Vivien Leigh (Gone with the Wind) is Blanche DuBois, a faded Southern belle who moves in with her kid sister, Stella (Kim Hunter, The Planet of the Apes) and her brutish husband, Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando, The Godfather), in their rundown New Orleans apartment with devastating consequences.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“I don’t want realism, I want magic.” – Vivien Leigh as Blanche DuBois.
Tennessee Williams’s 1947 landmark — and Pulitzer Prize-winning — play A Streetcar Named Desire, about a deadly match between fantasy and reality, is transformed into a pretty powerful movie. Neither my favorite Williams play nor my favorite movie based on his work, A Streetcar Named Desire is an impressive achievement nevertheless. Although a bit stagey and talky, the film is elevated to the realm of high art by brilliant dialogue and a quartet of truly unforgettable performances.
A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by Elia Kazan (On the Waterfront and East of Eden) from a screenplay penned by Williams himself (well, most of the actual work was done by Kazan), was filmed almost entirely in Hollywood studios. Kazan’s intention was to recreate one of New Orleans’ seediest areas, and the deliberately dilapidated sets and Harry Stradling’s (The Picture of Dorian Gray) squalid-looking cinematography accentuate the documentary-like atmosphere — the people and their habitat seem potently real.
… and there’s the fantastic acting in the movie. Film acting is usually divided into two phases: before and after Marlon Brando. A Streetcar Named Desire debuted in movie theaters more than sixty years ago, and the film introduced, among other things, Brando’s benevolent force to moviegoers.
Brando’s performance in this film single-handily shattered the expectations of what acting was supposed to be. He revitalized and revolutionized the medium like no one ever had before, and he initialized a new era of raw performances. He removed the artificiality and technicality from film acting and paved the way for actors like James Dean, Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, Dustin Hoffman and Edward Norton among others. A Streetcar Named Desire provides the perfect outlet for Brando’s unflinching persona. He certainly generated a force that Hollywood simply couldn’t ignore.
If Brando’s acting in this film is like a hurricane, Leigh must be the eye of that hurricane. After a decade of battling mental illnesses and professional failures, Leigh manages to accomplish what in theory seemed almost impossible — to surpass her own acclaimed performance in Gone with the Wind. She fully captures the pathos and ironies of her character — a faded Southern belle whose fragile world is bound to crumble under the pressure of the realities of the real world. It’s one of cinema’s greatest performances, and Leigh was rewarded with a well-deserved Oscar.
Brando and Leigh get great support from Karl Malden (Baby Doll and Patton) and Kim Hunter, who play Mitch and Stella respectively. Both actors won Oscars for their excellent work. I particularly liked how Hunter suggests her burning carnal desire for Brando’s Stanley — remember, this the 1950s and Hollywood was still operating under a strict moral code. Hunter is forced to be subtle and sneaky, but she gets the job done. All four actors form a superb four-piece ensemble.
As expected with any of Williams’ stories, this is a dialogue driven story and the eloquent and literate dialogue is presented here in a crisp and well-balanced manner. The parades of soliloquies are delivered in a natural and clear fashion, with conversations presented in an intelligible manner. Many ambient noises (cars, record player, streetcars, etc.) are nicely captured, and add authenticity to the New Orleans settings. Alex North’s (Spartacus and To Kill a Mockingbird) great score is also handled well — it is unobtrusive, and complements the dialogue quite competently. North’s jazz-based score is one of the film’s many highlights.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
A Streetcar Named Desire itself has enough raw power and great dramatic scope to galvanize the audience. The film is presented here in an uncut edition. Three minutes of footage never seen before (material that director Kazan was forced to removed to appease the censors) have been incorporated back into the film. As it turns out, these minutes enhance the impact of many key scenes, providing viewers with enough reason to rejoice. It’s a still a watered-down version of 1947 racy Broadway play, but those three minutes are a welcomed addition to an already burly movie. Tennessee Williams’ story truly comes alive under the expert performance of its players and the savvy direction of Kazan. B&W, 125 minutes, Not Rated.