And the ENG 213 Best Actor Award goes to… Leslie Howard for his role as Dr. Higgins in Pygmalion and Marlon Brando for his role as Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire. These two men exemplified what it means to be an actor. Both men have an incredible stage presence, an innate ability to become their character, and a unique ability to draw emotion from the audience.
In the 1938 film Pygmalion, directed by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard. Mr. Howard absolutely controls the film with his presence. The character of Henry Higgins is one that leaves some big shoes to fill. Higgins is one of the most interesting and humorous characters in the 1913 play by Bernard Shaw. It is no surprise that the audience expects a lot of this character, especially in film. Leslie Howard's stage presence was exemplary, and he filled the shoes of Henry Higgins perfectly. Howard is a delight to watch on screen. As soon as Howard steps into the camera you know that you are in for something special.
Leslie Howard made the character of Henry Higgins come to life. Howard captured every once of Higgins' sarcastic, humorous, and sometimes outright rude personality perfectly. Howard captured the character of Henry Higgins so well that it made watching Rex Harrison's performance as Dr. Higgins difficult to watch. It is not that Harrison did not do a good job; it is just that Howard's portrayal of Higgins was not a portrayal. He was Henry Higgins.
Higgins is the man you love to hate. There are times in Pygmalion where your jaw drops at some of the things he says. Howard pulls those emotions from the audience ten fold. You spend most of the movie laughing at his funny, snide remarks, but you hate him. Yet, somehow at the end of the movie you are screaming at Eliza to stay with him. It is incredible that an actor can pull that big of a change in emotion from the audience.
Marlon Brando's portrayal of Stanley in Elia Kazan's 1951 film, A Streetcar Named Desire, based on Tennessee Williams' 1947 play, is no less admirable. What man commands more presence than Marlon Brando? What woman can resist the young, chiseled physique of Marlon Brando? And what man can resist a chance to see the Godfather himself in action?
When all the women stop swooning and all the men are done with their poor Godfather impressions, you realize how incredible of an actor Brando really is. He commands the attention of the entire audience, not for his looks or his reputation but for his presence. Brando is such a good actor, and sometimes people do not stop to realize it because they can not get past his looks and his reputation.
When Brando yells, "Stella! Hey Stella!," one realizes he is Stanley. He does a superb job of capturing the drunken, rude, abusive, and outspoken Stanley. I do not think anyone could have played that role better. Brando looked like Stanley, sounded like Stanley, and acted like Stanley.
I do not think that here is a character that can bring out more emotion from an audience than Brando's Stanley. This is a guy that one either despises or at least disgusted by. He is so mean, abusive, and blunt that one cannot help but hate him. Everything about him was terrible. And Brando got all of it, every ounce of cruelty, every temper tantrum, and even his messy, disgusting eating style. How can one not hate Brando through Stanley?
While Brando and Howard receive the "Best Actor" award, someone else has to receive the "Worst Actor" award. This award goes to: that guy who played Heathcliff in Willliam Wyler's 1939 version of Emily Brontë's 1847 Wuthering Heights. His acting was so bad that I did not even commit his name to memory or write it in my notes. I am not even 100 percent sure that he played Heathcliff, I just know he was the main character, and he was awful.
It is probably not fair to compare "what's his name" to Leslie Howard and Marlon Brando. These two men are accomplished actors. Both of them are the two best examples of presence, capturing character, and eliciting emotion. You can disagree with me, but you might end up "sleeping with the fishes" (insert poor Godfather impression here).