Three masterworks: “A Streetcar Named Desire” (A+), the greatest play to movie adaptation of all-time, “Splendor in the Grass”(A), an almost perfect staging of a great original screenplay by William Inge and, of course, his third and last collaboration with Marlon Brando, “On the Waterfront” (A) from Budd Schulberg’s original script.

More than any artist in the history of Hollywood, because of his naming of names at the HUAC and the lives and livelihoods that were destroyed because of his testimony (including his own Best Supporting Actress Kim Hunter), what you think of Elia Kazan’s body of work depends on whether you can separate the artist from the art. I am very much in favor of this. After all, some of the world’s greatest pieces of art were created by some pretty despicable people. Which is why I always list Kazan as one of my all-time favorite directors with only a trace of cognitive dissonance. Only in “On the Waterfront” does Kazan the master director and Kazan the HUAC stoolie come together, the movie’s story being an obvious parallel to Kazan’s (and Schulberg’s another informer at HUAC) with Brando’s Terry Malloy turning informer being presented as the correct moral choice.

When Kazan got an honorary Oscar on March 22, 1999 (Karl Malden the outgoing Academy President pressed for this even though Kazan had already won two Oscars for “Waterfront” and “Gentleman’s Agreement“) I sometimes wonder whether I would have given him a standing ovation like the vast majority of the audience or whether I would have remained seated and sat on my hands like Nick Nolte, Ed Harris, Amy Madigan and others. I don’t know!

Unlike Sidney Lumet, who I rated last week, Kazan’s body of work is much tighter (19 films in total compared to Lumet’s 43) and they are almost all worth watching with only 2 – as opposed to 24 – outright duds: MGM’s 1947 Tracy/Hepburn’s “The Sea of Grass” and 1972’s “The Visitors”. He was under contract to 20th Century Fox in the Forties where his output was a mixed bag being saddled, on the one hand, with Zanuck’s corny “Gentleman’s Agreement” (it’s OK, Gregory Peck’s character is not actually Jewish) and “Pinky” (that’s a white actress named Jeanne Crain up there) but also the great “Boomerang” and “Panic in the Streets”. After 1950 he was his own boss and he had an incredible decade-long-run of great movies.

His last movie was in 1976, an adaptation by Harold Pinter of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished novel “The Last Tycoon”, was not an outright failure, as some of the reviews of the time would have it. Yes, Ingrid Boulting’s debut was one of the greatest bombs in history but Robert De Niro and a very charming Theresa Russell (also making her debut) make the movie worth watching.

Elia Kazan is worthy of a place in “TheBrownees Pantheon”.

1945A Tree Grows in Brooklyn20th Century FoxB-
1947The Sea of GrassMetro-Goldwyn-MayerD-
1947Boomerang!20th Century FoxB+
1947Gentleman’s Agreement20th Century FoxC-
1949Pinky20th Century FoxD+
1950Panic in the Streets20th Century FoxB+
1951A Streetcar Named DesireWarner Bros.A+
1952Viva Zapata!20th Century FoxC
1953Man on a Tightrope20th Century FoxC-
1954On the WaterfrontColumbia PicturesA
1955East of EdenWarner Bros.B
1956Baby DollWarner Bros.B
1957A Face in the CrowdWarner Bros.B+
1960Wild River20th Century FoxB
1961Splendor in the GrassWarner Bros.A
1963America AmericaWarner Bros.C
1969The ArrangementWarner Bros. – Seven ArtsC-
1972The VisitorsUnited ArtistsD
1976The Last TycoonParamount PicturesC+

TheBrownees Pantheon is now accepting members.

ACCEPTED: Alfred Hitchcock. Elia Kazan

REJECTED: Sidney Lumet

Each week, the ouvre of a certain director, known only to me, will be rated by me alone using the grades: A+, A, A-, B+, B, B-, C+, C, C-, D+, D, D- and F with A+ being the highest and F being the lowest.

Based on these results it will be decided whether admission will be granted or forever withheld.

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