A Streetcar Named Desire: Four Stars

     The 1951 movie version of Tennessee Williams' 1947 play A Streetcar Named Desire (directed by Elia Kazan) was a good movie-watching experience. I was rather surprised. Going in, I had thought it would be dull. But, thankfully it was quite enjoyable and sad yet convincing. The actors gave great performances, and the overall film style was well done.

     After reading the play for the first time, I was a tad skeptical about the movie. There was so much going on in Blanche's head that it made the story difficult to follow. And even after seeing the movie, I am not sure exactly what was in her head and what was not. Vivien Leigh played Blanche, and she did a pretty good job. I thought her performance got a little hammy at certain spots, almost as if she were playing Scarlett O Hara as Blanche DuBois. But in the end, she played off the mental insecurity of Blanche believably. I thought it was interesting how her southern belle accent changed ever and anon to an unaccented form of speech. I doubt this was an accident, as it only happened when Blanche got out of her fantasy world and faced something beyond her denial. It made her personality seem just like a big fake act, which of course it was. That was a good technique on Leigh's part.

     Kim Hunter, who played Stella, deserves a little credit as well, even though I have never heard of her, so she probably did not get much in the shadow of Leigh. Her part was well written, and she provided a voice of sanity coupled against Blanche's constant southern repartee. She played the battered wife really well, as well as the co-dependency that such relationships often foster.

     And then there is Brando. Before this movie, the youngest I had seen him was in The Godfather. That is quite a change, and I was incredibly surprised when I first saw him. But Brando's voice is unmistakable. That lolling slur out of one side of his mouth is his trademark, I suppose. Anyway, while I despised Stanley as a character, I absolutely loved Brando in this. What a performance!--to me it felt as if he were not even acting; it was so natural. It was quite a contrast to Leigh's overacting portrayal of Blanche. But then again, I think that was the point: that Blanche lived in this make-believe world, while Stanley was just a normal blue collar joe; a blue collar joe with a hell of a mean streak in him. The immortal STELLA!! scene was great. I hated Stanley so much that I actually could not wait for each of his scenes, just to see what meanness he would do next. It is too bad that Brando got sort of typecast in his later years, because this performance was dynamic and genius-inspired.

     Of course, all the characters in this play owe themselves to Tennessee Williams. He really had a great understanding of human nature. The denial-ridden Blanche and her struggles to forget an unladylike past, crossing paths with domestic abuser Stanley and his submissive wife, pan out as such a situation really would. Blanche needed help, but Stanley made her life miserable because he is an A-class jerk. Stella waited until Blanche had been carted away to an institution before she would leave Stanley in the movie, but not in the original play. She let the jerk have a kid with her! It just seems so realistic to me. How many relationships are there in the world like Stanley and Stella's? Women who are co-dependent on abusive jerks who only feel empowered by beating women--it is a shame. Obviously Williams was familiar with this problem, as his play gives an amazingly unfiltered look at it.

     The cinematography by Harry Stradling was well done, if a little heavy on darkness. There were a few scenes when I expected to see Humphrey Bogart step out of the shadows in trench coat and fedora. The music was mainly background, and did not interfere with the flow of the film.

     All in all it was a very good film, one of my favorites that we have watched this semester. Indeed, films like this and Pygmalion have given me a new respect for older films. I am glad we watched A Streetcar Named Desire because it was a window into human relationships and human nature, and made for a darn good, if depressing, story.

Dan Bush

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