A good movie can be made or broken by the actors. In class this semester we viewed a wide range of acting ability. Of all the films we have watched this semester I think that Elia Kazan's 1951 adaptation of Tennessee Williams' 1947 A Streetcar Named Desire is most effective in its choice of actors. Conversely, I think that Joseph Losey's 1973 adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's 1879 A Doll's House was ineffective in its choice of actors. I believe that the main characters can carry the whole movie; this is true of Stanley and Blanche of A Streetcar Named Desire but not true of the Nora in A Doll's House.
Stanley Kowalski is a tough man; he is very earthy and opinionated. He is dynamic enough to be remembered throughout time, yet he is a fictitious character. In order to appear dynamic on screen, an equally dynamic actor would have to portray Stanley. I think that Marlon Brando was up to the task. Brando was the sole attention of the audience as we watched the movie in class; he was good looking and fast talking, perfectly matching his character. Stanley is supposed to be a supporting role, yet he seems to be a star, because of Brando's stage presence he becomes part of the focus of the movie. The story becomes a struggle between the earthy Stanley and the ethereal Blanche, though the play was written about the struggle within Blanche. Brando had to be dynamic to steal the focus of the movie away from its female star, Blanche DuBois.
Blanche DuBois is a woman on the edge living in a fantasy world. She is flighty, obsessed with youth, and eventually goes over the edge of sanity. Her nervous breakdown and mood swings would have looked ridiculous played by an actress without the capabilities of Vivien Leigh. It would have been so easy to give a bad performance of Blanche, it is not an easy role, yet Leigh does not appear to be overacting. Although Leigh was going through her own troubles at the time, her portrayal of Blanche was not hindered. The subtle expressions Leigh used in the movie spoke volumes about her character's thoughts. She had such expressive eyes we as an audience knew when she was hiding from the real world, lying, or just trying to have fun and forget her past. She handled the breakdown well, a less talented actress would have seemed like she was overacting, but Vivien Leigh was subtle and passionate enough for it to feel real.
An overacting actress can ruin the credibility of the whole movie. I think that Jane Fonda as Nora in the 1973 adaptation of A Doll's House did just that. She was required to dance around and play games in a childish manner, but I think she pranced and skipped too much. She had no grace in the movie, she had an annoying childish voice, and she pranced everywhere. While we were watching it in class most of us were trying not to laugh so hard that we could not follow the plot of the movie. The character Nora was written as a girl who did not know herself but was an expert at being a plaything for her husband; yet David Warner, who played Torvald, did not seem like the kind of man that liked his wife dancing circles around him spewing incomprehensible noises non-stop. We are supposed to believe that these two never have real conversations with each other, yet Warner is so calm and without mirth that I cannot believe he enjoys his wife on a constant sugar high. I think the credibility of the story is ruined because of Jane Fonda's overacting.
We have viewed a number of performances this semester; some of the movies had such extreme overacting they were funny, as with Luis Buñuel's 1954 Los Abismos de Pasion, based on Emily Brontë's 1847 Wuthering Heights; but sometimes the acting was just right. I think good acting makes the movie enjoyable regardless of the story. The stories I mentioned above were both very well written works, yet only one of the movie adaptations was enjoyable. Thanks to the performances of Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh, A Streetcar Named Desire has become one of my favorite movies. As for A Doll's House, I hope I never watch it again; I do not think I could sit through Jane Fonda's overacting again.