Once labelled by Time magazine as the “Actor of the Century”, Marlon Brando’s art was of a standard that seems to be a thing of the past. A real thespian whose dramatic dexterity managed to breathe life into every script he was a part of, there’s no surprise that even 18 years after his death, Brando remains a regular part of discussions in regards to the acting greats.
Noted for his eccentricities, Brando is up there with Laurence Olivier and Orson Welles in terms of legacy. He’s a strange case in the sense that he is more known for his bizarre behaviour than he is for his acting work, which is remarkable when you note just how many iconic turns he gave in equally as iconic pictures. Whether it be A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront, The Godfather, or Apocalypse Now, Brando’s key performances are timeless, and it is certain that they will continue to be a staple of cinema for a very long time.
It would be easy to remember him for his peculiar behaviour, such as tying Stephanie Beacham, his co-star in The Nightcomer, to a bed while he went out for lunch or suggesting that his character, Jor-El in Superman, should look like a giant green doughnut, but this would do him a disservice. He was primarily an actor, and that’s how we should remember him. If anything, these extra-dramatical stories just add to his colourful legacy.
Often, discussion of Brando concentrates on the most luminous titles that he starred in, but he also gave so many incredible performances aside from the usual suspects. It wasn’t just in blockbusters where his mesmeric approach to his craft left a profound mark. One would argue that his best performance came in 1953’s adaptation of the William Shakespeare play, Julius Caesar. In Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s film, Brando plays Mark Antony, Caeser’s primary supporter.
Initially, Brando’s casting was criticised by many when the film was announced, as he famously acquired the moniker of ‘The Mumbler’ following his performance in 1951’s A Streetcar Named Desire. However, Brando proved everybody wrong, and his clear diction took everybody by surprise and elevated Shakespeare’s prose to new levels.
Notably, during filming, Brando’s co-star James Mason, who played the treacherous Brutus, became increasingly concerned that Brando was stealing the sympathy of the audience away from him and his character. Mason went straight to Mankiewicz, appealing to the director that he stop Brando from overpowering the film and “put the focus back where it belongs. Namely on me!”
Brando was wise to this shift in the film’s attention though, and threatened to walk if Mankiewicz “threw one more scene to Mason”. Being the character that he was, Brando even suggested that a ménage à trois was happening between Mankiewicz, Mason and Mason’s wife Pamela. Understandably, this feuding led to tension on set. Despite this, the film was completed with minimal disruption, and it became a hit.
Even though all the actors in the film are incredible, to James Mason’s disdain, it was Brando who ultimately deserved all the plaudits. His standout scene comes after the murder of Caesar, when Antony delivers his famous soliloquy in Act III, Scene I. His anger and emotions slowly build before he rips into the famous line: “Cry Havoc, Let slip the dogs of war!”. This scene really is astounding, and the power with which Brando delivers this line confirms just how great he was. It’s primal, passionate, and so very Roman.
There are many reasons to remember Marlon Brando as one of the gods of acting, and this scene ranks right at the very top.
Watch the scene below.