Cast & Crew
A television movie of Tennessee Williams' stage play. A shopkeeper welcomes an enigmatic young drifter into her home while her husband is recuperating upstairs from a lengthy illness, causing a deadly scandal in the small Southern town where she lives.
Buddy Saba Taweel
Donna Lee Betz
John Culson Boles
Dru Anne Carlson
At the time of the New York stage production, Williams wrote: "On the surface it was and still is the tale of a wild-spirited boy who wanders into a conventional community of the South and creates the commotion of a fox in a chicken coop. But beneath that now familiar surface it is a play about unanswered questions that haunt the hearts of people and the difference between continuing to ask them...and the acceptance of prescribed answers that are not answers at all." In other words, the typical Williams mix of desire, repression, fractured pasts and bleak futures.
The play started out very early as "Battle of Angels," with the main part of Lady Torrance intended for Tallulah Bankhead, who turned the role down as "impossible." It premiered in 1940 with Miriam Hopkins in the lead and was the author's first produced play. By his own account it "failed spectacularly." The climax of the play was a big onstage fire effect that generated so much smoke that audiences - the ones who didn't faint dead away - had to flee the theater. It would take five years before Williams could return to Broadway with one of his greatest works, The Glass Menagerie.
It would take a lot longer for Lady Torrance's story to make it back on stage for the 1957 production with Maureen Stapleton. Cliff Robertson played the role of Val Xavier, the Orpheus character, a drifter and musician in a snakeskin jacket who fashions himself more or less along the lines of Elvis Presley. The play didn't fair much better that time either.
The next adaptation was a 1960 movie retitled The Fugitive Kind, starring Marlon Brando and Anna Magnani (truer to Williams's conception of the character as the daughter of a Sicilian immigrant murdered years before by the Ku Klux Klan). Stapleton also appears in the part of a local housewife who gets all hot and bothered over Brando. The production, directed by Sidney Lumet, received mixed reviews ranging from Bosley Crowther's "piercing account of loneliness and disappointment in a crass and tyrannical world" in the New York Times to Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader lamenting that New Yorker Lumet "seems baffled by the gothic South and doesn't know quite what to do with the overlay of Greek myth either." The film was a box office flop.
The story resurfaced in 1989 in a New York stage production that earned raves for creating what the playwright once called "a world lit by lightning." Vanessa Redgrave's performance, according to reviewers, was the astonishing and highly charged heart of the play, more than making up for some of the story's shortcomings. Kevin Anderson, 29 at the time and a regular with Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company, took on the role of "fox in a chicken coop" Val Xavier. The acclaimed production was directed by Peter Hall, the multi-award-winning English director of stage, opera and film whom Williams had chosen to direct the London premiers of his plays Camino Real in 1957 and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1958.
Hall, Redgrave, Anderson and much of the cast of the 1989 revival transferred their work to screen for this 1990 television adaptation. Hall was praised by critics for not taking the route of a tamer, naturalistic production but opting for an operatic, excessive approach that makes the most of Williams' "obsessive violence and sex...and creates a churning, theatrical, even at times comical hell on Earth," in the words of Ray Loynd of the Los Angeles Times.
The one key cast change from the Broadway run was the loss of stage veteran Tammy Grimes as Vee Talbot (the role played by Maureen Stapleton in the 1960 film). British actress Miriam Margolyes, familiar today for her work in The Age of Innocence (1993) and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), was cast instead.
Some shooting took place in Jacksonville, Florida, more in keeping with the story's Southern setting than The Fugitive Kind's location work in more Lumet-friendly upstate New York.
The film premiered on the cable channel TNT (Turner Network Television). Redgrave was nominated for a CableACE Award for her performance. At the time, cable channels were relegated to their own awards programs; today, her raw and powerful work would likely get her an Emmy nomination.
Director: Peter Hall
Producers: Gladys Nederlander, George Manasse
Screenplay: Peter Hall, based on the play by Tennessee Williams
Cinematography: Michael Fash
Editing: Edward Marnier
Art Direction: Teresa Carriker-Thayer
Music: Stephen Edwards
Cast: Vanessa Redgrave (Lady Torrance), Kevin Anderson (Val Xavier), Brad Sullivan (Jabe Torrance), Miriam Margolyes (Vee Talbot), Anne Twomey (Carol Cutrere), Manning Redwood (Talbot)
By Rob Nixon
Aired in United States September 24, 1990
Released in United States on Video January 16, 1990
Began shooting March 26, 1990.