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Marlon Brando and his connection with Mexico one hundred years after his death

In the early 1970s, Marlon Brando (April 3, 1924 - July 1, 2004)—who transferred to the screen his acting toughness and explosive fury matured in his Actor's Studio years—had just filmed Gillo Pontecorvo's Burn! (1969) and was practically dead to Hollywood. So, when novelist Mario Puzo suggested to him and director Francis Ford Coppola to make the film version of his novel The Godfather, Paramount Studios resisted. Brando was not captivated by the idea of playing a mafia boss as a metaphor for the United States. Laurence Olivier, Burt Lancaster, Orson Welles, and Edgar G. Robinson were considered to play Vito Corleone, a role that Brando would parody in The Freshman (1990).

Coppola and Brando would build in The Godfather (1972) one of the fundamental works of the new gangster cinema and the frankest legacy on the concept of mafia taken up in the following films of the genre. The story of Vito Corleone as the head of a brutal clan would have an even more shocking treatment in The Godfather Part II (1974). Brando became the focus of the Oscars when he won his second statuette for Best Actor for his impressive stellar comeback. However, he had a new surprise prepared to suit his anti-conformism by sending a young woman from a Native American reservation dressed as an Apache —it was later revealed she was a stripper— who, on his behalf, refused the award in protest against the mistreatment of Native Americans and the portrayal of their culture.

Marlon Brando

Quarrelsome and aggressive, young Brando dreamed of emulating the celebrated Gene Krupa, this led him to practice the drums, but he failed until he met Stella Adler, director of a drama school that followed the Stanislavsky method.
It was her, and later, Elia Kazan, who led him to theater stages to succeed, mainly with the production of A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams. In 1950, he made his screen debut playing a paraplegic war veteran in Fred Zinnemann's The Men. There began his troubled relationship with the press due to his aggressive comments, which were more noticeable when he starred in A Streetcar Named Desire in the role of Kowalski alongside Vivien Leigh, directed by Kazan. At that time, actors, screenwriters, and directors suffered the consequences of the communist hysteria unleashed by the reactionary Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Abraham Polonsky, Dalton Trumbo, Herbert J. Biberman, Charles Chaplin, and others were victims of that paranoia, according to the accusations of colleagues like Kazan, who yielded to pressure and, after his statements before the Committee, would undertake a series of films in which he somehow justified his position, trying to demonstrate that revolutionary, libertarian and/or communist precepts, ended up corrupting men. Such is the case of Viva Zapata! (1952), partially filmed in our country, Mexico, with Brando as the violent caudillo confronted with his passions, with several historical inaccuracies, Anthony Quinn as his brother Eufemio and Alan Reed as Villa. Brando won the Best Actor Award at Cannes with this slanted biography of Emiliano Zapata (1879-1919), confronted by the government of President Porfirio Díaz and the disloyalties of political power in Mexico. Something similar happens in On the Waterfront (1954), which won an Oscar, where an idealistic longshoreman on the New York docks faces the criminal system of a Union that perverts its workers.

Marlon Brando

Brando, who played historical roles like Julius Caesar and Napoleon, starred in 1954's The Wild One, a metaphor for youthful individualism in jeans, beret, boots, black leather jacket, and on his motorcycle, foreseeing James Dean and his Rebel Without a Cause (1955). Meanwhile, the actor would end up firing and replacing the original director, a very young Stanley Kubrick, in One-Eyed Jacks (1961), a curious neo-western about the robbery of a Mexican bank in which Brando acted along with Pina Pellicer, Katy Jurado, and Rodolfo Acosta. Some scenes were filmed in Durango and Sonora.


Marlon Brando, who would have turned 100 years old on April 3, is and will remain one of the great film myths, as shown in Last Tango in Paris (1972), in which he scandalized the censorship with his erotic scenes alongside Maria Schneider, and above all, Coppola's Apocalypse Now (1979) and its corrected version: Apocalypse Now Redux (2002), a story about the bestiality of human nature set in the Vietnam War and capable of conveying a sense of horror, delirium, sensuality, spectacle, and power with Brando as Walter E. Kurtz, an officer who, in his dementia, believes himself to be an omnipotent god worshipped by the inhabitants of a small village in the middle of the jungle.