In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Marlon Brando

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Books
  • Photobooks and Fandom
  • Biographies
  • Obituaries
  • Brando’s Writings
  • Memoirs by People Who Knew Brando
  • Kazan on Brando
  • Brando in Biographies of Others
  • Gender, Sexuality, and Race
  • Films, Overviews
  • Documentary Films with Brando

Cinema and Media Studies Marlon Brando
Krin Gabbard
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 July 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0113


Many critics have called Marlon Brando (b. 1924–d. 2004) the greatest American actor of the 20th century. Frank Sinatra, who tangled with Brando when they costarred in Guys and Dolls (1955), was among those who were less impressed, referring to Brando as the world’s most overrated actor. Born in Nebraska and raised in Illinois, Brando arrived in New York when teachers such as Stella Adler were introducing new inner-directed acting techniques based on the writings of the Russian director Constantin Stanislavsky and commonly known as “The Method.” With roots in this new approach, Brando stunned critics and audiences when he played Stanley Kowalski on stage in Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire in 1947. After his New York triumph, Brando began appearing in films, first in The Men (1950). He reprised his role as Stanley in the film version of Streetcar in 1951, inaugurating a new style of screen acting that has since become an essential feature of the American cinema. With his mumbling, his mood swings, his obscure gestures, and his impressions of a confused child in the body of a blustering adult, Brando radically changed the resources of the male actor. In the middle of his life, however, Brando lost interest in the craft of acting, regularly disparaging his own work and denying that a film could be a work of art. When he won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in The Godfather (1972), he refused to accept the award. In 1966 Brando took a 99-year lease on an island near Tahiti, where he lived for the last half of his life. His half-hearted, even parodic performances during this period were accompanied by several family tragedies, including the murder of one of his daughter’s lovers by his son Christian. Nevertheless, Brando left behind an extraordinary body of work that continues to inspire young (and old) actors.

General Overviews

Several writers have integrated details from Brando’s biography with surveys of his films. Two New Yorker pieces—Brodkey 1994 and Pierpont 2008—are succinct and thoughtful. McCann 1993 summarizes most of what has been said about the actor, while Shickel 1998 may be Brando’s most adoring fan. Walker 1988 is concerned with what led Brando to give up on developing his craft. Several French critics examine the films and the legacy in Positif’s 2005 Special Issue: Marlon Brando. A solid source for basic information (as well as a good selection of trivia) is the Marlon Brando page on the website NNDB.

  • Brodkey, Harold. “Translating Brando.” New Yorker, 24 October 1994, 78–85.

    Survey of Brando’s life and work built around reviews of Manso 1994 (cited under Biographies) and Brando 1994 (cited under Brando’s Writings).

  • Marlon Brando. NNDB.

    Along with the excellent article on Brando in Wikipedia, this is a good place to find basic information on Brando and his films, as well as plenty of trivia. With its many links to other sites, this is, for example, the place where Brando appears in the list of people on the cover of the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band LP.

  • McCann, Graham. “Marlon Brando.” In Rebel Males: Clift, Brando, and Dean. By Graham McCann, 79–124. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1993.

    An overview of Brando’s life and work, emphasizing connections between the actor and the parts he played.

  • Pierpont, Claudia Roth. “A Critic at Large: Method Man.” New Yorker, 27 October 2008, 66–73.

    Describes how Brando’s acting career went from greatness to disaster.

  • Schickel, Richard. “Marlon Brando.” Time (8 June 1998): 74–78.

    A loving tribute from one of Brando’s most devoted admirers.

  • Special Issue: Marlon Brando. Positif 533 (July–August 2005).

    No less than seventeen writers contributed to this ambitious survey of Brando’s career and legacy. In French.

  • Walker, Alexander. “What Made Marlon Brando Stop Running and Find Peace at Last.” In It’s only a Movie, Ingrid: Encounters On and Off the Screen. By Alexander Walker, 155–178. London: Headline, 1988.

    Random thoughts about what made Brando a great actor and why he chose to walk away from his career and live on an island.

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