Marlon Brando is one of the most memorable actors from the 20th century in American cinema. A few of Brando's acting roles — both big and small — have become decorated the halls of film history and set the standard by which other actors have been judged.
According to Turner Classic Movies
, Brando had a rough childhood and he was often neglected by his alcoholic parents while they raised him in Omaha, Nebraska. Brando dropped out of high school and was kicked out of a military academy for bad behavior. Brando followed his older sister into New York and enrolled into the New School’s Dramatic Workshop and was introduced to the “emotional memory” technique that originated from Russian acting teacher and director Constantin Stanislavski. Brando took this technique to new heights and created highly emotional scenes and an acting style that later became known as “The Method.”
While the actor experienced much success in leading roles over the years, there are several memorable roles where Marlon Brando shined without being the lead character.
1. Jor-El, "Superman: The Movie" (1978)
Brando, often criticized for commanding too much money for too little — in both screentime and effort — for his part in "Superman," made a lasting impression on moviegoers nonetheless.
Ben Child of The Guardian wrote
Brando's performance "spun movie gold from relatively thin material and created one of the most iconic characters in Hollywood history."
2. Col. Kurtz, "Apocalypse Now" (1979)
Brando was on screen for a total of 15 minutes of Francis Ford Coppola's Vietnam-inspired take on Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," but the film would not have been the same without the presence of the legendary actor.
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In his review, Roger Ebert said
of Brando's contribution: "The film has one of the most haunting endings in cinema, a poetic evocation of what Kurtz has discovered, and what we hope not to discover for ourselves. The river journey creates enormous anticipation about Kurtz, and Brando fulfills it."
"When the film was released in 1979, his casting was criticized and his enormous paycheck of $1 million was much discussed, but it's clear he was the correct choice, not only because of his stature as an icon, but because of his voice, which enters the film from darkness or half-light, repeating the words of T.S. Eliot's despairing 'The Hollow Men.' That voice sets the final tone of the film," said Ebert.
3. George Lincoln Rockwell, "Roots: The Next Generation" (1979)
When Brando learned about the making of the television miniseries "Roots: The Next Generation," the fictionalized story about the family of Alex Haley, Brando sent an emmissary to Haley asking for "any part as long as it was villainous," according to People magazine
Brando was cast as George Lincoln Rockwell, the founder of the American Nazi party, appearing in one episode of the series. This rare television appearance earned Brando an Prime-Time Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or a Special.
People reported that Brando shot his scene in one day on a closed set under relative secrecy, taking in a relatively small paycheck for his role.
4. Ian McKenzie, "A Dry White Season" (1989)
According to Roger Ebert,
"A Dry White Season," is a film set in 1970s South Africa, when black South Africans were forced to live in slums called townships, Brando played a famous South African lawyer who had to make a useless appeal in court over the death of a man who supposedly committed suicide.
"The Brando character knows the appeal is useless, that his courtroom appearance will be a charade, and yet he goes ahead with it anyway — using irony and sarcasm to make his points, even though the outcome is hopeless," wrote Ebert.
"A Dry White Season" marked Brando’s first film appearance since "The Formula" in 1980.
5. Torquemada, "Christopher Columbus: The Discovery" (1992)
Brando played the supporting role of Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor in "Christopher Columbus: The Discovery."
Brando’s acting stood out in this movie because he played the part subtly, which was a striking contrast to his typically stronger acting technique, according to Peter Reiher
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