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BRANDO by Richard Schickel


A Life in Our Times

by Richard Schickel

Pub Date: July 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-689-12108-3
Publisher: Atheneum

The best Brando biography ever, focusing on his films and acting, by Time film critic Schickel (Intimate Strangers, 1986, etc.).

Schickel's opening chapter speaks directly to "Marlon Brando'' and apologizes for writing about him, saying Brando's privacy will not be invaded and explaining that this book was signed for six years ago and finished before Christian Brando was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. A quixotic chapter--it is unlikely that Brando will ever read it, and it addresses him with a strained intellectuality that Schickel's warm intentions cannot overcome. It's strange that Schickel misjudges his ideal reader, the revered actor himself, when his eye for following the actor's evolution stays clear and on target, and grows more lively as the book gathers complexity and responds to suboceanic waves in Brando's career while ignoring tons of personal anecdotes that earlier bios served up with ribbons. This is a book of ideas and of Schickel's generously open-spirited mythomania for Brando, the idol of a generation. Its flaws are few: a low estimate of Apocalypse Now; the slip that Brando falls to his death from a balcony in Last Tango in Paris; such disgust with The Appaloosa that Schickel forgets to name the picture. Schickel pauses at major turnings in Brando's career to weigh the actor's talents, how fearlessly he used his sense of risk and danger and shocking power of improvisation; how strongly his childhood as the son of two alcoholics shaped both his personal life and his genius; how he repressed his best self. The last chapter, in court and with Brando unchained before the press, saving his son from excess ink by taking it on himself, is quite moving.

Loving, worthy, absorbing, at times wonderfully revisionist about acting, the Brando book we've waited for. Now let Brando bring coherence to his life in his forthcoming autobiography.