When Tennessee Williams wrote the play A Streetcar Named Desire in 1947, he intended it to be rough around the edges. Elia Kazan went on to produce the motion picture version of A Streetcar Named Desire in 1951, but certain aspects of the play were missing from the production that Williams would not approve of. The need for censorship in films during the 1950s prevented the story from being told as Williams had intended it to be: dark and sinful with questionable behavior from several characters. As a result, Kazan’s film posed questions in parts of the story that were not intended to be ambiguous.

        Do not get me wrong; the film is very entertaining. With breathtaking performances by Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh, Kazan could not go wrong... or could she? Unfortunately, the play was not given justice.

        Brando’s portrayal of Stanley Kowalski was very inspiring, yet I still had a longing for more intense brutality from this character. It was almost as if Kazan wanted to make sure he was likable and unlikable at the same time. The censorship in the film mutes the force of nature that Stanley possesses, ultimately muting the way Williams intended this character to be depicted. Stanley desired control, whether it were in the form of verbal, physical or sexual abuse. During the 1950s these were not topics openly discussed, nor broadcast. This took away from the rugged reality the original work possessed.

        Questions were posed due to the ambiguity of certain scenes. I almost had to assume that Stanley had hit Stella; I must have blinked and missed it. The physical abuse from Stanley, as described by Williams, was definitely toned down by Kazan. Also, the “rape” scene in the movie looked more like Stanley was on the verge of beating Blanche up. Did this ever really happen in the film? It was never made clear, yet it was very clear in the play.

        The “hush hush” nature of the content in the film is almost comical considering one of the main themes in the story: reality versus fantasy. There is a part of the film when Mitch (Karl Malden), who played Blanche’s “would be” lover, takes off the lampshade to see Blanche as she really was. Underneath all the shadows of misconception and magical fantasy. In my opinion, Tennessee Williams would have liked to see a little more light shed upon the 1951 cinematic rendition of his play.

Sarah Willig

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