“Age: 23 height: 5.10, weight: 170, hair: brown, experience: stage 3 years.” That, in severely reduced form, is Marlon Brando. The specs are from his first screen test in 1947. For Rebel Without a Cause. A part he TURNED DOWN. Images from the five-minute screen test (included on a new two-disc DVD of A Streetcar Named Desire, out May 2) were published in the print version of the Times of London today.
For me, the background details are just as fascinating as the purty pictures: It was 1947, film was in its golden age, yet young stage actors still felt themselves above the medium. The onerous, multi-picture deal Brando would’ve had to sign with the studio probably also contributed to his demurral. And yes, he’d be back soon enough, in 1950’s The Men. But the stage was still dominant, living in uneasy but sustainable coexistence with the big screen. (It would take television to really drive a stake through its heart.) And Rebel – the archetypal ‘50s zeitgeist movie – was conceived almost a decade before its 1955 release.
Hard to believe that this very summer, some young’uns will have their very first exposure to the preeminent American actor of the 20th century… via a posthumous voice performance in Superman Returns. Teach your children well and Netflix up a few Brando classics, so they understand why the crazy fat man who furnished Jor-El’s sleepy, quasi-British voice was such a big friggin’ deal.