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Sunday, April 3, 2011

MORITURI (aka THE SABOTEUR: CODE NAME MORITURI) (1965)

This forgotten pic holds considerable interest for Marlon Brando fanciers. Not because it’s an undiscovered gem; it’s not, merely a variable WWII espionage tale that falls apart in the third act. (The big character epiphanies fall flat and director Bernhard Wicki can’t make sense of the action climax.) Yet, it’s fascinating just to watch Brando deliver the sort of generic movie star acting you’d have expected to see from, say, William Holden or Robert Mitchum in some well-paid assignment they’d lost faith in. There’s no challenge to it, even the German accent is a leftover from THE YOUNG LIONS/58, now more refined & relaxed. And he makes it look so ridiculously easy, still solid, handsome & moving like a cat, he swamps everything around him even in neutral . . . no wonder it sickened him. Brando plays a German ex-pat who’s blackmailed by Trevor Howard into posing as an SS officer on Captain Yul Brynner’s Nazi cargo ship. Marlon’s supposed to save its valuable rubber for the Allies. The best gimmick in Daniel Taradash’s script has Brynner loathing the Nazis as much as Brando; the worst gimmick is a subplot with Janet Margolin as a Jewess prisoner who’s really onboard to add sex & unearned moral seriousness. Everyone must have known this was turning into a stinker, note the two titles, but nothing could stop the critical & financial drubbing. (Certainly not Brando’s script rewrites. He added serious issues to the mix.) Now, it’s just a curiosity, but curiously fascinating.

READ ALL ABOUT IT: Peter Manso’s Brando bio covers the disastrous production beautifully. Not a pretty picture.

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