This screen version of Tennessee Williams stage play Orpheus Descending introduces Val “Snakeskin” Xavier (Marlon Brando), a young mixed-up guitarist who – jaded by the hectic nightclub life of New Orleans – takes a job in a small Mississippi town store run by Lady (Anna Magnani), the neglected wife of Jabe Torrance (Victor Jory), a sadistic cancer sufferer.
Lady is attracted to Val, and so is Carol Cultrere (Joanne Woodward), a wild and wayward alcoholic aristocrat.
Sensing trouble from Lady, Val dips his hands in Jabe’s till, hoping to make enough gambling to clear off. He wins, but when he replaces the cash, Lady confesses her love for him and persuades him to stay.
Jabe, well aware of the feeling between Val and Lady, reveals he had earlier helped vigilantes burn down her father’s wine garden. Lady plans a new garden behind the shop, but meantime Val, wrongly accused of encouraging Vee (Maureen Stapleton), the sheriff’s wife, is ordered to leave town.
Now expecting Val’s child, Lady arranges to meet Val across the State line, but the vengeful Jabe hears, starts a fire and shoots Lady. Val is consumed by the flames.
Anna Magnani and Marlon Brando give outstanding performances as Lady and Val, although each is difficult to understand – the former because of her foreign accent (Magnani was playing the role phonetically) and the latter owing to his mumbling. Joanne Woodward wins some sympathy as nymphomaniac Carol, and Victor Jory makes a thoroughly repulsive and vicious Jabe.
Although set in Mississippi, most of the exteriors were shot in Milton, New York, a small town on the Hudson River, approximately 40 miles from New York City.
Sheriff Jordan Talbot
‘Pee Wee’ Binnings
Joe Brown Jr.