The Dixie highway to Hell, everything in Tennessee Williams' mythos goes into account. (His Orpheus dons snakeskin jacket and Leadbelly guitar, poetry is all Greek to the clammy barbarians.) From the wire cage to the unseen judge is a six-minute unbroken take, just enough time for the troubadour (Marlon Brando) to recount his weariness of the debauched life, off to Two Rivers to turn a new leaf. The world is a muddy, tenebrous hamlet plus a depot that's made over into an icicle sanctuary, the thumping from above is courtesy of the malevolent proprietor (Victor Jory) drenched in "death sweat." His wife (Anna Magnani) has learned to suppress immigrant sensuality in favor of vengeful patience, the young drifter takes up with her when not caught in the expressionist cyclone of the frowzy belle (Joanne Woodward). "Fly away, little bird, before you get broke." Cocteau imagines the underworld amid postwar rubble, Williams locates it in segregated Mississippi as recreated by Sidney Lumet in a New York studio. (How does a realist go about visualizing the inner life of "peculiar talkers"? Paint it like you feel it, says the artist going blind.) Feathery dreamers and calliopes and mute shamans and assorted floating symbols roam the terrain, where even the dead in the cemetery scarcely starve for dialogue: "Live. Live. Live. Live. Live. That's the only advice they can give." Brando's ethereal masculinity and Magnani's Mediterranean fury circle each other like bruising planets, it all builds to the bonfire of a tumultuous nation at the crossroads of a new decade. "This country used to be wild, now it's just drunk." Penn brings Brando along to his own Southern inferno in The Chase, though the fiercest analysis is by Lynch in Wild at Heart, a derangement of a derangement. Cinematography by Boris Kaufman. With Maureen Stapleton, R.G. Armstrong, Emory Richardson, Madame Spivy, and John Baragrey. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce