Marlon Brando Month #3: The Island of Dr. Moreau, Sayonara

The Island of Dr. Moreau

The Island of Dr. Moreau tell the story of the eponymous doctor, played by Marlon Brando, and his island of misfit genetic abominations. With the help of Dr. Montgomery (a frequently drunk Val Kilmer), Dr. Moreau is attempting to splice human DNA with that of animals in the hopes of creating a newly intelligent species. Things are go more or less alright until a U.N. agent, played by a pre-werewolf David Thewlis, washes up on shore and all hell breaks loose. Though, to be fair, all hell was pretty much bound to be let loose no matter what happens. Dr. Moreau is playing god, and his newly sentient pets are just a few bad days away from a violent rebellion. The film was originally directed by Richard Stanley, who the studio was forced to replace with John Frankenheimer midway through the production, when it became clear he couldn’t keep his actors under control. Brando, for one, reportedly refused to learn any of his, instead demanding that all his lines be fed to him through a small radio in his ear. Kilmer was similarly difficult. Having originally been cast in role of the U.N. agent, Kilmer decided after production had already started that he wanted a smaller role, leading to two different recastings. The end result of all of this is that The Island of Dr. Moreau is a mess, but a strangely compelling one. The actors’ constant improving and rewrites lends the dialogue a disjointed surrealness, that gels fairly well with the films surreal premise. That being said, The Island of Dr. Moreau is B Movie fair at best, but is also B Movie fair at its best.

Sayonara

Sayonara is the story of a U.S. soldier named Ace, played by Marlon Brando, stationed in Japan in the aftermath of World War II who falls in love local girl named Hana-ogi, played by Miiko Taka. Throughout the film Ace’s budding romance is shadowed by his friend Joe’s engagement to a Japanese girl named Katsumi, who Army regulations bar him from actually marrying. From there, the film mostly deals with contemporary prejudices against interracial marriages, as Joe (played by Red Buttons) is continuously subject to ridicule from his friends (including Ace), censure from his superiors, and pretty much every crap job an airman could get stuck with. Directed ably by Joshua Logan (who would later direct the vastly superior South Pacific), Sayonara is a beautifully shot film, that suffers from being dreadfully out of date, and more than a little maudlin. A frank discussion of the not uncommon occurrence of American GI’s taking up with local women, and the emotional bonds that resulted from those pairings, was a bold choice in 1957. In 2016, however, the story comes off as over simplified, and Hana-ogi and Katsumi come across as little more than flat, somewhat racist, caricatures of Asian women. Still, the film is well acted, and provides an interesting look at the state of mind of a time period fast receding from living memory.

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