As this five-film box set vividly demonstrates, Marlon Brando was, at least in the beginning of his legendary career, not one to rest on his laurels or emerging mythic status. Spanning 1953 to 1980, this collection gathers some of his most challenging and offbeat performances. Some naysayers doubted Brando, he of the Method and mumbles, could do Shakespeare justice, but he acquits himself impressively as Mark Antony in Joseph Mankiewicz's stellar adaptation of Julius Caesar. Though now dicey from a PC standpoint, Brando, unlike Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's, rises above grotesque caricature as a wily Japanese interpreter in The Teahouse of the August Moon, one of his rare forays into comedy. In Mutiny on the Bounty, Brando daringly portrays Fletcher Christian so foppish that he makes Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow look like Errol Flynn in The Sea Hawk. John Huston's Reflections in a Golden Eye teams Brando with another screen icon, Elizabeth Taylor, in a nasty piece of Southern gothic about sordid doings on a military base. Brando portrays a latent homosexual fixated on young soldier Robert Forrter, who has a penchant for naked horseback riding and sneaking into Taylor's room while she sleeps to fondle her clothing. Only The Formula, a still timely, yet confusing conspiracy thriller about synthetic fuel, is dispensable, although Brando is compelling to watch in his few scenes opposite fellow Oscar-holdout, George C. Scott. More entertaining than the film is the lively audio commentary with director John Avildson and screenwriter Steve Shagan. Suffice to say, they have little good to say about Scott, disgraced former studio head David Begelman, and, of all people, Christopher Lambert, who would star in another film that Shagan wrote. The Julius Caesar disc contains an excellent bonus, "The Rise of Two Legends," in which Laurence Fishburne refers to Shakespeare as "the Aaron Spelling of his day," and Dennis Hopper praises Brando for taking "the act out of acting." Mutiny is given the two-disc "Special Edition" treatment with a bounty of extras. Most concern the construction of the ship for the film, but we do get the original prologue and epilogue that were excised before the film's release and then restored for its 1967 television broadcast, and not seen since. The Teahouse disc contains an entertaining vintage featurette that follows cast and crew to Japan, while Reflections offers raw on-location footage. All five films are making their domestic DVD debuts. --Donald Liebenson
This was the noblest Roman of them all. All the conspirators save only he, did what they did in envy of great Caesar. He only, in a general honest thought, and common will for all, made one of them. His life was gentle, and the elements so mixed in him that the nature might stand up and say to all the world, This was a man.