Film Enhances the Emotions

     Tennessee Williams wrote a wonderful play in 1947, A Streetcar Named Desire, that has been made into film. This play wonderfully illustrated the many forms that desire can take and was filled with homosexual innuendo. I really enjoyed the play because my imagination was able to run free. Tennessee Williams did a wonderful job of painting the scenes with his words. I thought that the most interesting part of the play was that it was set during the summer months in Louisiana. As we all know, the summer is a time of love and lust--what an interesting connection made by Mr. Williams. The 1951 film, A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by Elia Kazan, wonderfully illustrated Tennessee Williams' play. There were several similarities and differences between the play and the film. Blanche, played by Vivien Leigh, gave quite a performance. Her timing and facial gestures portrayed a woman held in torment by her own mind. She came off as quite the alcoholic schizophrenic.

     The play opens up with Stanley throwing some meat at Stella in the opening. This was supposed to represent the old "me man, you woman, me ruler" philosophy. However, there is no meat thrown in the movie, which is a major difference. After the meat is hurled in the play, Stella asks Stanley for permission to watch him bowl. She does not want to bowl herself but wants to watch her husband. When Stella's sister, Blanche, arrives, a neighbor goes to the bowling alley to fetch Stella. However, the film opens up with Blanche (Vivien Leigh) arriving at the train station, emerging mysteriously from the steam, and going by streetcars to the apartment. Then, Blanche goes to the bowling alley, which is another opening up from the play. In the film version, the initial emphasis is upon Blanche, not her relatives. In both versions Blanche gets to drink, and the audience begins to see that Blanche, especially as played by Vivien Leigh, is an in-the-closet mentally unstable alcoholic.

     In the film, I saw things that I felt the Stanley in the play would not have put up with because he is such a dominating man. For instance, Stella (Kim Hunter) tells Stanley (Marlon Brando) that she and Blanche are going to Galatoire's for dinner and that she needs money as she takes his wallet out of his back pocket. To me this seemed funny because the Stanley in the play would have knocked her over for doing something like that. The impression the reader got from the play was that Stanley was an overbearing idiotic chauvinist that Blanche would not be very attracted to. However, in the film, the audience saw Brando playing the typical charming spouse abuser that can be set off by one thing one minute and laugh at it the next. This charm would make Blanche more attracted to him.

     Another odd scene occurs near the beginning of the play and film when Blanche hears a cat screech, and in the film she jumps and caresses Stanley's arm. This is a definite sign of the desire she has for Stanley. However, because of the way in which Blanche's character has been behaving, the audience may see this as actually a manifestation of her desire to be with her husband again. She always seems to get a faraway look in her eyes when she speaks of love or her lost husband again.

     Later on, when Stanley asks Blanche if she had stayed at the Hotel Flamingo, she lies, saying that she had not but that she knows about the hotel. When Stanley asks her how she knows, she responds that the smell of cheap perfume is very strong. The Stanley in the play seemed oblivious to her comment about cheap perfume. In the film, she tells him flirtatiously that her own perfume is expensive and hints that she would like some more as a present.

     Another big difference occurs when Blanche and Mitch (Karl Malden) go out for the evening, and he wants to do more than kiss her. In the play, this scene takes place at the house. However, in the film, this scene is acted on a pier on the lake. In the play, Blanche pulls Mitch into the dark house and wants to play the imagination game; hence, the scenario is riddled with sexual undertones. The setting of the pier enhances the scene because it is clearly evident she is enticing him by trying to be a girl that clearly needs to be cared for and protected. On the pier, Blanche would flit around and try and be cute and cuddly, while at the house, she was trying to be alluring and seductive. In one she is a little girl that should be protected against men wanting to take advantage of her, and in the other she is a woman trying to be taken advantage of.

     In the play, I did not get a real sense of how out of her mind Blanche is until the very end of the play. However, in the film, Blanche looks crazy. Vivien Leigh has wonderful facial expressions and carries her lines off with the perfect inflection of a crazy person. I am in a psychiatric nursing class this semester, and I could clearly see that the Blanche in the film shows some classic signs of a mentally ill person. She would have loose association of ideas and delusions about people coming to take her on trips. When Blanche hears the music and the gun shot, it could be that she was actually having a hallucination. Blanche would try and be the center of attention and would be overly dramatic if she was not in the center of attention, so that she soon would be. All of these are signs of a histrionic schizophrenic.

     Both the play and the film about this tormented woman and her tormenters are wonderful. I enjoyed this story better than any of the others we have explored thus far.

Mendy Adair

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