Louisiana Heat

         <p>In my opinion, Elia Kazan's 1951 film, A Streetcar Named Desire, based on Tennessee Williams' 1947 play, was the best adaptation we were able to view in this course. Williams is a brilliant writer who draws distinct pictures in our heads throughout his play. His highly descriptive and always-colorful style of writing made us feel as though we were in the heart of New Orleans with Blanche, Stella, and the unforgettable Stanley.

         In an equally brilliant attempt to bring this twisted tale to the big screen, Elia Kazan brings these pictures to life. With no detail overlooked, we suddenly find ourselves in the sticky heat of Louisiana watching the story unfold.

         It is perhaps the sounds of the film that first welcome us to the Big Easy. Just as the train brings Blanche (Vivien Leigh) into town, we too arrive at the noisy train station filled with horns and the sounds of screeching breaks. We feel as though we are right in the midst of the crowd. Then, as Blanche takes the streetcar and walks to her sister's house, we begin to feel just as alienated as she does. The harsh sounds of loud bars, squealing breaks, and street fights give us a very uneasy feeling. This is, however, only a small glimpse of what is to come.

         The yelling from the bars and piercing train noises are nothing compared to the harsh words of Stanley (Marlon Brando). While Blanche is expecting a warm welcome from her sister's new husband, she has no idea what the coming months have in store for her. In fact, it is Stanley's yelling of curse words and drowning calls for Stella (Kim Hunter) that are most memorable from the film.

         The settings used in this production are also a great portrayal of Williams' words. From the windless heat and steamy air to the bumpy brick roads, New Orleans comes to life. As we are drawn into the lives of Stanley and Stella, we enter their small inner-city apartment and quickly notice that life is not as grand as Stella has portrayed it to be. Their two-room home catches Blanche off guard and later becomes the setting for the story's most intense scenes. The lack of privacy leads to many fights, and the lack of space leaves nowhere to hide.

         The cinematography of this film is also ahead of its time. The cinematographer, Harry Stradling, and Kazan do a remarkable job of making us feel as though we are sitting at the dinner table as Stanley smashes the dishes when "cleaning his plate." They even bring to life the desperate tears shed by Stella each time she cries. They provide us with a closer inside view of what life was like for these characters.

         Finally, it was the wonderful costumes that really finish bringing Williams' tale to life. As the strikingly beautiful Blanche enters town, so do her devastating dresses. She is always dressed like a star, leaving Stella, whose name truly means star, in the shadows.

         It is Blanche's trunk full of treasures that indirectly brings about the first conflict we see with Stanley. He begins ripping out her gowns and jewels, while professing his reservations about Blanche. We listen to Stella defending her and claiming they were gifts and merely fake furs, but this does not suffice for Stanley. As Stella continues to defend her sister, it is easy to see that she secretly wishes for such beautiful garments. Her smocks and plain dresses are a tale of her misfortune. And as for Stanley, his dirty, greasy T-shirts tell not only that he works hard, but that he cannot afford anything more.

         This dark tale of real-life tragedy is filled with foreshadowing and hints of what darkness must have lurked in Williams' life. And, I believe, no one could have better directed this play than Elia Kazan. His hard work and dedication to makinga great adaptation proved fruitful.

Ashley Roberts

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