Marlon Brando: 1924 - 2004

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The Independent Culture

The Great Mumbler is no more. Marlon Brando, once considered the finest actor in the history of movies, breathed his last in a Los Angeles clinic yesterday, aged 80.

The Great Mumbler is no more. Marlon Brando, once considered the finest actor in the history of movies, breathed his last in a Los Angeles clinic yesterday, aged 80.

He had been ill for some years - and his career had become a wheezing, broken-winded shadow of the muscular young talent that astonished audiences in the 1950s. He was an intensely physical actor, across whose handsome, pugnacious features savage emotions crackled and jumped like an electrocardiograph line. You could see him thinking, figuring, wondering, so that when he exploded into action - as Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire, as the former boxer in On the Waterfront, as the gang-leader in The Wild One - it carried perfect conviction.

Before James Dean came along, Brando was the embodiment of post-war, inarticulate rebellious youth. His hesitant, clenched-teeth delivery and eloquent frowns were new-minted clichés of anti-authority. He spent the Sixties in retreat from such typecasting, playing ludicrously-accented Englishmen in Mutiny on the Bounty and Queimada! His triumphant return to glory, however, came in 1971, playing the Mafia grandee Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather. He gave this Augustus Caesar of organised crime a weary dignity and a disgusted quasi-moral rectitude that put it in the front rank of great screen portrayals.

In later years, as his weight ballooned, his roles became briefer and ever more lucrative. He played Superman's father for five minutes, and the demented Kurtz in Apocalypse Now for about 15 - as if he were simply too huge a presence to fit inside the sprockets of ordinary film for long.

"Brando was the only actor I can describe as a genius," said the director Elia Kazan.

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