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The film's working title was Orpheus Descending. The opening credits read "Marlon Brando, Anna Magnani and Joanne Woodward in "Tennessee Williams' The Fugitive Kind." The names of Brando, Magnani, Woodward, Williams and the title are listed on separate title cards. Although the onscreen credits list only the play Orpheus Descending as the basis of The Fugitive Kind, that play was based on Battle of Angels, the first Williams play to be staged professionally. Williams wrote Battle of Angles in 1939, but after an unsuccessful run, rewrote it and retitled it Orpheus Descending. That production opened on Broadway on March 21, 1957, produced by Robert Whitehead for the Producers Theatre. Although Williams had earlier written a play entitled The Fugitive Kind, which was produced by a St. Louis theater group in 1937, that play is unrelated to the film.
According to an August 1960 Los Angeles Mirror news item, Williams had originally wanted to cast Brando and Magnani in the Broadway version of Orpheus Descending, and press materials note that he wrote the film's screenplay with the two actors in mind. Both had appeared in earlier film adaptations of his plays; Brando rose to fame in the Broadway and film versions of Williams' drama A Streetcar Named Desire, and Magnani starred in The Rose Tattoo in 1955 (see below for both). Williams also had written The Rose Tattoo specifically for Magnani, and although she was not in the stage production, she won her only Academy Award for her performance in the film version. Producer Martin Jurow had been Magnani's agent.
In June 1958, Daily Variety announced that Anthony Franciosa would play "Valentine `Snakeskin' Xavier." According to a February 27, 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item, Carroll Baker was being considered to play "Carol Cutrere" and Lloyd Nolan was in negotiations for a role. Despite the early preparations for the film, principal photography was delayed, as noted in a May 1960 Los Angeles Examiner article, because of Williams' poor box-office record, Woodward's pregnancy and Brando's schedule on One-Eyed Jacks. A March 1959 news item in Hollywood Reporter stated that the original start date for the production would be pushed back to June to accommodate Brando's schedule on One-Eyed Jacks (1961; see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70), which marked the actor's directorial debut. Woodward, who was borrowed from Twentieth Century-Fox for the production, gave birth in April 1959.
Press materials affirm that The Fugitive Kind was shot in the town of Milton, NY and at Gold Medal Studios in the Bronx. A May 1959 New York Times article noted that the producers wanted to shoot the film in Mississippi, where the story is set, but shooting closer to the Bronx studio saved the production $50,000. That article estimated the film's budget at $2,000,000, and a July 1959 Variety article noted that the actors' salaries accounted for $1,000,000 of that. Modern sources, however, report that Brando alone earned $1,000,000 for his performance. Brando also received remuneration because his personal production company, Pennebaker, co-produced the film. (Pennebaker was at the time experiencing financial problems, and modern sources state that The Fugitive Kind helped return the company to solvency.)
As noted in the Filmfacts review, Maureen Stapleton, who plays "Vee Talbott" in the film, played "Lady Torrance" in the Broadway version of the play. R. G. Armstrong, Virgilia Chew and Janice Mars reprised their Broadway roles for the film. 1959 Hollywood Reporter news items add dialogue supervisor Jud Taylor to the cast and state that producer Jurow had a one-line scene in the film, but their appearance in the final picture has not been confirmed.
An August 1960 Los Angeles Mirror article reported on tension between Brando and Magnani, noting that her accent and his customary mumbling compromised their ability to communicate. Modern sources state that Brando antagonized his co-star during filming and deliberately slurred his words to unnerve her. The original running time of The Fugitive Kind was 135 minutes, which is the time listed in some contemporary reviews, but modern sources state that poor previews led director Sidney Lumet to recut the film, to its official release length of 119 minutes. Modern sources report that many of the edits addressed Magnani's pronunciation, and that in one entire scene her voice was re-dubbed. As noted in an December 8, 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item, United Artists wanted to open the film on December 24, 1959 so it would be eligible for that year's Academy Awards, but the re-edits caused the release to be pushed back until May 1960.
Publicity for the film touted the fact that it starred three previous Oscar winners, Brando, Magnani and Woodward. The scene in which Carol attempts to perform oral sex on Val was represented in advertisements with an image of Woodward kneeling in front of Brando. In response to the scene, the Variety reviewer commented that the film "reaches a new low in suggestive animalism." Although reviews for The Fugitive Kind were mixed, the performances were universally lauded.