best picture, best actor, best actress, best director, and best screenplay), It Happened One Night is among the most gracefully constructed and edited films of the early sound era, packed with clever situations and gags that have entered the Hollywood comedy pantheon and featuring two actors at the top of their game, sparking with a chemistry that has never been bettered. Supplemental features: a conversation between critics Molly Haskell and Phillip Lopate, an interview with Frank Capra Jr. from 1999, a feature-length documentary about the director’s life and career, and more.