Every time somebody posts a great movie-deaths piece (the latest is a Rope of Silicon article by David Frank), I post my dog-eared “nobody died like Marlon Brando” piece, the first version of which I ran back in ’95. Why stop now? I haven’t posted it since 3.1.07, or two and half years ago.
My suggestion was that Brando’s best death scene was in Edward Dmytryk‘s The Young Lions (’58), and that no one has died with such remarkable delicacy and finesse since.
Brando’s Christian Diestl is in a forest not far from a recently abandoned concentration camp, sick of war and bashing his rifle against a tree in a mad rage. Then he then runs down a hillside and right into the rifle sights of Army G.I. Dean Martin, who opens up and puts several bullets into Brando’s gut and chest. The blonde-headed Diestl tumbles down the hill and lands head-first in a shallow stream.
The camera goes in tight, showing that Brando’s mouth and nose are submerged. A series of rapidly-popping air bubbles begin hitting the surface — pup-pup-pup-pup-pup-pup-pup — and then slower, slower and slower still. And then — this is the mad genius of Brando — two or three seconds after they’ve stopped altogether, a final tiny bubble pops through. There’s something about that last little pup that devastates all to hell.
Brando also died brilliantly in Viva Zapata, tucking himself into a kneeling fetal ball with his arms outstretched and his palms facing up as he’s riddled with bullets fired by an ambush posse of several Mexican soldiers. But of course, it’s hard to see Viva Zapata because it’s not on DVD. It seems that Fox Home Video, the rights holder, isn’t inclined to put it out. Which makes them the bad guys, of course. One of the strongest performances by our greatest American actor, and they’ve been sitting on it for decades.