Proper or Improper Actors for the Major Roles

     What do Stanley Kowalski, Scarlett O'Hara, and Jay Gatsby have in common? They are all characters from famous literary works adapted into film. Depending on the actors, their portrayals of certain characters can either make or break the roles created in the original work. Certain actors bring life to the characters they play; others seem to bring nothing but shame to the role.

     Stanley Kowalski, the common brute created by Tennessee Williams in the 1947 play, A Streetcar Named Desire, was depicted brilliantly by Marlon Brando in the 1951 film version, directed by Elia Kazan, in one of the best casting jobs Hollywood has ever done. Brando was captivating as Stanley. I highly doubt the movie would have been nearly as successful without Brando's portrayal of Stanley. His acting suited the role, without being overdone. I think many actors would have had the tendency to overact the role of Stanley. (Think Laurence Oliver in William Wyler's 1939 cinematic adaptation of Emily Brontė's 1847 Wuthering Heights for instance.) But Brando's scenes had just enough emotion to be believable. A perfect example would be his screams of "Stella!"--they were haunting, but they were not overblown. In short, Marlon Brando's performance made the movie wonderful.

     Many times, when a literary work is especially good, the film has a tough act to follow. Occasionally, with such a film as Streetcar, the movie successfully complements the book or original work. Another good example, in addition to Streetcar, would be the movie Gone With the Wind. Margaret Mitchell's novel is regarded as one of the greatest love stories of all time. The heroine, Scarlett, is an autobiographical character of Mitchell. Fortunately, Vivien Leigh brings much passion and charisma to the character of Scarlett O'Hara in the 1939 movie, directed by Victor Fleming. Scarlett is both loved and hated; but no, matter what feeling she generates, the credit should be given to Leigh. She created one of the most truly memorable characters of all time. But imagine if her portrayal would have been horrible. I cannot imagine what that would have been done to the magnificent character of Scarlett.

     The final case I will examine is the disaster of a movie, The Great Gatsby, directed in 1974 by Jack Clayton. This film, based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel of the same name, is such a waste of video. The book is one of my favorites ever, and it is regarded as one of the great American novels. But the movie leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth.

     In the film, Gatsby is played by Robert Redford, a great actor in his own right. However, he was not the right man to play Gatsby in my opinion. I thought he gave a rather cold performance, while the Gatsby I remember reading had a lighter-hearted, warmer spirit. Granted, the film itself is no Oscar-caliber thing, but Redfords's depiction of Gatsby made it even worse.

     Sometimes in a bland movie, a dazzling performance by an actor will make it decent. I think this especially true in film adaptations of literature. We already have a mind-set of what a character should be like; and, if a certain actor does not live up to our expectations, then we write the whole movie off as a failure. It is very important to cast the characters according to what we perceived them as in the original literary form. The actors will either make the characters come to life, or they will ruin them.

Krista Kimmel

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