The 1951 film A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by Elia Kazan, is a great film adaptation of Tennessee Williams' 1947 play. It does an excellent job of bringing out the deep emotions explored in Williams' writing.
The first component of this film that makes it so effective is the excellent casting job. Marlon Brando is superb as Stanley, a lower-class, hard-working man who has a tendency to lose his temper from time to time. Brando truly appears to lose his temper several times throughout the film but always feels remorseful afterward. A prime example of this is in the stairway scene wherein Stella flees to a neighbor's apartment after being attacked by Stanley. The emotion in his voice as he yells up to Stella is hard to distinguish from real emotion. Vivien Leigh plays the lead female role, Blanche DuBois, the down-on-her-luck schizophrenic sister of Stanley's wife, Stella (Kim Hunter). Although I am not fond of her as a blonde, Vivien Leigh is terrific in this difficult role. One of the hardest aspects of this role is appearance. For an actress as attractive as Vivien Leigh to make herself look older and a little crazy is quite a feat.
Another factor in successful film adaptation is capturing the setting. The two-room apartment in which Stella and Stanley reside is an excellent example of what a lower-class couple's home may have looked like at that time in American history. The other main setting in the movie is the realistic courtyard outside their house, which has plenty of bustling traffic, small shops, and buildings across the street.
Director Elia Kazan plays an even larger role in the successful translation from film to screen. Elia had directed the theatrical version of Streetcar for some time and already knew the story long before filming began. Marlon Brando had already worked under Kazan as Stanley, so they were both very familiar with each other's abilities, as was the case with most of the other actors. However, in Kazan's stage
production, the role of Blanche was played by Jessica Tandy. Vivien Leigh, a bigger name, won the screen role. Kazan's familiarity with the actors--other than Leigh, who soon learned to fit in--and the roles they were portraying gave Streetcar a certain clarity in purpose that other movies were lacking. By the end of Streetcar, I truly felt I had truly understood the story, just as Williams had planned.