The Fugitive Kind

The Fugitive Kind (1960) was Sidney Lumet’s film adaptation of Tennessee Williams’s 1957 play Orpheus Descending. Commencing with The Glass Menagerie in 1945 and peaking with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1955, Williams, widely regarded as America’s greatest playwright, produced a series of dramas that were both Broadway hits and (usually) highly successful films, dealing frankly (and often poetically) with love, desire, sex of all persuasions, frigidity, cannibalism, castration and violent death. The Fugitive Kind recalled Williams’s greatest success, A Streetcar Named Desire (filmed in 1951 with Marlon Brando in the lead) in its casting of Brando as an existential drifter; the new film’s stark moods and downbeat ending, however, evoked European neorealism as much as Southern gothic.

Williams often recycled his material and many of his major plays are developed from short stories and one-acters. Orpheus Descending was based on one of his early full-length plays, Battle of Angels, which closed in Boston in 1940. Battle was actually Williams’s fifth long play, but the first one to be produced and his first major flop. Nearly two decades later the playwright reworked the material, although the second time around was not the charm either, and the rewrite, as Orpheus Descending, flopped again. It opened in New York on March 21, 1957, and ran only 68 performances. By this time Williams’s name was still commercial, however, and prestigious enough to ensure a film version that United Artists produced in 1959 with Anna Magnani, Marlon Brando and Joanne Woodward in the leads.

Probably assuming the original title of Orpheus Descending, based on the Greek myth of the musician Orpheus who follows his dead wife into the underworld, would be meaningless to contemporary movie audiences, the title was changed. The revised title is actually derived from a line in the original Battle of Angels:

Why don’t you come with me? You an’ me, we belong to the fugitive kind. We live on motion. Nothing but motion, mile after mile, keeping up with the wind, or even faster.

In Battle, Cassandra (who becomes the character of Carol Cutrere in Fugitive Kind) speaks the line, but in the film a variation of it was given to the star, Brando, who plays Val Xavier. Val is a wandering singer/guitar player who attempts to find some stability in his itinerant life by accepting a job at a run-down mercantile store in an obscure small town of the backwater South. The store is run by Lady Torrance (Magnani), an older woman of Italian extraction whose husband, Jabe (Victor Jory), is dying of cancer in the apartment above the store, where the couple share their own private married hell. Val and Lady drift into a kind of desperate love affair, but when it is revealed that Lady is pregnant, she is shot by the enraged and now demented Jabe. The confectionary is set afire and Jabe and his cronies, a band of town rednecks, kill Val. (In the original play he is killed with a blowtorch; in the film he is driven back into the burning store by fire hoses.) Joanne Woodward plays Carol Cutrere, a tormented town outcast who is inspired to leave the backward village following Val’s immolation. Maureen Stapleton, who played Lady Torrance in the original Broadway production (opposite Cliff Robertson as Val), appears in the film as the eccentrically visionary Vee Talbott, wife of the town sheriff.

Other than the title switch, Lumet’s film is relatively faithful to the original stage script. Yet aside from the touches of wry ironic humor found in even Williams’ most depressing scripts—“I’m just a ‘lewd vagrant,’” says Carol, “and I’m showing the ‘S.O.B’S’ how lewd a ‘lewd vagrant’ can be if she puts her whole heart into it like I do mine!”—the Lumet film remains one of the most bleak and depressing in the Williams film oeuvre and was less than a hit with 1950s audiences. It was shot in neorealistic black-and-white at Gold Medal-Biograph Studios in the Bronx—with exteriors of Milton, New York doubling for the Deep South—and actually resembles a gritty foreign film more than a mainstream 1950s Hollywood production.

The film did receive its share of positive reviews, in praise of its high-powered creators and cast. James Powers commented, “Lumet’s direction is often brilliant in individual scenes, giving weight and power to Williams lines throughout. Boris Kaufman’s camera sees through a glass darkly, as Williams sees.” The usually conservative Bosley Crowther, writing in The New York Times, gave the film a surprisingly positive evaluation, observing that Lumet’s “plainly perceptive understanding of the deep-running skills of the two stars, his daring with faces in close-up and his out-right audacity in pacing his film at a morbid tempo that lets time drag and passions slowly shape are responsible for the mesmeric quality that emerge. And the skill with which it is performed sets one’s senses to throbbing and feeling staggered and spent at the end.” Crowther even mentions the “excellent musical score by Kenyon Hopkins, laced with crystalline sounds and guitar strains,” which “enhances the mood of sadness in this sensitive film.”

Kenyon Hopkins (1912–1983) may be relatively unknown today, but he was a major contributor to a highly regarded movement in Hollywood film scoring, one that paralleled the decline of the Hollywood studio system in the 1950s and was anchored aesthetically with the film versions of Tennessee Williams’s plays—transforming the style of Hollywood soundtracks from the classical symphonic scores of composers such as Korngold and Steiner into a new sound influenced by jazz, big band and—eventually—rock and roll and other pop styles. The most famous example is Alex North’s score for A Streetcar Named Desire, lauded as the first use of jazz in a Hollywood score, for which one cue was so considered so “carnal” that it was stricken by the censors (though subsequently restored). With the exception of Max Steiner’s score for The Glass Menagerie (1950), the best Williams films were scored by innovative newcomers such as North and Elmer Bernstein (Summer and Smoke), both of whom pioneered and influenced the new sound of Hollywood during a great time of filmmaking and scoring.

Like many of the new composers of the 1950s, Kenyon Hopkins came to Hollywood with an extensive background in big band and orchestral pop arranging. Hopkins was born in Coffeyville, Kansas on January 15, 1912, the son of a minister. He was raised in Michigan and studied music and composition at Oberlin College and Temple University. Graduating in 1933, Hopkins moved to New York where he spent three years with “King of Jazz” Paul Whiteman, and his then-famous orchestra, and also worked with the maestro of early orchestral easy listening and light classics, André Kostelanetz. After a military stint during WWII he returned to music as a big band arranger. Primarily based in New York during the ’50s, Hopkins also worked as a composer/arranger for both CBS Radio and the Radio City Music Hall. His early film work included scores for documentaries and industrial films.

Hopkins’s first Hollywood assignment was for another Tennessee Williams film adaptation, Baby Doll (1956), directed by Streetcar’s Elia Kazan. In 1957 he scored two films for Sidney Lumet: The Strange One and 12 Angry Men, making experimental use of modernistic 12-tone techniques for the former. Hopkins reunited with Lumet for The Fugitive Kind to provide an intimate, lyrical “less is more” (both in mood and scale) score that served the film extremely well. Williams’s plays were noteworthy in their specific deployment of music in the stage directions, and while Lumet and Hopkins ignored some of these (such as instructions for some of Lady’s music to feature an Italian mandolin), other cues seem crafted directly out of Williams’s intentions. Hopkins’s intimate and lyrical main title, “Bird Song,” while reflecting the atmospheric cinematography of a sunrise behind which (after a brief visual/musical prologue) the credits unfold, also seems inspired by one of the key symbols in Williams’s script, the image of the delicate transparent birds who touch earth only when they die. From Orpheus Descending, Val’s Act One, Scene Two speech to Lady:

You can’t tell those birds from the sky and that’s why the hawks don’t catch them. Those little birds, they don’t have no legs at all and they live their whole lives on the wing, and they sleep on the wind.

(Music fades in.)

They sleep on the wind

(He lifts his guitar and accompanies the very faint music.)

and never light on this earth but one time when they die!

Hopkins’s orchestration for two flutes, solo guitar with delicate touches of celesta, and a mystical (and recurring) motive of descending string chords toward the end, perfectly suggests this ethereal Williams imagery. This main title is one of the most lyrical, poignant and concentrated of any music composed for a Williams film, and the rest of the score, primarily for guitar, solo and sectional reeds, and judiciously utilized strings and brass (mostly French horns), follows suit. The use of solo guitar reflects the character of Val, who travels with his beloved guitar inscribed with the autographs of great blues musicians such as Leadbelly, Bessie Smith and King Oliver. Intercut with these pristine, almost mystical passages are several authentically funky ’50s blues/rock source cues that aptly suggest Williams’s famous lines about “jooking” (spoken by Joanne Woodward as Carol Cutrere in the film):

That’s when you get in a car and drink a little and drive a little and stop and dance a little to a juke box, and then you drink a little more and drive a little more, and then you stop dancing and you just drink and drive.

As with Alex North’s score for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (based on the play by Edward Albee), Hopkins’s music plays against the desolation and violence inherent in the script, focusing instead on its despairing poetry. Thus Hopkins’s little-known score stands with more lauded works such as North’s Streetcar and Bernstein’s Summer and Smoke as one of the most atmospheric and poetic musical evocations of the playwright’s unique style and content in any of the Williams film adaptations. — Ross Care

Although Kenyon Hopkins was active throughout the 1960s—scoring, among others, Wild River (1960), The Hustler (1961), Lilith (1964), Mr. Buddwing (1966) and Downhill Racer (1969)—very little of his work has been released on CD. (He also composed several concept albums and from 1970–1973 was head of music at Paramount Television; for a more complete overview see Doug Payne’s excellent Hopkins discography.) This complete score presentation of The Fugitive Kind is a major CD premiere, and has been reconstructed using the ¼″ stereo United Artists Records album master (for LP tracks) and ½″ three-track scoring masters (for previously unreleased cues). The CD presents the score in film order, but to hear the LP sequence, program these tracks:

  1. Side 1
  2. Alone—Prologue
  3. Bird Song—Main Title
  4. Get Crazy
  5. The Reformer
  6. Put Me Off at the Station
  7. Love to Sunday
  1. Side 2
  2. Let Me Out
  3. Return to the Store
  4. High Pocket Blues
  5. Pay Day
  6. Calliope
  7. Triumphant Fugitive—End Title

The cues presented on the album were not found on the ½″ reels—having been snipped out and sent to the record company—so this is a rare case where the previously unreleased music is a generation “up” from the released tracks.

11. Alone—Prologue
The film begins with an itinerant guitar player, Val Xavier (Marlon Brando), brought before a judge to answer for a disturbance he caused at a party. As the camera fixes on the young man for his meandering confessional—expressing a lonely, existential angst—Hopkins’s cue unspools gently with a bluesy oboe melody.
12. Bird Song—Main Title
Opening credits play over a vista of a Southern road. Hopkins’s main theme (titled “Bird Song”) is a tender melody comprised in large part of ascending fifths—conveying a kind of hopeful quest (the interval is often used in epic film melodies for that reason) but stated gently so as to imply that the goal here is an interior one: the orchestration is primarily for flute with spare accompaniment, with a broader section for hymn-like chords. The cue darkens toward the end as Val’s car breaks down in a small town during a downpour.
13. The Town—Opening
This is a dark, ominous cue not used in the finished film—possibly because it would have overtly foreshadowed the violence and tragedy to come. The bold start to the cue will recur in “Lady Slams Out” (track 24).
14. Vee’s Coffee
Val stumbles onto the sheriff’s home that doubles as the town jail; the sheriff’s kindly wife, Vee Talbot (Maureen Stapleton), offers him coffee and advice. Hopkins lays down a gentle blues riff that provides a kind of ambiguous portent for their tentative connection. (Only the first half of the cue appears in the finished film; the scene is truncated so as to cut off the rest.)
Vee’s Turn
Vee’s theme returns briefly as she answers about Val to her husband, the bigoted Sheriff Talbot (R.G. Armstrong).
15. Uncle Pleasant
The film introduces two of the townsfolk: Carol Cutrere (Joanne Woodward), a bohemian young woman, and Uncle Pleasant (Emory Richardson), a Negro vagrant and seller of trinkets. This brief cue (starting with rattling percussion to emulate Uncle Pleasant’s wares) appears as the old man gives Carol a helping hand out of her car. (It is replaced in the finished film by an excerpt of “Take This Bone.”)
Take This Bone
Customers inside the town general store scorn Uncle Pleasant, so Carol comes to his defense. Hopkins’s gentle cue adapts a passage from “Bird Song” as a theme not merely for Uncle Pleasant, but for Carol and her virtuous defense of him.
16. Let Me Out
Carol sees Val inside a store and recognizes him from their seedy past in New Orleans. To ignore her, he plays a recording of a blues song on a record player; coincidental or not, the groove in the piece (performed by an unknown singer) is that of Vee’s theme (track 14).
17. High Pocket Blues
Val and Carol go to a truck stop where this rock instrumental is heard on the jukebox.
18. Put Me Off at the Station
This is the second source cue heard at the truck stop.
19. Get Crazy
Carol makes a scene—fighting with her brother David (John Baragrey)—so Val pulls her out of the juke joint as this third song plays.
20. The Reformer
Val drives Carol’s car as she explains her past as a troublemaker and failed reformer of the community. She makes fun of herself but Hopkins’s soulful, spare cue speaks of her wounded heart.
21. Return to the Store
Carol and Val go their separate ways: she will drive to New Orleans, while he goes inside the store to ask for a job from the proprietor, a sad woman named Lady Torrance (Anna Magnani) preoccupied with the illness of her husband. Two themes feature in the cue: Carol’s bluesy theme from “The Reformer,” then “Bird Song” for Lady.
22. Lady Reacts/Cut to Alleyway
Val befriends Lady by telling a poetic story about a type of bird that lives its life in the air, coming to earth only once—to die. Hopkins’s “Bird Song” (the meaning of the title now clear) plays as Lady shows Val the alleyway behind her store where she hopes to build a confectionary. She mentions that her father had owned a similar establishment, but “They burned it up”—as Val asks who “they” are, Lady’s ill husband, Jabe Torrance (Victor Jory), bangs his cane to call her, the music overlapping it with percussive hits (as if to indicate the answer).
Bird Moves Down
A short cue accompanies a transition to the next day. Different music appears in the finished film at this point (an excerpt from another cue); as recorded, Hopkins again provides percussive hits tied to Jabe’s cane.
23. Alone Plus Bird
Val spurns Carol in her request to go away with him. Hopkins renders an exquisite version of “Alone” (from the prologue) with the motive from “Bird Song” in counterpoint.
Existence—Dolce/Phone Rings
Val speaks with Vee, who has come to the store. Vee is an amateur painter, and Val philosophizes about art, existence and the horrors of the world: “You made some beauty, Mrs. Talbot, out of this dark river country.” Vee’s theme is reprised.
24. Lady Slams Out
Jabe insinuates that Lady has hired Val out of lust for him. Distraught, she asks Val to drive her to the ruins of her father’s wine garden. After a dark opening, the music warms to provide a sympathetic and lightly romantic mood. Towards the end, solo guitar is heard; Val carries his guitar with him, and this is arguably source music for his noodling.
25. Bird Song (guitar)
This solo guitar version of “Bird Song” was recorded “wild,” for purposes unknown. It is placed at this point in the program.
26. Pay Day
Val gambles at a juke joint seeking money to leave town. This film repeats “High Pocket Blues” but placed here on CD is “Pay Day,” a track from the Fugitive Kind LP that does not appear in the film. (It appears to be “Put Me Off the Station” in a different key.)
The next music heard in the film was not included on the Fugitive Kind LP and no master tapes survive: a vocal version of “Alone” (titled “Not a Soul”) that Val sings and plays on guitar on a ride back from the juke joint. Tenneesee Williams himself provided the lyrics; Marlon Brando was obviously dubbed by another performer.
27. Cash Box
This cue appears twice in the film, but truncated both times; Val’s theme, “Alone,” dominates. Prior to track 26, Lady asks Val if he would like to stay in a back room at the store (as opposed to a nearby motel), and the end of the cue is heard to close the scene as Val drifts over to the cash register—as if to steal from it. Upon Val’s return from his gambling night, a different edit of the cue is heard as he goes into the store and reopens the cash register—this version uses more strident guitar. (Val confesses to Lady that he did take money from the cash box, but came back to return it; this is tied into an argument over her romantic designs for him.) The ending of this track combines the two different versions.
28. Love to Sunday
Val and Lady begin an affair; “Alone” segues to “Bird Song.” The music comes to the foreground as the film flashes forward to the completion of Lady’s confectionary, with Val and Lady evidently happy in their relationship.
29. Calliope
The opening of Lady’s confectionary is advertised by a calliope truck on the street; its source music is heard by the characters inside the store.
30. Distorted Calliope
Jabe confesses that he was part of the posse responsible for the burning down of Lady’s father’s wine garden (as well as the man’s death). Lady reacts with horror and rage, while Jabe suffers a hemorrhage and falls down the stairs. The scene is “scored” with a continuance of the calliope source music, but it becomes twisted and distorted to underlie the ugliness on screen.
31. Vee Sees Light
Val comes to the aid of Vee, who staggers down the street claiming to have experienced “a vision.” Her theme returns, with religious connotations in the hymn-like chords.
Plus and Minus
Lady returns from a delivery to find Carol waiting (with Uncle Pleasant) to ask for her help in leaving town. Her music (and Uncle Pleasant’s tinkly percussion) appears briefly.
32. Triumphant Fugitive—End Title
Val is threatened by the sheriff to leave town; he says goodbye to Lady but is shocked to learn he has made her pregnant. They talk in the confectionary but Jade sets it on fire, and both Lady and Val are killed in the violent climax. In the aftermath, Carol finds Val’s snakeskin jacket and clings to it as a kind of talisman of their “fugitive kind.” The “Bird Song” is expanded into a triumphant orchestral finale to close the film on a (perhaps incongruous) message of hope as Carol drives away from the burned-out building—she, at least, seems destined for a better future. — Lukas Kendall

From the original United Artists LP…

The Fugitive Kind is the screen dramatization of Tennessee Williams’s long-run hit play Orpheus Descending. Its highly dramatic plot seethes with beneath-the-surface explosiveness—about lonely, bitter, and poor people, with undefined and unrealized ambitions.

The story is set in the barren grey small town typical of anywhere, but here set in Mississippi where the bitterness waits in uneasy somnolence for a spark to set it off. The spark is provided by one lone man, a man determined to walk by himself, a fugitive from the entanglements of other people’s lives. It is when he, an itenerant guitar player, powerfully enacted by Marlon Brando, allows himself to become entangled, through pity or love, that the bitterness erupts from the surface and builds to an almost total destruction of reason.

Kenyon Hopkins, whose work in film music is especially noted for its dramatic intensity, has created a music score which while underlining the taut action of the film, has its own dramatic impact. It tells its own story in musical terms.

The score in itself portrays not only the anger or sorrow of the lives portrayed in the film, but also its desperate fun. There is also, in the song “Let Me Out,” one of the most unusual vocals ever recorded. It is significant, however, that the score begins and ends with the music of the fugitive, a solitary figure who escapes to be triumphantly alone again in death as the film closes.