Towards the end of his career, Brando rarely played to his potential, and was sometimes even accused of tanking. While that may not be completely true, it was clear that a series of parametres had to be ticked for him to give it his very best. First of all, he had to like and respect the director, meaning often that the director had to be open to his suggestions and not get in his way too often. As it turned out, very few directors ticked these boxes. Secondly, he had to feel that his co-stars were worth the effort. If they weren't, like for instance with Sophia Loren in A Countess from New York, there was little spark. And thirdly, he had to think the film was right. Brando was notorious for turning scripts down, and even when he didn't, he often wanted to rewrite most of his lines. In Apocalypse Now, for example, he didn't think the script was all that, and the result was an interpretation of his character that was something totally different than what the filmmakers expected. Brando wasn't being difficult because he enjoyed making people miserable; he was difficult because he 1) had high standards for himself, and 2) was lazy. He never wanted to waste his time working if he didn't really believe in what he was doing.
And so, in his filmography, we can make two division lines. First is the period up until and including On the Waterfront. Until this point, he was young, hungry and even prolific. He rarely got in the filmmakers' way. Then there's the period from On the Waterfront and until Last Tango in Paris. In this period he was picky and a bit of a diva on set, but gave it his all when the circumstances were right. And finally, there was after Tango, from which point he never again dove into his character completely. According to his autobiography "My Life", Last Tango in Paris took such a toll on him emotionally, that he decided he would never again pressure himself to feel what his character felt. Instead, he would do it technically, because if you did it well enough, "the audience wouldn't know the difference". That may be right in theory, but in Brando's case, the magic was exactly the fact that he could internalize the pain and suffering, joy and humour, and convey what he was feeling. It was his singular ability at this that set him apart and made him arguably the most important and transcendent actor in film history.
"Brando gives an overpoweringly physical performance. He's amazingly sensitive and intense—no one before him who smoldered on screen ever gave off so much heat." - Pauline Kael on The Men
"(...) but it's Brando who left an indelible mark on audiences." - Leonard Maltin on A Streetcar Named Desire
"(...) you could make a good case that no performance had more influence on modern film acting styles than Brando's work as Stanley Kowalski." - Roger Ebert on A Streetcar Named Desire
"Brando is perfect in title role." - Leonard Maltin on Viva Zapata!
"It is one of the most powerful American movies of the 50s, and few movies caused so much talk, excitement, and dissension—largely because of Marlon Brando's performance as the inarticulate, instinctively alienated bum, Terry Malloy. Some of Brando's scenes, such as his having a beer with Eva Marie Saint in a bar and his conversation with Rod Steiger in a car, have real vibration." - Pauline Kael on On the Waterfront
"Marlon Brando starved himself to play the pixie interpreter Sakini, and he looks as if he's enjoying the stunt—talking with a mad accent, grinning boyishly, bending forward, and doing tricky movements with his legs. He's harmlessly genial (and he is certainly missed when he's offscreen), though the fey, roguish role doesn't allow him to do what he's great at and it's possible that he's less effective in it than a lesser actor might have been." - Pauline Kael on The Teahouse of the August Moon
"The stifled homosexuality of Brando's duty-bound Major Penderton is grotesque and painful. This is one of Brando's most daring performances: the fat, ugly Major putting cold cream on his face, or preening at the mirror, or patting his hair nervously when he thinks he has a gentleman caller is so pitiful yet so ghastly that some members of the audience invariably cut themselves off from him by laughter." - Pauline Kael on Reflections in a Golden Eye
"Brando's performance, then as now, is among the best of his carreer." - Leonard Maltin on Last Tango in Paris.
"It's a movie that exists so resolutely on the level of emotion, indeed, that possibly only Marlon Brando, of all living actors, could have played its lead." - Roger Ebert on Last Tango in Paris.
"When Brando improvises within Bertolucci's structure, his full art is realized; his performance is intuitive, rapt, princely. Working with Brando, Bertolucci achieves realism with the terror of actual experience still" alive on the screen." - Pauline Kael on Last Tango in Paris
"Brando is magnetic (if somewhat askew) in a showy supporting role as an outspoken barrister." - Leonard Maltin on A Dry White Season
"Marlon Brando is airily light and masterly as the veteran anti-apartheid barrister who takes the case even though he knows that he can't get anywhere with the rigged court. The romantic in Brando must have responded to the old rebel's romantic gesture: he saves the picture for the (short) time he's onscreen." - Pauline Kael on A Dry White Season
"When Brando finished filming THE FRESHMAN last September, he attacked the movie in a notorious interview in the Toronto Globe and Mail, claiming it was trash and that he was retiring from acting. A few days later, he retracted his statements and conceded that the movie might be all right, after all. Who knows what his motives were for either statement? Who ever knows with Brando? The fact is that while he's on the screen, few actors have a more complete command of their work, and in THE FRESHMAN he walks a tightrope above the hazards of bad laughs. Think how many ways this performance could have gone wrong. Think of the criticism Brando risked receiving, from those ready to attack him for cashing in on his most famous performance by reprising it for a comedy. Brando must have known the dangers, but he must have had confidence in himself, too—enough to go ahead anyway, and to win a considerable gamble." - Roger Ebert on The Freshman
"Brando - compelling as ever" - Leonard Maltin on Don Juan DeMarco
"I'm not fat by nature. I got fat mostly because I loved brownies, ice cream and everything else that makes you fat. One reason for this, I suspect, is that when I was a kid, I'd come home to find my mother gone and dishes in the sink. I'd feel low and open the icebox, and there would be an apple pie, along with some cheese, and the pie would say: "C'mon, Marlon, take me out. I'm freezing in here. Be a pal and take me out, and bring out Charlie Cheese too." Then I'd feel less lonely."
"I have loved a lot in my life. Nor does it matter that with every woman my relationships have ended up in nothing. I've faced love every time as a neccesary good, or a neccesary evil."
"In one scene Ben Johnson had an argument with one of his compatriots, then shot him. I didn't like the expression on the other man's face...I wanted him to show shock and terror, so I said 'let's rehearse this one more time.' I put him on a saddle mounted to a piece of wood and, without telling him, kept the camera rolling. I walked over to him and said 'Larry...in this scene I want you to...' Then, boom! I slapped him hard and jumped out of the scene. He had a wonderful expression on his face, just what I wanted, but I slapped him so hard that I knocked of his moustache, and so I couldn't use the shot." - Marlon Brando on One Eyed Jacks - the only film he directed.
A Streetcar Named Desire
Stanley Kowalski (Brando): "Steeeeeellaaaa!"
The Wild One
Johnny (Brando): "What are you someone that makes sandwiches or something?"
Woman: "What are you rebelling
On the Waterfront
Edie: "Which side are you with?"
Terry Malloy (Brando): "You don't understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it. It was you, Charley."
Don Vito Corleone (Brando): "What have I ever
done to make you treat me so disrespectfully? If you'd come to me in
friendship, then this scum that ruined your daughter would be suffering
this very day. And if by chance an honest man like yourself should make
enemies, then they would become my enemies. And then they would fear
Last Tango in Paris
Jeanne: "I fell in love with him when I first
heard him play piano."
Jeanne: "Have you been in