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    Yul's Faulkner Exception

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    At this time during the years 1951, 1952, 1953, 1977, 1978 and 1985, the great Yul Brynner could be seen on a Broadway stage, playing his signature Tony®- and Academy Award®-winning role of King Mongkut of Siam in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical The King and I with his signature shaved head that became part and parcel of virtually every stage and film role he undertook. But at this time in 1959, he could be caught on moviehouse screens in one of the rare performances in which he sported a full head of hair, as Jason Compson, head of a blighted Southern family dynasty, in the first film adaptation of William Faulkner’s influential 1929 novel The Sound and the Fury (1959). Conflated with the arrogance of faded gentry gone to seed, Brynner is not convincingly Southern but does capture the rage of a clever yet regularly frustrated patriarch, perpetually struggling to keep his fraying family of eccentrics above water and particularly, even tyrannically, focused on keeping his rebellious, flirtatious – in short, growing-up-fast – step-niece Quentin (Joanne Woodward) from disreputable behavior. Despite his own erotic attraction to her, Jason desires that Quentin become “the first Compson in 50 years who’s gotten up off your knees” and “can stand up to anyone – even me.” Opting to create a more linear narrative for the screen than Faulkner’s novelistic stream-of-consciousness technique on the page, director Martin Ritt, producer Jerry Wald and adaptors Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank, Jr. may undercut Faulkner’s impact but do work up a healthy sweat via some on-location Louisiana filming that seamlessly blends with studio-shot scenes and increase the temperature with flavorful dialogue in the mouths of the other great actors surrounding Brynner and Woodward. Margaret Leighton, Stuart Whitman, Ethel Waters (her final film), Jack Warden, Françoise Rosay, John Beal and Albert Dekker all do their bit to ensure that the tempestuous melodrama is at a constant boil. With a sultry score full of jolting jazz beats by Alex North, The Sound and the Fury in unleashed in stunning Cinemascope on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray here: http://www.screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/21375/THE-SOUND-AND-THE-FURY-1959/. It was bookended by two other films with high-powered creative teams in which Brynner wore hairpieces: The Buccaneer (1958, for executive producer and The Ten Commandments auteur Cecil B. DeMille and director Anthony Quinn) and Solomon and Sheba (1959, for director King Vidor, and also available on TT Blu-ray). (The only time he sported a full head of his own real hair on film was his pre-The King and I movie debut as a gangster in 1949’s Port of New York.) In Vidor’s epic, Brynner was replacing Tyrone Power, so the dark hair and beard were necessitated so that he would match already completed long shots and battle scenes with the late, suddenly deceased lead actor. But it could be said that for DeMille and Faulkner, the notoriously choosy but ever-magnetic Brynner would make an exception regarding his beautiful – and trendsetting – bald pate.