Sunday, 3 March 2013

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

In 1951, a film adaptation of a successful Broadway play hit the big screen. This film was A Streetcar Named Desire, based off Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire" play. Other than in the lead of role of Blanche, there was not much thought put into casting. Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter and Karl Malden all reprise their roles. The real struggles, as I said earlier, was to find the actress who would play Blanche DuBois.

Many actresses attempted to audition for this role. Jessica Tandy was originally slated for the role, as she had played Blanche in the original Broadway performance. However, she was removed as she was not a big enough name at the time. Olivia de Havilland and Bette Davis were both considered for the role, but the final decision was to go with Vivien Leigh, who had made her sudden cinematic breakthrough with Gone With The Wind. In fact, Vivien Leigh had once played Blanche under the direction of her husband at the time, Laurence Olivier. She later claimed Olivier was a stronger director than Elia Kazan. This was a great choice for the film, but not a great choice for Vivien Leigh. As she grew older, she developed, she had much difficulty distinguishing her life from that of Blanche DuBois.

Before Elia Kazan was attached to the directing A Streetcar Named Desire, William Wyler had hoped to direct a screen adaptation with Bette Davis in the lead role. Kazan had no desire to adapt this into a film. However, the studio certainly did. Kazan felt he had achieved a high degree of personal and critical satisfaction in the Broadway play. It was not until Tennessee Williams began to pressure Kazan into doing it that he gave in.

It's unfortunate that the studio forced Kazan to cut down A Streetcar Named Desire to remove certain material that would be deemed unsuitable for the audiences. For example, in the original play, Blanche's ex-husband had committed suicide after discovering he had become a homosexual. Nothing of this nature appears in the film. Some alterations were made to the screenplay, and others in the cutting room. However, to this day, A Streetcar Named Desire is considered to be advanced in it's suggestive content. There are few films to exhibit this much sexual material made in this 1950s. Another example, is Kazan and William's later collaboration, Baby Doll.

Where does A Streetcar Named Desire stand today? Well, it currently holds an 8.0 on IMDb, with a ranking in the top IMDb 250 of all time. As well, it holds the 47th position on the AFI 100 Years... 100 Movies list. It is also considered to be one of Kazan's finest films.

Blanche DuBois arrives in New Orleans to visit with her sister, Stella and her caveman-like husband, Stanley. After Blanche observed Stanley's brute-like habits he becomes wary of her. He claims she is lying about much more than she admits.

While on the verge of a nervous breakdown, Stella hooks up with Stanley's friend Mitch. This brings nothing but misfortune as all that Blanche takes for granted collapses beneath her.

Here is an example of time's weight on acting. Most of the performances are very up-to-date, with the exception of Vivien Leigh. It is almost as if she is oblivious to the fact that there is a camera in front of her. She acts as though she is surrounded by a stage of 1,000 people. Her performance is forced, and even though there are many who consider her to be a marvel to this day, I would have to disagree. Marlon Brando is quite good, as he always is, and yet I found this performance to be another of his more overrated ones. He delivers his performance with accuracy, as he plays an uneducated alcoholic brute, and yet, it didn't seem like to difficult a role to play. Kim Hunter did as the role was supposed to. She did not more or no less. Karl Malden demonstrates skillful and controlled acting in the minority of scenes he is in. His character is realistic. At times he is aggressive, and at other times he is sympathetic. A very strong performance for Karl Malden!

A Streetcar Named Desire  lays it's characters out flat on the table and takes time to dissect each one. Some characters get more dissection, but they all get some. This makes A Streetcar Named Desire not only a more enjoyable experience, but a more bewildering experience.

Yes, the themes and characters do tend to be exaggerated. But that can be said for many films. In life, people don't stand up and yell at the top of their lungs. Nobody expresses themselves like they do in plays. That is simply for the personal gain of these characters and this story. It is fairly easy to put this aside, however.

I certainly love it when an old film uses questionable material.  A Streetcar Named Desire is just filled with alcoholism and sex. For a film in 1951, that is practically insane. So I congratulate Kazan on taking a leap of faith.

In this Elia Kazan film, it seems as though Kazan did not direct. It seems as though the weight of direction was placed upon the shoulders of the actors. To further explain, it seems as though the entire film rests on the quality of the performances. It is almost as if there is nothing else to admire. Although Kazan could have helped execute the best performances from the actors, it seems as though he didn't.

I will take a moment to express my gratitude towards Tennessee Williams for writing a mighty fine play. The dialogue is snappy and quick. In fact, by the time you catch the innuendo in the previous line, you've already missed something. A Streetcar Named Desire would possibly benefit from a re-watch.

Just on a final note, A Streetcar Named Desire works through realism. At a few points during Blanche's mental meltdown there seemed to be an audio echo. This was the only effect in the film and it certainly took me out of the proper mood.

A Streetcar Named Desire is a very strong film, but an overrated film as well.

A Streetcar Named Desire,
Directed by Elia Kazan
Starring: Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando and Kim Hunter
7.5/10 (B+)


1. Baby Doll
2. Panic in the Streets
3. Splendor in the Grass
4. East of Eden
5. A Streetcar Named Desire
6. The Last Tycoon
7. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
8. Viva Zapata!
9. Boomerang!
10. Pinky
11. Wild River
12. America, America
13. The Sea of Grass
14. Man on a Tightrope
15. The Arrangement

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